French Connection

Repertoire:

Mass in C# Minor - Vierne

Allegro Vivace (from Symphony No. 5) - Widor

Quatre Motets - Duruflé

Surrexit a Mortuis - Widor

Messe pour Notre-Dame - Briggs

Crown Imperial - Walton

Cantique de Jean Racine - Fauré

Sing! - Willcocks

Conductor:

Edward Taylor

French Connection
Review by Lawrence Tomlinson:

St. Andrew’s Church resounded to the stirring sounds of Penrith Singers conducted by Edward Taylor on Sunday evening, accompanied by no less than three organists! In an ambitious programme of music, mostly by French organist-composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, entitled “French Connection”, the choir tackled a series of compositions ranging from the triumphant to the lyrical and back again.

The concert opened with Louis Vierne’s ‘Messe Solennelle’ with its dramatic organ introduction followed by a quiet choir entry, building to a huge climax using the considerable tonal resources of both the recently restored pipe organ at the front of the church and an imported electronic organ at the back. The exuberant ‘Gloria’ was sung with great energy, although there were one or two rather indeterminate entries particularly from the rear of the choir and there were a few minor problems of intonation. However, the melodic and rhythmic beauty of the Sanctus and Benedictus exhibited some fine choral singing and the work came to a beautifully calm ending with the Agnus Dei.

The opening movement of Charles-Marie Widor’s celebrated 5th Symphony was played as a duet by Edward Taylor on the pipe organ and Jordan English on the digital one in an arrangement by Edward. The resulting stereo effect was quite remarkable – very well balanced, with magical antiphony and contrasts between the noble themes at the beginning and conclusion and the contrasted syncopated sections in the middle played on sparkling flute stops.

Maurice Durufle’s four unaccompanied motets provided a contrast to the fireworks of the previous piece. The opening motet, ‘Ubi Caritas’ was neatly phrased and clearly articulated by the choir, while ‘Tota pulchra es’ presented a gentle dance-like quality, to be followed by the louder and lively ‘Tu es Petra’ and the ‘Tantum ergo” which was notable for its gentle dissonance and smoothly flowing character.

The first half concluded with Widor’s Easter motet ‘Surrexit a mortuis’ with its rousing fanfares on the organ trumpets played by John Green and Jordan English and its striking harmonies and quieter middle section.

The second half opened with David Briggs’ ‘Messe pour Notre-Dame, written in 2002 and with the composer in the audience. Written in a more modern idiom, it contained many intriguing cross-rhythms, rich and dissonant harmonies and complex choral textures. The work presented significant note-finding challenges for the choir, which were largely successful, although there were passages when more vocal volume was needed to balance the two organs which provided colourful accompaniments from either end of the building.

By complete contrast, William Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial March’, written for the 1937 Coronation provided interesting challenges of a different kind in this arrangement for three organs by Edward Taylor – a kind of triophony! Huge climaxes, blazing reeds and mixtures alternating with the softer sounds of diapasons worked very successfully and the whole was quite a “Tour de force”. Congratulations to Edward, Jordan and John for a fine performance.

A serene few moments of calm followed with Gabriel Faure’s beautifully rendered ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ before the concert ended with David Willcocks’ “Sing” – a choral song of praise set to the famous Toccata from Widor’s 5th Organ Symphony, which sent the audience out on a high note. All credit to those taking part in a very memorable concert.

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