Congleton Town Hall, Saturday November 11th 2017.
Gloria: Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)
Gloria: Vivaldi (1678 - 1741)
Solemn Melody: Walford Davies (1869 - 1941)
Requiem: Bob Chilcott (b. 1955)
A splendid concert which inspired us with exciting music and highlighted the musicianship of Congleton Choral Society under its Music Director Christopher Cromar. The programme was appropriate to this particular weekend, with a connection to the Festival of Remembrance, which occurred in the Royal Albert Hall at the same time.
From the start the choir took care with the words such that the different treatments of the words of the Gloria in two works from very different periods could be readily appreciated. The first movement of the Chilcott work 'Gloria in excelsis Deo', with its detached rhythms and clashes, embracing a quieter middle section, was exciting. The interpretation of 'Qui tollis peccata mundi' fulfilled the composer's instruction "Warm and lyrical" but, this was not an exception. The choir under Christopher Cromar's direction, carefully observed the dynamics throughout the programme.
Both Gloria scores included sections with dancing rhythms and the choir subtly differentiated between them, Chilcott's 'Quoniam tu solus sanctus' was sung with due restraint, in contrast to the confident robust singing and pointed rhythms of the Vivaldi setting of 'Domine Fili unigenite'.
In the Vivaldi work the excitement of the Allegro introduction and chorus soon gave way to beautiful sustained singing of the soulful 'Et in terra pax hominibus'. The hall was filled with sound in the duet: 'Laudamus te' sung by soprano and mezzo soprano soloists (Charlotte Richardson and Rebecca Barry). Finally 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' was uplifting and sung by the choir with confidence.
After the interval the profound and deeply moving music of Bob Chilcott's Requiem was revealed.
The first movement 'Introit and Kyrie' developed from intense, mysteriously sung words in unison over an accompaniment with a restless moving bass to an equally magical quiet choral section. The tenor soloist (Jonathan Cooke) was then heard for the first time, beautifully matching the mood of the music as this movement settled to a peaceful final 'Christe eleison' with singing as soft and defined as that in the opening bars.
In the Offertorio the men of the choir had an opportunity to shine and, despite their somewhat small number made a worthy musical contribution before being joined by the remainder of the choir in making a dramatic climax with the impassioned plea "Libera eas de ore leonis" (Free them from the jaws of the lion). The tenor soloist lyrically brought a gentle pace into the 'Hostias' section and the choir subtly completed the movement with repeated Amens.
Chilcott's setting of 'Pie Jesu' is reminiscent of that in Fauré's Requiem although his version involves the choir singing softly with the soprano soloist. This setting is exquisitely beautiful and the choir reflected this, however some may feel that the composer's instruction "With simplicity and stillness" was not universally achieved. This work was an opportunity for beautiful singing and I am sure highlights will be remembered, for example the tenor solo in the Agnus Dei with its quiet reiteration of "Requiem" by the choir in which the composer's instruction "Still and gentle" was fully respected. The following 'Thou knowest, Lord' was memorable, being sung with earnest meaning and musical sensitivity.
The final movement 'Lux aeterna' allowed the choir to show its ability over a wide dynamic range. This section has an accompaniment with a similar restless bass to that in the first movement. After the dramatic section with soloists, a diminishing dynamic was established by the choir sopranos and accompaniment as they quietly took up "Requiem aeternum.." to be followed by the whole choir, towards closing the word "aeternum" on a soft unison reminiscent of the opening bars.
I am sure that having had opportunities to work with the composer in workshops, the choir has developed rapport with and sympathy for Bob Chilcott's music and this contributed greatly to the success of this concert.
We must commend Elin Rees in her difficult task of accompanying this music on the organ and for the statuesque Solemn Melody played to commemorate the fallen in wars. Christopher Cromar, the conductor, ably led the choir in making music of a high standard in this well-chosen programme.
There are always unsung people working behind the scenes in bringing to the public concerts of this high standard, such as the choir's rehearsal pianist Andrew Green. Their work is commended and it is also apposite to comment on the high quality of the printed programme, which aids the professionalism of the choir.