Almost 150 years ago, on Sunday, 17 May 1874, Brisbane’s Cathedral of St Stephen, although as yet incomplete, received its solemn blessing and dedication.

And so this concert, the first of three, began the final week of the year-long sesquicentenary celebrations.

In introducing the concert, the Most Rev Mark Coleridge, Catholic Archbishop of Brisbane, declared St Stephen’s not to be just a building, but a community, and that it is not just a Catholic story, but a story of Brisbane.

The Queensland Symphony Orchestra was augmented by the Brisbane Chamber Choir, the St Stephen’s Cathedral Schola, and soloists Sara Macliver and Sofia Troncoso (sopranos), Andrew Goodwin (tenor), and David Greco (baritone), all under the baton of the QSO’s Chief Conductor, Umberto Clerici.

Mozart’s Mass, Cathedral of St Stephen, Brisbane. Photo © Sam Muller

The concert began with a rollicking trumpet fanfare, Canzon septimi toni No. 1, composed by Giovanni Gabrieli, circa. 1597. Its interwoven sounds, masterfully played, filled the cavernous space with ease, but lost some clarity in the reverberation.

Next came a setting of Psalm 24: The Earth is the Lord’s, by French composer, Marie-Juliette Olga “Lili” Boulanger.

Written in 1916, two years before her death at the age of just 24, it is scored for organ, (quite formidable) brass ensemble, and SATB choir. What a grand, thrilling, uplifting, joyous piece this is! Especially with St Stephen’s pipe organ, rather unusually but cleverly placed in the sanctuary. It really roared, pinning the ears back, even for those of us in the capacity audience sitting towards the back.

Then the main event, Mozart’s Mass in C minor (arr. Franz Beyer – 1989). Ironically, like St Stephen’s incomplete state at the time of its dedication, Mozart’s so-called Great Mass remained unfinished on his death in 1791, even though he wrote as much of it as he did nearly a decade earlier.

The piece would probably never be played in church during Sunday Mass. It is full of drama and thoroughly extroverted in personality; every movement bar one is loud and quick in tempo. There are some dark, gloomy moments, especially in the opening movement, Kyrie, but overall the Great Mass is a work of high entertainment, taking captive the listener’s attention.

This was a truly marvellous performance. The choir’s vocal projection was in equal measure to the orchestra’s power, so the blend and balance of sound was perfection.

Sara Macliver at St Stephen. Photo © Sam Muller

Macliver had the lion’s share of solos and her crystal-clear, but powerful voice filled the cathedral with ease. Her melismas were mesmerising as she soared so wonderfully expressively through impossible intervals.

Troncoso, too, had a fine voice that carried well, but in the Domine Deus duet, with Macliver, the latter’s power was a little too much for the former, so the blend was just a touch uneven.

The tenth movement, Et incarnatus, also featuring Macliver, included a wonderful echo interaction with the woodwinds.

The sixth movement, Qui tallis, was especially remarkable for the choir’s clarity. The balance within each section was brilliant, almost sounding as though it was one voice, such was the tonal integrity.

And they are just a few examples of just how brilliant this performance was overall. It was a fitting piece for St Stephen’s 150th anniversary celebrations.

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