5th May 2007

From the Wilts & Glos Standard, 17th May 2007

 

REQUIEM – John Rutter 
FROM THE BAVARIAN HIGHLANDS - Edward Elgar
5th May 2007

Review by John Appleton

 

 

Two English composers were represented in Cirencester Choral Society's concert on 5th May performed in a well-filled Bingham Hall. Elgar was born in 1857, and the concert commemorated the 150th anniversary of his birth by the inclusion From the Bavarian Highlands in the programme; and John Rutter, born in 1945, who is still a very much alive and popular composer of mainly choral music, and whose Requiem and Suite Antique completed the programme.

 The concert opened with his Requiem, for which a small ensemble was used to accompany the choir in this work. The direction of Carleton Etherington, the choral society's conductor, drew from them playing that was both well-balanced and artistic. In this work each player has their own individual and significant part, which contributed much by its varied and contrasting accompaniment to the choir. Throughout the balance seemed ideal, the instrumental playing being distinct whilst allowing the choir to come through clearly. The concert programme included all the words of each work, but the choir's excellent diction hardly made this necessary - although this feature does have value in being able later to look back at the text.

The Requiem is a challenging piece with which to open a concert, the brooding and subdued orchestral introduction offering little support to the demanding choral lines, and it was not surprising for the choir to sound a little tentative at first. But as the music quickly broadened into the glorious broad theme of Requiem aeternam a confident grasp was displayed by the choir which was sustained throughout. The soprano soloist, Alison Shone, was heard first in the Pie Jesu, and here, as later, she communicated well with the audience, her clear tones being at times spine-tingling in the acoustic of the hall. The Sanctus ended with a thrilling Hosanna in excelsis from the choir and was followed by the Agnus Dei where the intensity of the music brought out well the feeling of supplication demanded by both words, finding ultimate relief in "I am the resurrection and the life...".

The second part of the concert opened with Rutter's Suite Antique, in the version for flute and piano. Here the duo of Jenny Rees (piano) and Jane Groves (flute) demonstrated their experience of playing regularly together as the Berkely Duo, and gave a performance full of mutual understanding, whether in the gentler flowing parts or in those of a more lively nature. The programme notes informed us that Rutter composed the work for performance with the same combination of instruments required tor Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 5, and echoes of Bach's style could be heard in the writing.

Elgar's From the Bavarian Highlands concluded the concert. The work reveals neither the Elgar of Pomp and Circumstance nor of his oratorios. It comprises settings of six poems written by his wife, and it conveys the essence of folk song and dance. This music requires a light and at times sprightly rendition, which the conductor drew from the choir in a performance that sent the audience away in happy mood.

This was a rare musical feast, enhanced by the delightful pianism of Jenny Rees, the choir's regular rehearsal accompanist, and should encourage the audience to look forward to future choral society concerts.