‘In 1818, well before Bach’s Mass in B Minor was given its first complete performance, the Swiss music historian and publisher, Hans Nägeli, described it as “the greatest work of music for all ages and of all peoples.” This was an incredible assertion at a time when Mozart’s works had already become a permanent feature of the musical landscape, and when Beethoven’s fame was at its zenith…’

That’s how the program notes begin, as written by Andrew Raiskums, director of the choir Gloriana, who performed it last Friday at the recently renovated St Mary Star of the Sea. It was wet and dark and the gaudily Catholic church was nearly full when we arrived, old Stan and me, and I walked up and down the aisles looking for Aunty among the packed pews.

This is how it looked at the end:


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(Terrible pictures and all blurry — don’t know what I was doing.) Likely there hasn’t been so much secular applause in that space for a long time. I’m not familiar with this grand, expansive work and am incapable of making any judgement, so here’s Bruce Sims, who did:

Then off to the church with its trumpeting angels in the roof, to hear trumpets blaring in the mass. It was a magnificent performance from soloists, band and choir, who sang with great gusto. The large audience was very appreciative.

It was very impressive, and there was a lot to look at too. We were up the front on the side so we had a close up oblique angle view.


There were four soloists and a small orchestra for this big work, which has been called Bach’s “last will and testament.” It wasn’t performed complete until 1859, over a century after his death.


The orchestra.


Director Andrew Raiskums conducting. After the last note he reached into his pocket and patted his face down with a hanky. Over two hours of concentrated conducting at the end of months of rehearsals is a long time sweating it out.


Choir members; the flautist having a solo moment.


The bass, Nicholas Dinopoulos. The mezzo-soprano Sally-Anne Russell. A friend remarked later that he didn’t think the bass was quite loud enough, sounded a bit under-powered perhaps. But he’s a young man and it was a church with a very big air space. Russell wore this eye-catching dress with pointy wings opening at the sides of the bodice.


The bass, again, and the tenor, Timothy Reynolds — the tenor had a surprisingly small mouth but it opened up to release a beautiful sound. I missed getting a sketch of the soprano Siobhán Stagg, who was mostly blocked from my view, but I was in a direct line to the bass, who fell victim to my pencil.


A couple of the choir members. I can vouch they’ve had a splendid year. It strikes me that this fine outfit were all wearing their standard black — a secular group performng one of the most religious of compositions in an approriately Catholic setting to a large crowd which I’m guessing would have had a substantial component of non-religiously affiliated people. Now that‘s multi-culturalism.


Above left: There was a fella sitting in front of us who was definitely a tosser. He wore a denim jacket over a plaid shirt and had tight-cropped hair which effloresced into bottle blonde mullet curls. At interval he got up to give a solo standing ovation, and turned to see if anyone followed suit — at which point was revealed his trucker-white trash moustachio. As you can see from the sketch, he stuck his elbows over the back of his pew and every now and again would stretch his arms over his head and back into our space. Look at me!

Above right: I noticed Tim Colebatch, economics editor of the Age,  attentively sitting in the front row.

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The Gloriana choir next performs this Saturday 4 December at St Peter’s Eastern Hill, combining with the church choir and soloists. They’re going to ascend Bach‘s the other choral peak, Handel’s Messiah. I see the tickets include champagne and Christmas cake…

(Bach! Sorry, I just haven’t been getting a Handel on things lately. I woke this morning thinking — that’s not Bach, but I see folk have already commented drily on this big fat mistake; thank goodness someone knows these things.)

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