9th December 2006

From the Wilts & Glos Standard, 4th January 2007


9th December 2006
Review by David White



When you think of the composer Rossini, you think of music that is witty, sharp, tuneful maybe but not intense large scale devotional music for a private chapel. His Petite Messe Solonnelle was originally for a tiny chorus of eight singers and a team of four soloists, a couple of pianos and, of all things, a harmonium. Cirencester Choral Society lived it large and certainly dramatic on Saturday night and twelve singers became almost a hundred. The result was a roller coaster of a performance with the chorus spanning huge contrasts of louds and softs, complex part writing and ethereal extended unaccompanied passages, all managed with assurance and aplomb. The accompaniment lost one of its original pianos but Jenny Rees was more than a match for the role of single pianist, with precisely judged dynamics, neat fingers and even a dry sense of fun. Cirencester was witness to a harmonium of much greater distinction that those usually found in a second hand shop or old chapel and it startled the audience with its unusual wheeze and acerbic snarl expertly controlled by John Brierley.

The vocal soloists were a promising team of post graduate students from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama and if the Choral Society’s past reputation is anything to go by, they may well have launched their careers with heroic and thoroughly theatrical and therefore totally idiomatic performances. This could be said especially of tenor, Gareth John and bass Philip Spendley, but of the four, perhaps Emily Rowley Jones was particularly distinguished a soprano whose “O salutaris” coming as it does at the end of a gruellingly long work could only be described as ravishing. Melanie Lang, mezzo soprano, deserved the epithet “heroic” most of all the quartet since her part was written in such a way as to make it unfairly obscured either by its low lying nature or having to compete with more strident colleagues. She came into her own in the final movement, “Agnus Dei” where as soloist alternating with the meditative choir she negotiated hair raising arabesques and huge range with virtuosic flair and not a little intensity.

There was a companion piece in the concert and it was a bright idea to commission a short choral work for the same unusual accompaniment resources of piano and harmonium. This was the work of Jenny Rees, the society’s regular and modest by nature, but certainly not by ability, accompanist. It was a gentle and singable setting of Psalm 148. Presiding over the whole adventurous exercise was conductor Carleton Etherington. To him is due the praise and glory for devising such an enterprising event and for training and driving the forces with such brio and elegance. Cirencester should be proud of its Choral Society and while there was a goodly crowd in support, very nearly filling the Bingham Hall, all its citizens should be battering at the doors of their next concert.