Magnificat - J.S. Bach
Christmas Proclamation - Tavener
Mass in Time of War - Haydn
Review by Janet Hornby:
Another December with frost and snow, so it was time for the winter concert of the Penrith Singers. The church was comfortably filled, the choir looked seasonally decorative in the ladies’ red scarves, and the soprano and the mezzo-soprano both wore red dresses, so we were prepared for a festive and heart-warming event!
The Magnificat in D sets Mary’s words from St Luke’s Gospel. It is perhaps one of the most vibrant choral works by J S Bach and so terse that one movement seems to plunge headlong into the next. The three trumpets were thrillingly magnificent from the very first bar while the choir sang a jubilant fugue. The soprano, Susan Jordan, responded in reflective mood, accompanied by the rich sound of the oboe. The Omnes generationes sounded as if a multitude was singing, with one choir entry following rapidly on another. The next aria was sung by the baritone, Benjamin Weaver, a welcome return from Messiah last year. Mezzo-soprano Lucinda Stuart-Grant and tenor Adam Magee sang beautifully matched and tuned phrases in Et misericordia. The trumpets were bright as the choir tossed around Bach’s descriptive music for the scattering of the proud. Flutes moved together perfectly alongside the mezzo-soprano. The upper voices of the choir wove glorious lines around each other while the oboes played the original Magnificat tune and led us into the Gloria and the reprise of the opening music.
Then followed a striking work, A Christmas Proclamation (God is with us), by the contemporary composer, Sir John Tavener which uses a text from the Orthodox Great Compline for Christmas Eve in his unique fusion of eastern and western music. The choir started quietly with widely-spaced chords, sopranos high and basses singing at the bottom of their range like Russian basses. A huge crescendo marked the words to the uttermost end of the earth. The tenor declaimed the next section, intoning in ‘Byzantine style’, filling the church with the prophecy from Isaiah of the child to be born. The choir returned with the organ, played by Ian Hare, reinforcing the massive sound to announce that Christ is born!
In the second half of the concert, the Penrith Singers sang Missa in Tempore Belli, a fine work of Haydn’s maturity. The Kyrie and Gloria were characteristically upbeat. The choir and the orchestra, ably led by Susan Johnson, revelled in Haydn’s tunefulness and harmonic inventiveness. Qui tollis was sung affectingly by Benjamin Weaver with an accompanying lyrical cello solo and carefully shaped dynamics for the interjections by the choir. In the Credo each choral part was given a different line of text; and conductor Colin Marston controlled the intensely quiet sepultus est which then exploded into Et resurrexit. The Agnus Dei had the most warlike sounds with anguished choir, martial trumpets and ominous kettledrums but finally settled into a lyrical Pacem for soloists and choir with the entreaty for peace: a suitable sentiment for the season of goodwill.