7th May 2011

From the Wilts & Glos Standard
Messe Solonnelle – Vierne and Fauré – Requiem
7th May 2011
Review by John Rees



Cirencester Choral Society offered a brave programme for their latest concert in the town’s Parish Church. Fauré’s Requiem is well loved and most of the audience would have been familiar with a professional recording or two, so expectations were naturally high. By contrast, Louis Vierne’s works are little known (at least outside his native France) so a convincing performance was required to introduce his music to the sizeable audience.

However, the concert opened with Vierne’s Trois Improvisations for organ, majestically performed by Anthony Hammond, the Church’s Director of Music and Organist. The opening Marche épiscopale showcased the sheer power of the organ and its dynamic range before falling dreamlike into the Méditation. Hammond’s musical phrasing evoked an almost vocal quality from the organ – it was hard to stop one’s mind drifting…….until the Cortège started like a clap of thunder, bringing the audience back into focus.

Carleton Etherington then took to the stage and as he raised his baton to ready the choir there was a fleeting instant where they all appeared to smile at him. For those who caught the moment, it was clear that this was a choir intent on enjoying their performance.

Unencumbered by an orchestra, Carleton was able to devote his full attention to the choir. The benefit was evident in the choir’s response to Carleton’s input as they sang Vierne’s Tantum Ergo. Entries were crisp and precise with a good dynamic range and balance throughout the choir, despite relatively few tenors.

Vierne’s Messe Solennelle did not give the choir a chance to rest but they maintained energy levels throughout. The performance was compelling and Carleton was able to adjust the tempo to suit, with an instant response from the choir. The final Agnus Dei was emotive and the choir impressed with their ability to hold their tuning in the quieter passages. The performance could have been improved with more precision in the timing of consonants and more attention to the end of phrases. However, these are minor points and should not detract from a solid performance.

Fauré’s Requiem followed the interval and took the concert into familiar territory. William Armiger was the baritone soloist, projecting a most pleasant tone. However, his timing did not always match that of the choir and organ, perhaps highlighting the perils of communication and sight-lines in a historic church! Many prefer a treble, instead of a soprano, for the Pie Jesu. However, few if any could fault Katie Etherington’s refreshingly clear soprano rendition. She negotiated the octave intervals with deft precision and her diction was excellent.