Mozart Requiem August 2019
Phoenix Choir welcomed a full house to our second Sing in the Mountains event, a performance model we successfully premiered with Handel’s Messiah at the Springwood Hub in 2016. For these performances the core choir is augmented with guest singers from the Blue Mountains, Sydney and beyond for one weekend of intensive rehearsals before performing with an orchestra comprising the mountains’ most talented musicians. In the last few years the choir has grown in ambition and scope, with this performance featuring more than 100 choristers supported by an orchestra of 25 members.
Photo gallery of the concert and rehearsals – photography: Cazeil Creative 2019
Since Rowen Fox took over the direction of Phoenix Choir in 2012, the choir has been on a conscious journey to increase our musicianship and our repertoire, including an ability to tackle the larger works of the classical canon. Particularly in the last few years we have honed our craft by including much more challenging Romantic works such as Haydn’s The Seasons, Mendelssohn’s Psalm 42, and Rheinberger’s The Star of Bethlehem, all of which required greater control and nuanced expression than demanded by our previous repertoire. These works expanded the singers’ techniques and assisted us to develop the dramatic flair for which we have become known. One of our goals has always been to work towards those iconic masterpieces which most choristers aspire to sing at some stage in their choral journey. Mozart’s Requiem is undoubtedly one such piece; we are planning to tackle many more, building towards perhaps Handel’s Israel in Egypt or the Brahms Requiem for our next Sing in the Mountains outing in 2021.
Mozart’s Requiem mass was one of his final masterpieces, composed in late 1791 and left unfinished at his death that same year. Eager to receive the remainder of the commission fee, Mozart’s widow, Constanze, had asked several of his students to complete the work before Franz Xavier Süssmayr agreed to the task. Mozart had completed and orchestrated the Introitus, and had left detailed sketches for the Kyrie, the Sequentia up to the first eight bars of the Lacrimosa, and the Offertorium. Süssmayr completed the Lacrimosa, and composed the remaining movements, repeating the themes from the Introitus in the final movement, Lux aeterna. There are conflicting opinions on how much of Süssmayr’s contributions are his own and how much relied upon hypothetical scraps (now lost) left by Mozart. Many scholars argue that the quality of the Süssmayr movements in the Requiem far outshine anything else he was to write for the remainder of his career. Perhaps the inspiration of Mozart’s work was simply enough to raise Süssmayr to new compositional heights, or perhaps, as later claimed by Constanze, Mozart’s verbal instructions had filled in the missing gaps. Other scholarly completions of the Requiem have been attempted, but these deny the legitimacy of the Süssmayr completion as a historical document in its own right. In any case, no competing version comes close to having stood the test of time. Mozart and Süssmayr are inextricably linked in the Requiem we most often recognise and which we so fondly cherish.
Handel’s Messiah – Sing in the Mountains
Phoenix Choir joined with a chorus of guest singers to perform Handel’s Messiah on Sunday 9 April (Palm Sunday) 2017. In the tradition of Messiah we assembled a large choir of over 80 choristers. The performance included professional soloists and chamber orchestra with both harpsichord and organ continuo. The performance at the Blue Mountains Theatre at Springwood was highly successful with near capacity audience of 400, who thoroughly enjoyed the rendition of this famous work by Handel.
Messiah developed after Handel’s original presentation to encompass many different and much-loved performance traditions. Our Musical Director, Rowen Fox, researched the modern understanding of the original work. His presentation featured a countertenor from Sydney Conservatorium of Music and some original solo and duet arias, while maintaining all the choruses and arias we know and love.
Whilst it may be less usual today to perform the work in the lead-up to Easter, Handel originally composed Messiah for Passiontide. The core of the work in Part 2 deals with the events of Lent, Easter and Pentecost, and some of the most poignant moments surrounding the crucifixion and resurrection contrast exquisitely with the joyful Christmas music and triumphant Hallelujah chorus. A Palm Sunday performance restored the work to its original place in the calendar echoing its first performance at the Great Music Hall in Dublin in April 1742.