Concert Notes: Higher Power

MCO’s Higher Power can be heard on Thursday 4 May 7:30pm and Sunday 7 May 2:30pm at Melbourne Recital Centre; online via Australian Digital Concert Hall on Thursday 4 May 7:30 pm; and at One Community in Blackburn on Saturday 6 May 7:30 pm.



Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788)
Sinfonia No 3 in C major Wq 182/3
I. Allegro assai
II. Adagio
III. Allegretto


Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach (1714–1788), the second surviving son of JS Bach and his first wife Maria Barbara, was an important and influential composer of the second half of the eighteenth century, composing more than 1000 works including songs, oratorios, keyboard dance movements and sonatas, concertos and symphonies (sinfonias).

The catalogue of CPE Bach’s works lists eighteen symphonies composed over a period of thirty-five years. The Sinfonia in C major is the third of the set of six he wrote in 1773 commissioned by the arts patron Baron Gottfried van Swieten. This is a masterful showpiece filled with wild and diverse contrasts. The tumultuous opening Allegro assai is followed by the poignant Adagio and concludes with a graceful Allegretto.

Ross Edwards (b 1943)
Veni creator spiritus for string orchestra
I. Puro e tranquillo
II. Ritmico


Ross Edwards AM (b 1943) is an esteemed Australian composer whose works include symphonies, concertos, choral, chamber and vocal music. The entry with the Australian Music Centre states: “His music, universal in that it is concerned with age-old mysteries surrounding humanity, is at the same time connected to its roots in Australia, whose cultural diversity it celebrates, and from whose natural environment it draws inspiration.”

Veni creator spiritus was composed in 1993 on a commission by Musica Viva Australia and the Australia Council for performance by the Academy of St Martin in the Fields Octet. Following the premiere, the composer reworked the composition for chamber orchestra, chamber orchestra with vocal ensemble, full orchestra and for string orchestra that we hear today. This version was completed in 1997.

The composer writes:
My string octet in two movements on the Latin hymn Veni Creator Spiritus (Come, O Creator Spirit) attempts to reconcile two divergent trends in my work throughout the 1980s: the intense, inward focus of my Symphony No.1 (Da Pacem Domine) and the optimistic extroversion of my violin concerto, Maninyas.

In the first movement (Puro e tranquillo), the hymn melody is heard first as a violin solo and then treated as a cantus firmus in long values to form the basis of an austere polyphonic motet. Remote and archaic, this movement sounds like an echo from the age of Palestrina (with a tinge of Japanese pentatonicism) whilst preserving my own musical voice. The Amen of the hymn is protracted, elaborated and interfused with drones and patterns recalling the world of insects and symbolising eternity. The second movement (Ritmico), a lively, obsessive dance which explores and exploits connections between the Veni Creator melody and music from a variety of non-Western cultures, is concerned with the idea of creating unity out of diversity. It concludes with a modified re-statement of the Amen.

Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741)
Magnificat RV610
I. Magnificat anima mea Dominum
II. Et exultavit spiritus meus
III. Et misericordia ejus
IV. Fecit potentiam
V. Deposuit potentes
VI. Esurientes
VII. Suscepit Israel
VIII. Sicut locutus est
IX. Gloria Patri


Antonio Vivaldi (1678–1741) is regarded as one of the most original and influential Italian composers of his generation. Although not an inventor of musical forms, he creatively adapted, refined and expanded them. His output was prodigious, and he wrote across a range of genres including masses, vespers, motets, cantatas, oratorios, operas and the extensive list of instrumental works.

The Magnificat is a setting of text from the Gospel of Luke and forms the final part of the service of Vespers. The text has been set by numerous composers over the centuries including Palestrina, Monteverdi, Schütz and Bach.

Vivaldi composed the Magnificat in G minor around 1715 and made a number of different versions through the 1720s. The work is in nine movements – eight segments of the text of the canticle with the concluding Gloria Patri (Glory to the Father). Each movement employs different combinations of solo voices and choir, with changing tempos, styles, tonality and texture. Text-painting is employed throughout to amplify the meaning of the text.

JS Bach (1685–1750)
Brandenburg Concerto No 3 BWV1048
I. [no tempo indication] (Allegro)
II. Adagio
III. Allegro


Johann Sebastian Bach (1685–1750) composed the six concerti grossi between 1711 and 1720 and dedicated them to Christian Ludwig, Margrave of Brandenburg, in March 1721. The instrumentation of each concerto is different, suggesting that the works were not intended to be performed as a set but individually according to the availability of the required musicians.

The collection is significant for the unusual combinations of instruments and textures, with the third and sixth concertos for strings only. The third concerto is scored for three violins, three violas, three cellos and continuo.

The three movements provide great contrast of thought and intent. The outer movements are in the ritornello form with regular returns to the main idea with contrasting sections. In the score the second movement consists of two chords. Throughout the work, the overlapping interplay between the three violins, violas and cellos is a delight to encounter.

Pēteris Vasks (b 1946)
Da pacem, Domine


Pēteris Vasks (b 1946) is a Latvian composer whose work is imbued with a spirit of traditional Latvian culture and influenced by Lutosławski and the Polish school of the 1960s. He has composed numerous concertos, symphonies, chamber works, instrumental and choral compositions.

Arnolds Klotiņš writing in Grove Online writes that Vasks’ music “speak[s] of nature under threat and the need to defend humanity from forces hostile to mankind in the development of civilization. The presence of this ethical imperative creates a deeply meditative basic mood, as well as frequent sharp contrasts between the clear beauty of ideals and tragic pathos.”

Da pacem, Domine (2016) was premiered in 2016 by the Latvian Radio Choir and Sinfonietta Rīga at Riga Cathedral as part of the composer’s 70th anniversary celebrations. At the time Vasks said, “I have always seen prayer as great spiritual power in tight focus. When a person is so focused, the call will not remain unanswered. To me prayer is always active. When I composed Da pacem, Domine, it was a cry of desperation for our times, a prayer for our mad world. I believe that music strengthens our faith, love and soul.” The work is based on a Gregorian antiphon and written for mixed choir and string orchestra.

Notes: David Forrest