Canticum – Good Friday Musical Meditation

(St John's Cathedral)


Semi-professional production

The Canticum Chamber Choir, founded by Emily Cox in 1995, is not just one of Brisbanes finest vocal ensembles, but by far the most innovative and exciting.

Every concert brings something new, introducing audiences to composers and works that are rarely performed, while also including better-known works, and the choirs repertoire ranges from Bach to the holy minimalist John Tavener.

But the Good Friday concerts, which have become a feature of the Easter music scene in Brisbane, are always my favourites, for theres nothing more peaceful and renewing than sitting quietly in the expansive space of St Johns Anglican Cathedral, with the statues still draped in purple, as a calm finale to what, for many people, is the most serious day of the year.

This years concert took us into the 19th century, with meditative devotional works by three Romantic composers, Rheinberger, Brahms and Liszt and, for me at least, it contained many surprises.

The Stabat Mater is an ancient Christian hymn expressing the grief of Mary of Nazareth as she watches her sons crucifixion. Scholars now attribute its authorship to Pope Innocent III in the thirteenth century, but no matter what the debate about its origin, it was one of the most popular hymns in the mediaeval period, and remains so today. Its been set to music by Josquin Dupres in the 15th century, and by later composers like Palestrina, Haydn and even Rossini, and there are now believed to be over 600 different settings.

Josefs Rheinbergers 1884 version is one of the simplest, and contains some exquisitely moving passages, but although its an easy piece to sing, Canticum expended as much care on their voicing and tempo as they did for the later Via Crucis or Fourteen Stations of the Cross, by Liszt.

This is a fiendishly difficult piece, and for people who only know Liszt through his lush, virtuosic, often demonically violent symphonic poems, his setting of the Via Crucis must have opened their eyes. For this is an intense and eclectic musical drama, combining ancient Latin plainsong with mournful discords and fragmented chords from the organ, and in its theatricality looks forward to Wagner and 20th century composers as well as back to the ancient liturgical music of the Middle Ages.

Christopher Wrench, arguably Brisbanes finest organist, played the organ for this piece, as well as providing a triumphant version of Brahms great Chorale Prelude and Fugue on O Traurigkeit, O Herzeleid (Oh sadness, oh heartfelt pain), with its aching harmonies and spine-shivering cadences.

If youre a lover of choral music and dont know the work of Canticum, youre missing a rare treat. They have been selected as one of only a very small group of international choirs to perform at the 7th World Symposium on Choral Music to be held in Kyoto in August, where they will sing an all-Australian repertoire.

You can hear a preview of this concert in July (Saturday 16 and Sunday 17) at St Marys Anglican Church at Kangaroo Point. Its a very small church, so advance bookings are advisable ring 3309 2581, or email [email protected].

And to keep track of their other concerts, visit their website at, because you wouldnt want to miss out on more of their glorious music. They are simply inspirational, especially on Good Friday.

Canticum choir directed by Emily Cox, organist Christopher Wrench

Running time 65 minutes

— Alison Cotes
(Performance seen: Thu 24th March 2005)