Friday, 11 February 2011

Nelson Mass and Duruflé Requiem at Holy Trinity Saturday 5 February

The new Director of
Exmouth Choral Society
Laurence Blyth
Exmouth Choral Society promised their audience a lot last Saturday night - Haydn's 'Nelson Mass' and Duruflé's 'Requiem' in one evening.  If the audience needed any reassurance about their ability to deliver, it came with the explosive opening 'Kyrie'.  The Society's new director of music, Laurence Blyth, had a small but very competent supporting orchestra led by Mary Eade.  The ensemble of five strings was very sensitively augmented by the trumpet playing of Paul Thomas and Paul Cakebread.  Essential to the sound was the very accomplished tympani playing of their youngest member, Molly Lopresti-Richards.  The Society president, Andrew Millington, was up in the organ loft and, somehow managing to follow Laurence's direction, combined the sound of the organ with the orchestra.
The Choir was noticeably dominated by sopranos and altos, with only a small line-up of dinner-jacketed tenors and basses in the front row, including the familiar figure of David Lee.  It was good to see two women in the tenor ranks, Barbara Lambert and Sallie Ranken, bringing their numbers up to a respectable six.  There was perhaps a slight struggle to bring the tenor and bass parts up to the volume of the rest of the choir, but Laurence had prepared everyone well and the resulting combination was quite satisfactory.
The first half of the 'double bill' was Joseph Haydn's 'Missa Augustiis' which he composed in 1798 for his former employers, the Hungarian Esterházy family, to be performed at the Palais Esterházy  in Vienna.  The title, meaning 'A dismissal (mass) for troubled times', possibly referred to the extreme stress of staging his oratorio 'Creation' in the same year, but more particularly to the fact that Vienna had been overrun by the army of Napoleon Bonaparte. However, despite appearing invincible, Bonaparte's fortunes were reversed following the defeat of the French fleet by Rear Admiral Horatio Lord Nelson in the 'Battle of the Nile' (which actually took place on the Mediterranean coast of Egypt at Abū Qīr Bay - خليج أبو قير).  Two years later Viscount Nelson (by then also 'Baron Nelson of the Nile') and Lady Hamilton visited the Palais, and may even have heard a performance of the Missa Augustiis.  In any event, 'Missa Augustiis' has subsequently become known as  the 'Nelson Mass' in his honour.
Leader of the string orchestra Mary Eade
In various combinations the orchestra, organ and choir worked together and supported the solos of the four visiting vocalists.  Soprano Harriet Jones, looking rather splendid in an ermine cape, sang the first solo - an animated and plaintive 'Kyrie Eleison' ('Lord have Mercy').  Mary Eade also had her first opportunity to perform a violin solo, which was highly polished.  In the 'Gloria' Hariet was joined by Tenor David Webb, Baritone Julian Rippon and complemented by the balanced voices of the choir.  One last soloist, a striking figure,  mezzo-soprano Juliet Curnow, finally stood to deliver the 'Qui Tollis' ('[You] who take away [the sins of the World]').  Her voice was deep and clear. The choir supported in a sibilant whisper as Andrew Millington played on in the high register of the organ.  The solo continued, passing between Harriet and Julia.  The tempo increased slightly as Harriet performed the 'Quoniam' ('Because [you alone are holy]') and all four soloist stood to sing the long complex final 'Amen' ('Verily').  The 'Credo' ('I believe') was sung by the choir with an understandable emphasis on the higher range.  Harriet began the 'Incarnatus' ('[God from God . . . who] was made flesh') and was joined by the other three soloists all combining to express the sadness of death and burial.  The choir and orchestra then expressed the exhultation of the 'Resurrexit' ('He Rose Again').  The orchestra played a long instrumental section with Mary Eade's vivacious violin playing ringing out.  Harriet sang the last line ' . . . expecto resurrectionem mortuorum et vitam venturi saeculi' (' . . . I attend the resurrection of the dead and life of the world to come') followed by everyone's 'Amen'.  The choir then repeated the creed with elaborate dynamic changes and sustained high notes.  The choir really came into their own in the 'Sanctus' ('Holy [Lord God of Hosts]'), singing softly but under total control, each word building in volume before dying away.  The trumpet interjected single notes unobtrusively throughout - beautiful!  The instrumentalists then had an opportunity to play to us.  Effectively a string quintet, they played magnificently with some very moving effects from violist Andrew Gillett.  Molly Lopresti-Richards' tympani rounded off their first sortie perfectly.  The tympani were then held under - very skilfully - as the trumpet came in softly (but without mute) and rose in volume and pitch to deliver a lovely solo line.  Mary's violin then introduced Harriet for the 'Benedictus' ('Blessed [is he who comes]') Harriet's voice was as sweet as ever and accompanied by solo runs on the violin by Mary, and delicate backing from Andrew from the organ loft.  Again the choir repeated the solo, this time in a soft eerie lilt.  Juliet stood and alternated with Harriet before all the soloists joined in, along with the choir and orchestra, and particularly the trumpet.  To the music of the 'string quintet' Juliet sang the 'Agnus Dei' ('Lamb of God') in that mature and powerful voice, in stark contrast to Harriet's soft, delicate tones.  All that remained was the 'Dona Nobis' ('Give us [Peace]') - the jewel in the crown!  The trumpet was loud and energetic and Mary played a series of solos with the second violin and viola while the 'cello and bass provided pizzicato - gorgeous!  As the sound of the instruments withdrew the choir rounded off the mass softly before the final crescendo to the exquisite parting notes.
Four extraordinary soloists:
Mezzo-Soprano Juliet Curnow, Soprano Harriet Jones,
Tenor David Webb, Baritone Julian Rippon.
For a small local choir this was an incredible achievement.  Everyone sang beautifully and gave the soloists all the support they needed.  Laurence Blyth, on his first outing with the group, has achieved a stupendous result.  The soloists and instrumentalists he brought in were superb and all the parts were put together brilliantly.  Andrew and Laurence have worked together for some time at the Cathedral and the sensitive use of the organ was a credit to them both.  Thank you for a wonderful performance and well done to all concerned!

But wait!  That was only half of the evening's performance.  After a very convivial intermission everyone returned to their places for the 'Requiem'.  Everyone, that is, except Molly Lopresti-Richards, whose Tympani were no longer needed, and two of the soloists, Harriet Jones and David Webb.  But making his first appearance was Oli Ritchie with his concert harp.
The Requiem was composed in 1947 by French organist Maurice Duruflé in memory of his father.  Although it is scored for a four part choir, only two soloists are required, mezzo-soprano and baritone.  There are three alternative settings, the string orchestra and harp being the intermediate between simple organ accompaniment and a full orchestra.
The big moment
Juliet Curnow sings 'Pie Jesu'
The 'Introit' ('He comes in' - the entrance of the priest) was initiated by the organ and bass voices, joined by the whole choir.  This was very different from the Haydn Mass with the voices harmonising in undulating ululation to a backing of strings and rippling organ bass.  The basses took the 'Kyrie' with the rest of the choir (mainly soprano) providing the top line.  The Sopranos built in power, then gave way to the basses again before the organ took over for the lingering finish.  'Domine Jesu Christe' ('O Lord Jesus Christ') began with a very ominous combination of deep bass organ and pizzicato from the 'cello and bass.  The choir joined this rather dolorous introduction before a vigorous section for the strings and trumpet led to frantic singing by the choir.  A sudden hush left the violins playing gently with trembling notes from the viola and organ.  To this sustained tremolo Julian sang the solo plea for deliverance.  The 'Sanctus' was a masterpiece of coordination.  Starting with soprano voices, strings and 'flute' on the organ, the volume steadily and repeatedly increased to a background sound of plucked bass strings.  Then the volume died away again leaving just the bass voices of the choir - exquisite!  The blessing was then repeated in a whisper with the organ holding onto the last trailing note.  The short, but very familiar and moving, 'Pie Jesu' ('Merciful Jesus') was sung as a powerful solo by Juliet Curnow.  Supported only by organ and 'cello her voice sank deeper and deeper ending in the percectly enunciated last word ' . . . sempiternam' (' . . . for ever').  In the 'Agnus Dei' the basses sang at the top of their range and Oli Ritchie's harp started to be fully audible.  Once again they finished with that tricky but delightful word - 'sempiternam'.  The longest section of the requiem was 'Libera Me' ('Deliver Me') from the choir supported by light and high organ notes and very very gentle violin and viola accompaniment, a very moving sound.  The initial gentleness gives way eventually to loud bass organ, trumpet and bass voices (including Julian) for ' . . . dum veneris judicare saeculum per ignem' (' . . . when you will come to judge the world by fire').  The words 'per ignem' were almost shouted.  After the roar of the trumpets and organ even the strings died away to leave the choir to repeat 'per ignum!' before the organ finally died away.  The finale had an almost ethereal quality.  The high gentle sound of the organ accompanied the sopranos singing 'In Paradisum' ('In Paradise').  The plea for divine justice in heaven gave way to the very deepest notes from the Double bass and organ leading to a final phrase on the highest notes by Mary on her violin.
This remarkable 'bonus' performance demonstrated the quite extraordinary versatility of Exmouth Choral Society's choir - not to mention their stamina.  The whole group, and especially their new director, Laurence Blyth, really showed us what they can do.

We don't have to wait long to hear the choir again.  On Saturday 7 May they will perform the oratorio that caused Joseph Haydn such travail in the year he composed the 'Missa Augustiis' - 'The Creation'.  When the ticket and booking details become available they will appear here and at

Exmouth Choral Society (Director Laurence Blyth)
Holy Trinity Church Exmouth Saturday 7 May 7.30pm
Joseph Haydn: 'The Creation'
(Ticket details to be arranged.)

If you missed last Saturday's performance of the Duruflé Requiem,or you would like to hear it again, there is news of another performance in Taunton on Sunday 20 February by the Somerset Chamber Choir.

Somerset Chamber Choir (Director Graham Caldbeck)
King's College Chapel Taunton Sunday 20 February 3pm
La Musique Sacrée
Duruflé: Requiem
Langlais: Messe Solennelle
Messiaen: O Sacrum Convivium
Poulenc: Quatre Motets pour un Temps de Pénitence (i.e. Lent)
Organist Richard Pearce, Mezzo-Soprano Stephenie Allman,
Baritone John Broad, 'Cellist Sara Lovell
Tickets £18 & £15 reserved £11 unreserved
Box: 01823 336344 (Mon-Sat 9.30-4.30)

No comments:

Post a Comment