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Congleton Choral Society, Congleton, Cheshire, UK

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No: 515851

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Lest We Forget; 1914 - 1918
Congleton Town Hall, 22nd November 2014

Review by Gwen Jones, former Music Director of Biddulph Male Voice Choir

Congleton Choral Society's concert 'Lest We Forget' was dedicated to the memory of those who fought, died or were wounded in the First World War. The music was chosen for its power to bring comfort and consolation; it also ensured that we would never forget the horror and suffering in war. It was a wonderful evening with a truly appreciative audience, but it should have been 'standing room only' for this performance!

The programme began with a verse of Laurence Binyon's poem For the Fallen, set for unaccompanied chorus by Douglas Guest. 'They shall grow not old As we that are left grow old'; this was an apt choice to set the mood.

Maurice Duruflé's Requiem, composed during the Second World War and completed in 1947, differs from settings by other composers (Fauré, Mozart, Verdi) in that this mass uses the Gregorian chant - plainsong and medieval modes. All the movements are involved to a greater or lesser degree, but there are parts where the music is Duruflé's own making; truly wonderful moments. This is a difficult work in many ways, having a Latin text with the free rhythms and melodies flowing over bar-lines which are almost superfluous. The harmony is sensuous.

The tenors and basses were well-blended for the opening unison phrase, followed by other groups of the chorus. In the Kyrie the sopranos showed their great vocal quality, making the climax to the 'Kyrie Eleison' a moment to cherish.

Well done also to the altos on their fine entry at Domine Jesu Christe. The chorus showed a fine dynamic range and we heard for the first time the baritone soloist Miles Horner, standing in at the last minute to take this part. Miles sang extremely well, his voice having quality and range. The Hosannas were heaven-storming as the chorus rose to the occasion, the sopranos ascending to a great top B flat. There was always variety and rhythm, texture and colours. The mezzo-soprano soloist Laura Margaret Smith sang beautifully in the Pie Jesu.

Throughout the Agnus Dei the Gregorian chant was clearly evident and the altos came into their own. The chant flowed over the bar-lines, with a beautiful melody in the organ part. There was a fine blend with the sopranos and altos, leading to a very quiet ending as he music faded away.

There was a change of texture in Lux Aeterna, the voice parts singing alternately in various combinations, with the sopranos finally taking the melody, underlaid by the quiet singing of the rest of the chorus.

There was a sense of calm leading into the Libera me; the mood changed with a serious plea for mercy with the fear of the coming Day of Judgement. The prayer for eternal rest took us into In Paradisum, a calm movement beautifully sung by the chorus, who joined with the sopranos in making beautiful harmonies as the music came to its calm and peaceful close, fading away to triple pianissimo.

A very special word of praise must go to the organist Elin Rees, who played so well throughout this beautiful, haunting and difficult work; a challenge also met admirably by the chorus and soloists.

After the interval we heard Haydn's Nelson Mass, written in 1798, one of six great masses he composed towards the end of his life, and I think one of his greatest works. His original title for the work was Missa in Angustiis (mass in times of distress). Its first performance was given at the time of Lord Nelson's great victory over Napoleon, hence its popular nickname.

The dark, dramatic opening Kyrie in D minor was sung in unison by the chorus with great urgency, a tragic cry for the Lord to have mercy. This was splendidly performed. The soprano soloist Aimee Toshney then sang, with the chorus interweaving and echoing her words. This solo part, written in a coloratura style, demanded a high range and great flexibility.

There was much to enjoy in the Gloria, where we heard the tenor soloist Thomas Reinhart Shultze - a pleasing, gentle voice. The chorus was exciting and again the soprano section soared so effectively. The baritone soloist sang with much conviction and quality at the beginning of Qui Tollis and it was good to hear the solo quartet singing so well together. This was a rousing chorus and a joy to hear.

I enjoyed the rhythmic energy of the Credo, where the sopranos and tenors compete in canon with the altos and basses. A lovely soprano solo is heard at the start of Et Incarnatus, leading into Et Resurrexit with the soprano and the chorus giving a truly worthy, joyous end with great 'amens'.

The Sanctus began with a stormy introduction and moved through a series of exchanges between soloists and chorus which gave an intensity and strength. The chorus allegro entry at Hosanna in excelsis showed great contrast and dynamics.

The soloists take centre stage for the Agnus Dei; they are re-joined by the chorus for Dona Nobis Pacem, when the work comes to a loud, triumphant and dramatic climax as the whole ensemble makes the final plea for peace.

There is one person who has not yet been mentioned, the man responsible for giving us such a great evening of musical delights – Congleton Choral Society's gifted Director of Music Christopher Cromar, who continues to take this choir from strength to strength.

The Choral Society's Christmas concert Make Good Cheer and be Right Merry takes place on Saturday 20th December in Congleton Town Hall at 7.30pm. More details and booking information at congletonchoralsociety.org.uk

GJ


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