Congleton Choral Society's Autumn concert showcased works by John Rutter and Gabriel Fauré, who were born exactly 100 years apart. In his opening remarks, music director and conductor Christopher Cromar explained to the audience that the theme of this evening's music was remembrance, coming so soon after Armistice Day. The performance was taking place just 24 hours after the tragic atrocities in Paris, during which over 100 people had lost their lives. Fauré's Requiem would be particularly dedicated to the memory of those people.
The atmosphere was set. The concert opened with Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine. There was absolute concentration from the choir, looking above their music so listeners could receive the full benefit of their sound. From beginning to end of the concert each voice part sang 'as one'; no single voice could be identified within the mix. Although numbers of singers varied somewhat in the different parts, smaller groups held their own and larger groups controlled their volume where necessary so each part could be heard. The choir knew the text of every piece they sang; they adjusted the volume, mood and tempo immediately following their Conductor's lead.
The choir performed Fauré's Requiem with great sensitivity, as befitted the dedication to the Parisian people; so much so that after each movement the audience broke into spontaneous applause. Such interruptions might have broken the moving atmosphere created by the Choral Society, but the mood was sustained throughout. Soprano Cally Youdell gave a superb performance of the Pie Jesu, and Baritone Miles Horner's singing in the Offertorium and the Libera Me was masterly. The audience just couldn't wait to show their appreciation for what was the best performance of the Requiem I have been privileged to experience.
The second half of the concert opened with a hugely enjoyable performance of Telemann's Concerto for Three Trumpets, given by the superb Philharmonic Brass Ensemble.
Next, the sopranos and altos of the choir performed the Sanctus and Agnus Dei from Fauré's Messe Basse. They sang with confidence and a trio of clear soprano voices gave an ethereal quality at one point, though sadly the singers were not visible from the back rows.
Baritone Miles Horner sang Duruflé's Sanctus, accompanied on the organ by Christopher Cromar, who then gave a positively stunning performance of Dubois' organ Toccata. An audience member was heard to remark that 'his fingers just flew'!
Now it was time to celebrate John Rutter's 70th birthday. This Is The Day, composed for the Royal Wedding in 2011, brought a brighter mood ably demonstrated by all the singers. His Gloria with choir, brass and percussion made a terrific impact and was an exciting closing piece for the evening.
Congleton Choral Society sang at their best throughout the concert, with clarity, enthusiasm and boundless energy; their discipline and sheer hard work made this the best concert I have heard to date. My enthusiasm was echoed by other audience members. I quote a few overheard remarks: 'always an appropriate atmosphere in Congleton Town Hall, specially prepared for each occasion'; 'a very well balanced programme'; 'the varied programme [including instrumental as well as choral pieces] broadens our experience'; 'a marvellous evening'; 'stunning performances'; 'I'm coming again'
On Saturday evening there were only about ten vacant seats. Perhaps on Saturday 19th December it will be 'Full House'! The Society will present two Christmas concerts at the Town Hall that day. At 3.30pm there will be a matinee performance; the Family Carol Concert will feature Congleton Children's Choir and the Choral Academy. The traditional evening concert at 7.30pm, entitled What Sweeter Music Can We Bring? will include carols new and old for choir and audience. See you there!