Reviews 2001


Rimsky Korsakov: Russian Easter Festival Overture
Mussorgsky: Four Choruses
Tchaikovsky: Sleeping Beauty Suite
Rachmaninov: The Bells
Beethoven: Missa Solemnis

12 May: Snape Maltings ( with The Royal Choral Society)
Missa Solemnis (Beethoven)

Choir rises to challenge of singing in Russian
December 1

Russian Masterworks, Charter Hall, Colchester

This evening’s programme of choral and orchestral works by four of Russia’s greatest composers resulted in a highly motivated performance from all concerned and proved both interesting and stimulating.
Conductor Richard Cooke was in complete control of choir and orchestra, inspiring them to excellence in all aspects of their performance.
The orchestra ensemble was extremely tight, attention to detail in intricate dialogue-like passages being equally as impressive as the full rich sound achieved by the orchestra as a whole, and the choir rose to the challenge of singing in Russian most convincingly, as well as conveying a real sense of involvement in the music.
The anticipatory opening of Rimsky-Korsakov’s Easter Festival Overture featured some fine cameo solos from various sections of the orchestra, notably the beautiful virtuosic violin passages from Padraic Savage, and these clear textures gradually built up a truly festive climax depicting the joy of the Resurrection.
In a lighter, more secular vein, the popular Sleeping Beauty Suite by Tchaikovsky brought us lilting dance rhythms and flowing melodies over delightful pizzicato string accompaniments all perfectly executed to portray the characters in the drama.
Mussorgsky’s four short pieces for chorus and orchestra are made up of fragments from two unfinished operas and a setting of a poem by Byron. The choir’s sensitivity to the differing moods of each piece was apparent at all times.

The ensuing moments of silence prolonged this well captured mood before resounding applause emphasised the audience’s appreciation.
The menacing Angel of Death in The Destruction of Sennacherib was suitably sombre, there was great compassion for Salammbo, grieving over the imminent death of her lover, and a powerful portrayal of thanksgiving for the fall of Jericho in Joshua, beginning in a spirit of triumphant exhortation and ending emphatically on He is the Lord.
Rachmaninov’s The Bells was truly evocative. Skilful dynamics in Sleigh Bells created the effects of arrival from a distance and disappearance into oblivion, although Daniel Norman (tenor) was a little lightweight for the solo part. Helen Williams (soprano) sang passionately of the holy solemnity of Wedding Bells, and there was a great feeling of chaos and panic in Alarm Bells. The work concluded on a sombre note with Funeral Bells. Full choir and orchestra supported the rich bass voice of Roderick Earle in this plaintive lament, then gradually lessened to nothing in imitation of the stillness of the grave. Jackie Wallace

Beethoven stirs up the emotions
May 12

Missa Solemnis, Snape Maltings

WHAT is it about Beethoven? After 40 years of listening to and playing his music and particularly after enjoying this stirring performance, one is left more convinced than ever that for direct emotional engagement Beethoven has no equal. The University of Essex Choir and the Royal Choral Society, with soloists Judith Howarth, Kristina Wahlin, Jamie McDougall and Michael Pearce, and the Essex Sinfonia were conducted by Richard Cooke.
The opening Kyrie produced a good choral sound and orchestral balance, and the right combination of solemnity and intensity. The Gloria opened explosively; the choral diction was excellent and made a real impact. It was good to hear the fine brass writing in the great in gloria dei patris fugue come through so clearly and the final presto was incandescent.
There was some noteworthy orchestral playing in the Credo, particularly from the flute in Et Incarnatus, but also from the whole orchestra in et resurrexit and the two et vitam venturi choruses. The sopranos coped well with Beethoven’s cruel demands. The Preludium of the Sanctus provided a wonderful cocktail of dark orchestral colour and Padraic Savage’s sympathetic violin solo carried the music along with delicacy and insight. The dark opening of the Agnus Die was captured faithfully and performed with great intensity; the flowing serenity of dona nobis pacem was equally well-judged.
All performers deserve high praise for their contributions but particularly conductor Richard Cooke, both for his utterly secure handling of the singers and orchestra (who should have been given their page in the programme), but even more for his appreciation and grasp of this sublime work.
“May it go to the heart,” wrote Beethoven on the title page. This performance certainly went to mine.

Gareth Jones, East Anglian Daily Times