The middle of the afternoon, granted. But it was the best of times and the best of venues for the WASO Chorus to perform Rachmaninov’s choral masterpiece, the Vespers, or All-Night Vigil. And how they relished it. The best of times, because a Russian Orthodox Easter, though later than other Christian faiths, still falls during spring. Which it is here, now – and Sunday, when this performance took place, was as perfect a spring day as one could have wished for. The best of venues, because St Mary’s Cathedral – capacious, light-filled, austere in some ways, a compelling architectural mix of ancient and modern – both visually and acoustically favours a larger choir, which at 60-plus performers the WASO Chorus clearly is.
St Mary’s Cathedral, Perth. Photo supplied
Having filed in from the rear to the dais, the choir and its director Andrew Foote – a seasoned opera singer and recitalist who only took up the position earlier this year – quickly settled before filling the cathedral’s generous space with the opening Come, Let Us Worship and a glorious, rich, fulsome sound. This boded well for the remainder of the performance. For the most part, we were not disappointed. Like many orchestra choirs, WASO Chorus largely comprises amateur musicians from a wide range of backgrounds and demographics. So there is invariably some unevenness in any performance. But then one could say that of any choir, professional or otherwise. So, I say again, for the most part we were not disappointed. It was only in those more exposed parts of the work, when the textures thinned, and towards the end, when fatigue was becoming evident, that one missed the confidence and energy which characterised this performance at its best.
What was never in question at any point was Foote’s artistic vision, the clarity of his gestures (musical and physical) and his understanding of St Mary’s acoustic, which governed his choice of tempi and use of silence. Thinking too of visual impact, how exciting to see, at one point, Foote’s outstretched arms echoing those of Christ on the cross in the impressive stained glass beyond the choir. And how poignant to see, at the completion of the work, one of the singers nearly collapse, quickly to be gathered in the arms of a nearby colleague before regaining her balance.
I have said nothing about soloist mezzo Courtney Pitman, or Tom Buckmaster, who took on all the tenor solos. The former was sublime, tender even, in the second movement, Bless the Lord, Oh My Soul; the latter, a model of poised expressiveness in the Nunc Dimittis.