The Melbourne Bach Choir's concert of French choral masterpieces in the Ballarat Central Uniting Church last Sunday added a sensuous touch with the language and harmonies of late 19th and 20th century composers. Under the guidance of conductor Rick Prakoff, the choir gave an impressive performance of works centred on Faure, concluding with his "Requiem".
The "Trois chansons de Charles d'Orleans" of Debussy, which opened the program, featured some excellent solo work from several of the choristers, adding depth to the balanced and clear choral textures achieved. The Faure "Madrigal", accompanied on piano by late replacement organist Rhys Boak, was followed by two songs each of Saint-Saens and Ravel. In between the sublime "O Sacrum convivium" of Messiaen created a significant meditative moment. Boak created a pleasant diversion with organ solos of Langlais and Vierne before the choir resumed with Franck's "Panis Angelicus" and Faure's "Cantique de Jean Racine".
Faure's "Requiem" remains a favourite of this genre because of its simplicity and spiritual beauty. Guest soloists Emilia Bertolini (soprano) and James Emerson (bass-baritone) were outstanding in striking the right balance between spirituality and emotional expression. Similarly, the choir delivered the "Sanctus" with appropriate restraint before giving the "Hosanna" its full emphasis.
The program overall was a perfect balance of sacred and secular choral music. The Melbourne Bach Choir produced a virtuoso performance with excellent shaping of the French and Latin texts. The human musical experience begins with the voice, which remains at the heart of musical expression. This concert shone a light on the elevated possibilities of such expression.