St James King St concert reviews Sydney NSW Australia


A large mixed gathering filled the St James King St Church on Saturday 2nd December, central Sydney for a unique concert. For the first time, the Momentum Ensemble, an offshoot of the Australian Youth Orchestra, and the wonderful St James Choir collaborated in a concert to celebrate Christmas.

The ensemble comprised of woodwind, brass and percussion from some of the best musicians of the larger orchestra. The concert was great for both musicians and singers giving the choir a chance to expand its repertoire whilst giving valuable experience for the young musicians to work with professional singers in a stunning venue.

(NB – photo is from a previous performance.)

After an excellent welcome and introduction by new Rector Christopher Waterhouse, the concert began with a Renaissance piece by Giovanni Gabrieli “O Magnum Mysterium”. This text dates back to at least the Middle Ages, celebrating the “great mystery” of the Nativity scene. Many composers through the centuries have set the text to music, even up to just a few years ago. Gabrieli’s version was written in the 1500s to be performed in the Basilica di San Marco in Venice. Here, there was space to spread the choir out so the listeners heard the performance in stereo all around the Basilica. St James performance didn’t take the singers too far from each other but the split between two groups still gave us a taste of the stereophonic to and fro.

The following work was one very rarely heard and took a jump of several centuries in time, completed in 1930. Respighi’s “Lauda per La Nativitá del Signore” featured lovely solos by Michelle Ryan as the Angel, Cassandra Doyle as Mary and Andrew Goodwin as Shepherd. Originally written for soloists, choir, woodwind and piano, it was a beautiful match to the ensemble, the perfect treat. Respighi’s music is well known for it’s delightful melodies and gentle, balletic orchestrations. The piece opened and closed with a pastoral style making the work relaxing and comforting.

Back to Gabrieli to open the second half with “Sonata Pian’e Forte” arranged for Brass Octet and beautifully performed by Momentum, followed by the major work for the evening, Bruckner’s Mass no. 2. The Mass is a grand and lengthy work for orchestra and choir, better suited to a concert performance rather than a regular church service. The premiere in 1869 was written to celebrate a new Chapel at the enormous New Cathedral in Linz, Austria which holds 20,000 people. (Look it up!)

The performance was to be outdoors so no organ included and brass was added to boost the magnitude of the work accompanying a large choir. With the overall theme of celebration, it was the perfect work to fill the second half of the concert. The Momentum ensemble and St James Choir were a smaller representation of the original version but filled the venue with their joyous music. The audience gave enthusiastic applause with lots of positive comments afterwards. It was a wonderful performance with superb choice of music.

Much credit must go to Director Warren Trevelyan-Jones who produced the concert. He holds an extraordinary resume of singing in his own career around the UK, so made a very natural choice to move to the position of Director for St James Choir in 2008. Another string to his bow from earlier years was as Music Therapist.  He says his training in this field, “made me realise the power that music [has] to change people’s lives and the importance of the communication that flows between performer and listener. As a church musician, one has enormous responsibility to reach, lead and hopefully uplift and inspire others in worship…”

St James King St is the oldest church building in the city of Sydney coming up to celebrating its 200th birthday. The church has been undergoing much activity as it prepares for the installation of a brand new, commissioned Dobson organ in the first half of 2024. It will be third largest organ in Sydney after the Opera House and Town Hall. It’s a mammoth project costing $3 million, the plan has been in the making for decades. St James has raised over 2/3rds of the cost so far and continues its appeal to donors for the final balance.

Well known for its public concerts, St James King St will continue to offer the venue and the new organ for concert recitals open to the public. Donors can be assured their money will be well spent on raising the cultural and spiritual activity of everyone in the city. If you are able or know of anyone able to donate to this wonderful project, please visit

Keep an eye out next year for the concerts and services at St James here:

More about the AYO Momentum Ensemble:


GIOVANNI GABRIELI (1557-1612) O magnum mysterium

OTTORINO RESPIGHI (1879-1936) Lauda per La Nativitá del Signore

GIOVANNI GABRIELI Sonata Pian’e Forte for Brass Octet

ANTON BRUCKNER (1824-1896) Mass No. 2 in E minor