5th May 2012

From the Wilts & Glos Standard, 24th May 2012
Mass in B flat – Hummel and Stabat Mater – Haydn
5 May 2012

Review by Charles Woodd



Our Parish Church of St John Baptist, newly released from its scaffolding embrace, was blessed with a little bit of style from the courts of the Princes of Esterhazy last Saturday night when Cirencester Choral Society presented a bubbling performance of unusual works by Mozart, Haydn and Hummel. Concerts by Cirencester Choral Society are highly popular social, as well as musical, occasions, with tickets sometimes selling out. So, despite the unfamiliar works on the programme, the church was again packed with an air of expectation. The occasion didn’t disappoint.

A concert of unfamiliar music can be daunting, but music from the classical period is easily digestible and rapidly becomes a friend. Mozart is of course the master, but despite a bold performance by the choir, the Tantum Ergo which opened the evening wasn’t the new find of the evening for me.

Nor was the Stabat Mater, composed by the father of classical music, Haydn, in grateful thanks for recovery from a ‘violent disorder’. One of his greatest international successes during his life, the emotional words of the Stabat Mater provided plenty of opportunities for his famous ‘word painting’ abilities. Carleton Etherington’s crystal clear direction and sense of the music managed to draw out from the choir contrasts in tone, volume and spirit to elaborate these themes; from ‘weeping’ through ‘crucifixion’ to ‘paradise’. My particular high point was the compelling rhythm the choir achieved to underpin the wonderfully lilting Eia Mater movement.

But this piece relies on the soloists and we enjoyed young talent from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. Their voices were glorious, with the richness of the mezzo Anna Staruschkevych particularly impressive. However it was Augusta Hebbert who stole the show as the late stand-in soprano soloist. In addition to her wonderful singing, she charmed her way through arias, duets and quartets, with her evident enjoyment enhancing the musicality of her singing and her connection with the audience. Her performance of the extravagant roulades in the final movement was particularly enjoyable and a reminder of Haydn’s wonderfully ingenuous remark that when he thought of God his heart would invariably “leap for joy”.

That leaves Hummel, the least well known of the trio of composers, to take the plaudits for his B flat Mass as the ‘take home’ work of the evening. Initially taught as a child prodigy by Mozart, and later studying with Haydn before inheriting his position at the Esterhazy court, Hummel is firmly classical in style and is enjoying a revival. This music dances along; it demands energy, engagement and attention to make it appear effortless. Dancing with 120 people at the same time is a challenge the choir rose to regularly, producing delightful, lyrical music and enjoying the wonderful tunes. At their best, the confidence of the choir was evident in the rapt attention they were able to focus on their conductor’s subtle direction; in the more complex fugal movements there was a tendency for eyes to become focussed on the book, diminishing both the subtle interpretation and also the connection with the audience. But overall this was a buoyant, joyous performance of a delightful work, which demonstrated this choir’s ability to achieve control and precision in its delivery.

Our church will offer a different kind of music at Cirencester: Heritage In Light next week and the Bach B Minor mass is being performed on 26th May, but you will have to wait until 8th December for Cirencester Choral Society’s next concert which will celebrate the music of one of England’s greatest composers, Henry Purcell. It is sure to be a ‘sell-out’ so put the date in your diary now, and get your tickets early to ensure you aren’t disappointed.