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Maîtres Français

Experience the brilliance of some of France’s most esteemed composers of all time, as Darwin’s Vocalective presents their first performance of the year, French Masters.

By Tierney Seccull

Singing in French and Latin, the 32-strong choir is backed by a string quartet and organ in the Darwin Memorial Uniting Church, setting the scene for an unforgettable musical journey to Paris, circa the late 1800s to the early 1900s.

The program includes choral works by French greats Saint-Saëns, Gounod, Poulenc, Ravel, Franck, Massenet and the Boulanger sisters, but the jewel in the crown of the evening is Gabriel Fauré’s 35-minute Requiem, his most famous piece.

Normally composed of two violins, a viola and a cello, the string quartet in this performance features two violas and two cellos, played by members of the Darwin Symphony Orchestra.

Vocalective Conductor Michael Loughlin says the seven-movement work evokes a sense of calm.

“There’s a characteristic of all of them, and Fauré in particular, of a fairly gentle mood. The music is not powerful in the sense the Verdi Requiem is powerful, it has a serenity about it I suppose you could say,” he says.

“It has louds and softs, but it’s not massively huge music. It is sort of peaceful in a way, I’m not sure that’s the right word, but it does convey this mood of serenity, of peace, of gentleness.

“It’s also full of beautiful melodies sung by both the choir and two soloists, Greg Anderson and Fiona Wake. Fiona will sing the well-known, fabulous Pie Jesu, and Greg the stirring Libera Me.”

The first half of the performance features eight shorter works before Fauré’s Requiem adopts the second half. Deciding which composers to include was no mean feat, but one Loughlin was up for, the result a showcase of old friends, a reunion of sorts.

“Most of [the composers] knew each other and followed on from each other at various posts in Paris, for example the Paris Conservatoire or some of the big cathedrals and churches as organists, and so on … there was a real connection between most of these [composers] actually, it’s very interesting.”

With most of these composers rubbing shoulders in Paris during the late 1800s and early 1900s, the French city was renowned as a art.

“The way that the arts developed in Paris, I’m not really sure why, but certainly it was a really vibrant place for music, and everything actually – painting and poetry. They called it the fin de siècle – or the ‘end of century’,” Loughlin says.

“It went right through until the first world war … I’m not sure why it was so vibrant at the time, but these guys had become popular at the time and their popularity has lasted up until now.”

Delight in the sounds of the French Masters and pull up a pew for a unique musical experience that is sure to be très bien.

French Masters
WHEN SAT 16 MAR | 7.30PM
COST $30 | $20 U15

Photo: Tim Nicol

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