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Love List:
Classic Choral

by Brett Weymark, Artistic & Music Director, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs

Love List is our new Spotify series where we ask friends of the Opera House to curate a playlist dedicated to a subject of their choice.

This week, Sydney Philharmonia Choirs' Artistic & Music Director Brett Weymark highlights the choral and classical masterpieces that have moved him, and shaped his life and career. 

You can catch more of Brett and the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in action in the very first virtual PopUp Sing! workshop, exclusive to the Sydney Opera House's digital season. 


Strauss: Lieder (Songs) op. 27 TrV 170 (Version for Voice and Orchestra): 4. Morgen

"This is one of the most time stopping songs ever composed. It is the only song that forces me to pull the car over if I am driving as I will invariably end up in tears and cause a major incident. Recently going through all my old CDs and almost rediscovering music all over again, the recording with Jesse Norman from 1983 with Kurt Masur conducting made me well up with tears just looking at the cover. Time stops when I hear this. I am a sucker for slow sad songs! The opening line is a resigned call to carry on, almost stoic in essence but also with a great deal of pathos and optimism: 'And tomorrow the sun will shine again'."

 Handel: Saul: HWV 52

"I discovered the music of Handel in the pit of the Concert Hall when I was a wee lad involved in a youth opera on the set of Lucia di Lammermoor. This enormous set was utilised on the nights when Joan Sutherland wasn’t performing her famous mad scene. I still remember playing through “Comfort ye” from Messiah on the piano in the pit and thought it was the most amazing piece of music I had ever heard. Years later I was invited to be the chorus master for Barrie Kosky’s realisation of Saul which has become my favourite of all Handel’s works and in the hands of Kosky, the amazing cast and my good friend Erin Helyard, it sounded fresh, vital and daring as if it had just been penned yesterday. It was a discovery in the way that Messiah was many years earlier. Every chorus is brimming with energy and meaning. Very close to a perfect work. I cannot wait for the next chance I get to work on this score."

 Britten - The Turn of the Screw, Op 54, 1954

"One of my first experiences of opera was Britten’s The Turn of the Screw. Sometimes you hear an opera LIVE for the first time and you feel you could go and play the entire score from memory at the piano instantly - I tried and realised a certain deficit in that department but when I listened to the recording made by Britten, I could have been back in that darkened auditorium reliving the fear I felt - it is a truly terrifying opera in the right hands. The prologue for tenor became my calling card for auditions when I first started singing professionally. An odd choice but seemed to work - I sang it as my audition for the Song Company in 1990 and went on to become the tenor with them for two years."

▷ Mahler - Rückert Lieder: IV. Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen

"I had a daily natural tenor voice when I left school. The world of real choral music opened up for me in particular with a group called the Contemporary Singers in the grim lower floors of the Seymour Centre at the University of Sydney. In the very first concert, we sang an arrangement of this song by Mahler that as a somewhat angst-ridden youth seemed to speak directly to me. It is number 2 on my list of slow sad songs. I only like it sung by a female voice as it really is a duet between her and the plaintiff cor anglais at the beginning and along with Kindertotenlieder , this cycle of songs by Rückert set by Mahler would easily form a desert Island disc for days when the sun is not shining. I recently discovered this recording with Mr and Mrs Rattle and their band the Berlin Philharmoniker but my first experience was a now long lost LP with Janet Baker singing. It is still my fave! The text is so beautiful. Again, time stops.

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I am dead!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the world's tumult,
And I rest in a quiet realm!
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song."

 

Brett Weymark leading the first ever virtual PopUp Sing! Workshop, filmed in the Joan Sutherland Theatre, exclusive to the Sydney Opera House digital season

▷ Purcell - The Fairy Queen - The Plaint

"I knew Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas for as long as I can remember from finding a score in the old second-hand shop on Pacific Highway in Crows Nest - most of my afternoons were spent there during high school in the record and score section - it was a slightly odd childhood! Then, when I was in The Song Company and we were going to present Purcell’s The Fairy Queen at the newly minted Eugene Goossens’ Hall at the ABC in Ultimo. It was love at first listen and the recording of the work by Eliot Gardiner also resulted in a small amount of hero worship for this amazing interpreter of all kinds of music but particularly early music. And as number 3 on my slow sad list, possibly a song with the simplest structure but the biggest emotional impact - the plaint. It was sung in our production by Jane Edwards and it is still the version I have in my head. She sang it so beautifully; “He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone…his lost deplore”. I had the joy of working on this piece again with Pinchgut Opera in the early 2000’s but you always remember your first time!"

▷ Schoenberg - Friede auf Erden Op 13, 1907 

"Music that is so hard to perform but so beautiful to experience. It was a true baptism of fire the first time I sung this and not only was I unfamiliar with the harmonic language in its rich post-romantic complexity but I had no idea about German and I think looking back my pitch would have been better than my text! But what a text and when the final section commences after a long journey away from D-major and the choir pleads “peace, peace, peace on earth”, it is a truly visceral experience. It is a “dim the lights” and be immersed in the unique sound world of this remarkable composer."

▷ Monteverdi - Madrigali guerrieri ed amorosi (Libro VIII) - Introduzione al ballo e Ballo

"Monteverdi is still probably one of the most underrated composers even though most classical music lovers now know his music better than say forty years ago thanks to the early music brigade who championed works like L'Orfeo and the Vespers. But for me, the heart of his music is in the series of books devoted to the madrigal form, when the essence of opera permeated the mostly unaccompanied madrigal form and the seconda practica was established with a bass line as the unifying factor, the Eighth Book was the exemplar of the new form. This recording with Rene Jacobs dances all the way to the final bar line."

 

Brett Weymark and members of the Sydney Philharmonia Choirs in the Joan Sutherland Theatre

▷ Mozart - K. 492/Act 4 Le Nozze di Figaro, “Gente, Gente…”

"My first Mozart opera was experienced in English and it was The Marriage of Figaro. It was a truly LOL production complete with sets that looks like they would fall over and where the glow of the initial paint had probably faded a little over time but the music was fresh and alive and when the Count makes a last minute desperate attempt at a reconciliation with the Countess, Mozart seems to have poured a great deal of his own vulnerability into these slow gestures of apology. It is always my favourite moment in the work. I grew up listening to this recording and although my preference is now probably more for period performance practice nowadays, the singers in this boxed recording lived and breathed this repertoire and it still touches my heart."

Bach - BWV 82: Ich habe Genug

"Lorraine Hunt Lieberson was one of those truly amazing singers. Intelligent with a voice of such generosity that she naturally excelled in the music of Bach and her recording of “Ich habe genug” is one of the great recordings. The perfect match of repertoire to personality. Her performances in Handel’s Theodora and John Adams’ El Nino, both directed by Peter Sellars, further demonstrate what a remarkable dramatic presence she was on stage. In a word, authenticity."

▷ Rameau - Pygmalion RCT 52, Acte 1, Scene 5 L’Amour Triomphe

"A second-hand shop discovery that led me down a path of a composer I might not have discovered otherwise. I was living in a shared household in Petersham and had very few pennies in my pocket but there was a recording of Rameau’s Pygmalion in said second-hand shop and I must have worn it down but playing it over and over again. If there was a remedy to sad songs, this was it. Music that literally jumps off the page and one that I think everyone should know! When I was younger, if I was ever asked to sing at a wedding - I would try and persuade them that this was the piece they needed!"

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