On March 23rd at the Town Hall, Congleton Choral Society presented two contrasting works, each one a pearl in the crown of baroque music. Under the direction of MD Christopher Cromar, the choir joined forces with the Philharmonic Ensemble, leader Andrew Orton, and five professional soloists to perform Handel's Dixit Dominus and Vivaldi's Gloria.
Handel was only twenty-two when he composed Dixit Dominus in Italy in 1707. The music, full of youthful exuberance and uninhibited invention, displays his early brilliance as a composer. The work is a setting of Psalm 110, which depicts the power of a terrifying Old Testament God in the scoring of themusic. There is only one movement with any gentleness; overall the tone is dramatic and angry. It is certainly a most challenging piece for any choir, with its long runs, sustained notes, and dense interweaving of the different voices. The piece was unknown to many in the audience, who were bowled over by the power and excitement of the music, the consensus being that the choir had been at the top of its game and delivered a thrilling performance. People remarked on the warmth and depth of the sound produced and felt Christopher Cromar had worked wonders, commanding and receiving respect from all the singers and achieving precision and unity.
Vivaldi's well-loved Gloria is a quite different piece in its mellow beauty, warmth and joy. Vivaldi composed it around 1716, so the two pieces are close in date, if not in style. Composed as a Mass for Thanksgiving, the piece expresses the love of God, rather than His wrath. The performance was warmly received - despite the arctic conditions in the Town Hall on Saturday - and the progress the choir has recently made, commended.
The orchestra was wonderful and the flautist and cellist, with their pivotal roles in the works, were particularly singled out for praise. One happy audience member summed the evening up in these words: 'Live music at its best'.
See also Viva Vivaldi programme notes.