Prayers for the dead are a familiar concept. In Prayer for the Living we heard a selection of music that did indeed reach out and touch the spirit of those living, in a way that was spiritual, transcending religious, while touching on so many facets of human experience; be it the love of a mother for her child, those mourning their dead, those desiring revenge, while others look for peace, and the sentiment expressed in the Old Buddhist Prayer:
Let everything that breathes…be able to move freely in the path destined for them.
The mood was established from the beginning. Set in semi darkness with changing images cast on to a screen behind, the choir stood, not in conventional rows but in parallel lines, their small lights allowing the singers to read their music, but also twinkling like stars, perhaps of hope.
Beginning with a clarinet solo, and later soprano solo, Prayer for the Mother by Pēteris Vaskis inevitably drew thoughts to the scenes of mothers and small children trudging down a road out of Ukraine towards freedom from war. Subtly this awareness was enhanced by his Dona Nobis Pacem which was the final piece in the first half of the program.
Ravel’s Deux mélodies hébraïques evoked Jewish traditions, as Lili Boulanger’s Old Buddhist Prayer reflected Buddhist philosophy, yet went far beyond personal beliefs to speak to all people. In these, tenor Nicholas Jones excelled, vocally and emotionally.
Poulenc’s Gloria provided a contrast to the first half, in a way that complemented rather than jarred. Using the Latin text, the words and phrases mixed and matched in joyous rhythms, were relished by the choir. This piece is a wonderful vehicle for the soprano soloist, whose voice soars and challenges, cajoles and leads throughout and Stacey Alleaume was more than ready for the challenge, with a voice of velvet and ginger.
As would be expected, the choirs directed and rehearsed by Carl Crossin sang with integrity and restraint, always in sympathy with the text and music. Praise to the Elder Conservatorium Chorale and Graduate Singers, Karl Geiger being the musical director of the latter. The Adelaide Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Benjamin Northey, were exemplary. They never fail to deliver.
The music chosen for this concert may have seemed, at first glance, dark and sombre, but this is far from the reality. The music sung in the first half touched the soul, while in the second part, the Gloria touched the heart. Given that the Festival began with Watershed: The Death of Dr Duncan the Prayer for the Living provided the perfect coda for the Festival.
Festival Theatre 20 March
Conductor Benjamin Northey
Choral Director Carl Crossin
Soprano Stacey Alleaume
Tenor Nicholas Jones
Adelaide Symphony Orchestra.