Music from the Movies

Music from the Movies
Sydney Philharmonia Choirs. Opera House Concert Hall. May 11, 2019.

The 400 singers of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs and their 72 piece Orchestra certainly fills out the Opera House Concert Hall in every way with this generously long, one-off concert.

Music from the Movies has a head start by drawing on thrilling scores from memorable films: what we hear returns us to what we saw and felt watching the original, some of it tissue box moments, all of it heightened. 

Mozart’s glorious Requiem K.626 becomes poignant and ironic, remembering that finale in Amadeus with Mozart’s coffin heading for the pauper’s grave.  Elsewhere from the Requiem, different vocal types debate with agility against each before finely harmonising.    John Williams’ terrestrial score with its urgent strings takes us to Star Wars, to Double Trouble in Harry Potter, and with beating drums and brass to mourning American heroes in Saving Private Ryan – with the Choir, not for the only time, doing lots of oo/ah singing to prompt the tears.

With its 20 diverse and high impact scores, this concert fully exercises the whole orchestra, notably with Williams’ rousing Dry Your Tears, Africa (Amistad)and the unbeatable drive of Elton’s John’s suite from Lion King.  And with lots of big finishes: the guy on cymbals has never been busier.

Quieter scores are included like the beautiful violins taking us up to the balcony in Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet but Wagner finally takes over with an expansive influence in Juliet’s Requiem.   Nigel Westlake’s Requiem for his dead son, developed from hisSolarmax score, is always compelling for choirs. 

While Australian film composers are celebrated, the most popularly used scores around the world are by those long dead.  Handel’s 1727 Coronation hit, Zadok the Priest, gets full voice, from The Madness of King George; and the chorale finale of Beethoven’s Symphony 9 from Kubrick’s A Clockwork Orange.  The film’s mad psychiatrist forces Alex, our violent anti-hero, to listen to it endlessly, its joy and optimism becoming ever more manic.

But new classics are being made.  Closing the concert is O Fortuna from Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana which continues its echoes through time and into ever popular usage, including from Excalibur; and Ennio Morricone’s running score with flute and drums for The Mission is on the same rourte.

With such a mass choir, its power sometimes inevitably wins over clarity and precision of singing, but a good exception was the skipping choral score from Alice in Wonderland.  And Gladiator is always a musical winner.

Conductor Elizabeth Scott, who is director of the VOX choir which here combines with the Philharmonia’s Festival Choir, is an expert at holding such epics together and with modest gestures.  And Fenella Kernebone is engaging and anecdotal as our host.  

Martin Portus 

Top photo by John Feely.

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