Beethoven: Missa Solemnis
Beethoven: Choral Fantasia,
Beethoven Piano Concerto No 5
Choirs demonstrate superb vocal ability
Beethoven, Missa Solemnis,
Snape Maltings Concert Hall
The choirs of Essex University and Colchester Institute joined together under Richard Cooke’s inspired direction to give a brilliantly polished performance of this all too rarely performed Solemn Mass.
In a presentation full of highly charged emotion the amateur singers amply demonstrated their vocal abilities. Beethoven’s choral writing is punishing; a vocally unsympathetic, quasi-instrumental style that calls for intensive rhythmic awareness frequently also uses sudden dynamic contract, and often combines this with phrasing which stretch the limits of “normal” vocal range and demands almost super-human breath control.
The work has five movements, each weaving its own particular magic through a carefully conceived alternation between available force according to the needs of the text. Each movement uses some new approach, and must have seemed a practically insuperable challenge to early performers. The Gloria is possibly the most challenging movement ever written for such forces, presenting all the work’s problems in sustained and fervent praise.
The dazzling stream of sound produced on Sunday left at last one member of the audience feeling drained with exultation and elation.
Any subsequent strain heard in the voices of the choir only served to enhance the effect, the effort required to carry the work through being almost an act of homage in itself.
The Essex Sinfonia, supplemented by members of the Institute’s Orchestra opened with an assurance and control which was ever present.
The score has an almost symphonic texture, with truly Beethovenian requirement for dynamic intensity. Never once did these talented stray in their realisation of the composer’s text, providing a sound which sensitively balanced the need to accompany with the need to assert their own identity.
The four soloists were excellent. Lynda Russell’s soprano clarity was a dream, its projection achieved without a hint of strain. Susanna Spicer’s contralto and Andrew Murgatroyd’s tenor were sensitive throughout and particularly at the change of mode and mood at “et Incarnatus” sounded deliciously hushed. The generous warmth of Brian Bannatyne-Scott’s rich bass tone was best heard in the Agnus Dei preceding the chorus’ desperate shout for peace as the work draws to its emphatic close.
Toni Calam, East Anglian Times
Highly charged music-making
Beethoven, Missa Solemnis, University of Essex Lecture Theatre
Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis is undoubtedly one of the great monuments of classical music, and one which still generates a sense of occasion.
The large combined forces of the Essex University Choir, the Colchester Institute Choir and Orchestra and the Essex Sinfonia promised the excitement of being in the physical presence of some highly charged music-making by predominantly young performers.
The performance, under Richard Cooke’s direction, succeeded in conveying the personal, indeed intimate, significance of much of the work, as well as the dramatic, symphonic, liturgical and spiritual aspects.
The Kyrie unfolded with the solemn, measured movement of a procession entering a building, anticipating an authentic religious experience.
Although physically separated from the choir by the orchestra, the solo voices of Julie Kennard, Susanna Spicer, Andrew Murgatroyd and Brian Bannatyne-Scott, emerged naturally form the choral singing and formed an harmonious ensemble without the tension that often arises from too soloistic a manner.
The Gloria erupted powerfully, the choir, in spite of its large numbers, being momentarily eclipsed by the orchestra in the university lecture theatre block.
The various clauses of the great mass sections were each given their characteristic emphasis, the quieter or more awesomely spiritual, the qui tollis in the Gloria and the et incarnatus. . . . crucifixus in the Credo, coming across most strongly.
The hushed opening of the Sanctus, the Benedictus, with Jonathan Carney’s ethereal violin solo, and much of the Agnus conveyed Beethoven’s prayerful response to the text.
In this atmosphere the belligerent intrusion into the Dona nobis pacem sounded uncomfortably out of place, but his is how it is meant to sound.
Alan Parsons, Essex County Standard
Choir’s Debut at Charter Hall
Beethoven Choral Fantasia,
Piano Concerto No 5
The University of Essex Choir and the Essex Sinfonia gave the inaugural concert at Colchester’s newly completed Charter Hall on 5 December. Conducted by Richard Cooke, whose ten years as University Choir Conductor were celebrated by an earlier presentation, the concert included not only the Mozart Requiem, but also the Beethoven Choral Fantasia and his Piano Concerto No 5, with the outstanding young South American pianist Alfredo Perl.
Even in the quietest Choir passages, the choral singing was distinct, melodious, and could clearly be heard over the skilfully subdued Orchestra. The forte-fortissimo passages were powerful, thrilling and well-balanced. The overall effect was lively, bright and very clear.
The Choral Fantasia, a striking anticipation of the 9th Symphony’s Ode to Joy, starts with a delicate piano entry, which engages each section of the orchestra in turn in a series of variations. The beautiful playing of the piano and Orchestra and the distinct sound gave ample evidence of the quality of each section. The combination of piano, six soloists, Choir and Orchestra is unusual and produced interesting sonorities. The rousing climax ending the work was very satisfying and the choice of this rarely performed work was amply justified.
The Mozart Requiem, performed in the Franz Beyer edition of 1971, rather than the more usual Sussmayer version, revealed a true Mozartian style and texture in the orchestral scoring, and allowed the confident Choir to display its range of dynamics, from hushed quiet to unforced loud passages. Several times during the performance, a high soprano choir line floated out with ethereal beauty: the basses gave rich underpinning and the altos and tenors carried enough weight to balance the ensemble throughout.
The Lacrymosa had deeply moving singing and lovely string accompaniment. The Dies Irae and the Tuba Mirum were impressively sung, full bodies and superbly complemented by the trombones. The last Cum Sanctis changed the mood abruptly and broke the spell of this emotional performance.
As usual, the diction and responsiveness of the Choir were excellent, thanks no doubt to their excellent Choir Director – I offer a toast to the next ten years under his leadership.
Mary Philips, Wyvern