Bach: Mass in B Minor
Mozart: Ave Verum Corpus
Mozart: Symphony No 39 in E flat
Snape Maltings Concert Hall, 6 May, 2006
Saturday night’s performance of the Bach Mass in B Minor was full of wonder and beauty. The University of Essex Choir, The London Handel Orchestra with Claire Tomlin (soprano), Catherine King (alto), Allan Clayton (tenor) and Stephen Varcoe (bass) were threaded together almost seamlessly by Richard Cooke in his 25th season conducting this accomplished choir.
Many of us must have left the hall after this concert with a tingling at the back of our necks and our faith in the magnificence of human achievement enriched. The choir sang beautifully. They moved with subtle and suppressed tension through ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’, with the whispered ‘Miserere’ scarcely disturbing the air; Richard Cooke coaxed a rather errant hunting horn through the gradual release of the bass soloist in ‘Quoniam tu solus’ and then sprang his singers into the glorious vivace of ‘Cum sancto spiritu’ leaving the audience breathless and scarcely wanting the interval.
The soloists were all good. Flutes and oboe d’amore wove their magic around the ever reliable continuo, and trumpets tossed waves of magic towards the grateful audience. Particularly beautiful was the ‘Benedictus’ where tenor and flute danced gracefully and nimbly together.
Sometimes the orchestra was a little ragged, falling unevenly onto some of their entries. But the sheer exuberance and energy of the performance, at once quietly spiritual and rousingly joyous, smothered the evening in pleasure. The audience applauded and cheered richly before making their way outside into the torrential and unrelenting rain.
St Andrew’s Hall, Norwich, 29 April,2006
Richard Cooke (music director of the Royal Choral Society) conducted the University of Essex Choir in a splendid and memorable performance of this inspiring work by Bach in a concert marking his 25th anniversary as the choir’s guide and mentor.
His reading and interpretation of the score was firmly drilled into the singers with steadfast authority. They admirably rose to the challenge that this work demands and produced clarity and tonal colour in their performance which was, simply, pure delight to listen too. In many ways, it reminded me of the halcyon days of UEA choir under Philip Ledger and Peter Aston.
The quartet of soloists were equally matched with Claire Tomlin (soprano) and Catherine King (alto) singing with such tenderness and beauty while Allan Clayton (tenor) produced a nice rounded and assertive tone with Stephen Varcoe (bass) heard to striking and good effect in a solo accompanied by Andrew Clark playing superbly the corno da caccia (hunting horn). He’s a former Norwich boy and son of David Clark who was priest-in-charge of the Norwich-Over-The-Water parish).
Three baroque trumpeters added that extra punch when needed while members of the London Handel Orchestra (playing on period instruments) excelled in their playing wrapping up a performance that I would stick my neck out and say was one of the best I’ve ever heard.
The audience roared and stamped their approval in an elongated curtain call that made the dreaded noise-limiter hit its mark! I look forward to their next visit.
Tony Cooper, East Anglian Daily Times
Charter Hall, 28 January, 2006
Commemorating the birth of Mozart almost 250 years ago to the day, the University of Essex Choir, accompanied by the London Handel Orchestra, and conducted by Richard Cooke, presented a concert celebration in a programme of music composed in the composer’s final years.
The concert opened with the motet Ave Verum Corpus which Mozart composed for the parish church of Baden in the late summer of 1791. The packed auditorium of the Charter Hall was indulged in a performance rich with the sonority of the closely harmonised low strings, and in moving choral singing of poise and dignity. The Latin pronunciation here, as with the Requiem later in the programme, was clear and well articulated. We could hear every word.
The orchestral work for the concert was the Symphony No. 39 in E flat. It is always a delight to hear Mozart performed authentically, or as authentically as can be, and with this performance we were in for a treat. The orchestra was laid out in the classical scheme affording the listener the stereo effect of left and right split violins, and antiphonal horns and trumpets. The effect was magical and complemented by a mastery of interpretation from the conductor, Richard Cooke. I was captivated by the performance: the wondrous sound of the hand-stopped natural horns; the open vibrancy of the trumpets, the true colour of the classical clarinets, flute and bassoons, and the authentically played strings. The mastery of the performance and the genius of Mozart combined to make this an unforgettable musical feast.
After the interval, the audience settled down for the Requiem, a work that Mozart left unfinished at his death. A fair portion of it was complete (up to partway through the Lacrimosa), and some notes were left which his pupil, Süssmayr, was able to use in order to fulfil the commission. Süssmayr’s skill and creativity should not be underestimated in this respect – the whole work is one of two geniuses. The Choir and Orchestra were now joined by four vocal soloists, Anna Leese, Christina Astin, Andrew Staples, and Michael Pearce. From the opening Requiem Aeternam to the final Cum Sanctis tuis the performance was electrifying. To mention some of the choral sections, the contrapuntal passages in the Requiem Aeternam were clearly articulated, the Dies Irae was buoyantly rhythmic and highly charged, the suspensions in the Rex Tremendae were heart-stopping, the Confutatis Maledictis was extrovert and the Voca Me was soulfully poignant. The vocal soloists performed with great sensitivity and their quartets, Recordare and Tuba Mirum demonstrated their perfect balance in ensemble. Richard Cooke has a true understanding of Mozart in performance and not only got the very best out his performers, but out of the music itself, for instance the fantastic harmonic sequence that underpins Oro Supplex. The performance as a whole was stunning and although it has been said before, it must be said again that Richard Cooke and The University of Essex Choir represent the very best of choral music in this area. I’m sure that wild horses will not keep the audience away from their next concert – the B minor Mass by J S Bach.
Stephen P Evans
Charter Hall, 28 January, 2006
An uplifting performance
WITH a glut of Mozart concerts in prospect to celebrate the 250th anniversary of his birth, it is essential that musicians deliver performances that will stand out from the crowd.
Essex University Choir with the London Handel Orchestra, directed by Richard Cooke, certainly impressed their audience with remarkable renditions of three Mozart favourites.
Ave Verum Corpus was taken at a slower than usual pace, yet never flagged and convincingly demonstrated the choir’s wonderful control of sustained lines as they wrung out every ounce of reverence and fervour from this sublime motet.
The orchestra’s energetic and stylish approach invigorated Symphony No 39. Beautifully executed affirming chords and scale passages pervaded the opening Allegro, delicate string dialogue was nicely contrasted with more agitated sections in the Adagio, flute and clarinets cheekily embellished the Trio section of the Minuet, and a flamboyant final Allegro captured the essential joyful nature of the work.
Four soloists made excellent, albeit small, contributions to the dramatic Requiem, and achieved good balance and blend when singing together.
The choir definitely realised its full potential here. They were as thrilling at full volume as they were sensitive and subtle in their use of understatement and breathtakingly quiet dynamics.
Clear diction and confidently handled fugal sections were particularly impressive, and the female voices were exquisitely angelic in the Confutatis.
A truly uplifting birthday celebration!
Essex County Standard, 3 February, 2006