Leicestershire Chorale
Next event: War Requiem, Saturday 10 November

Review of Vespers of the Blessed Virgin by Johann Rosenmüller

Saturday 19 March 2016

Peter Collett - Saturday 19th March 2016.

Leicestershire Chorale
Leicester Cathedral – Saturday 19th March 2016
Vespers of the Blessed Virgin – Johann Rosenmüller

Leicester Cathedral may not be the obvious choice for a performance of fine Venetian music, but the Leicestershire Chorale, joined by members of the Leicester Cathedral Youth Choir and the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble pulled off a moving performance, bringing a delightful evening of authentic sounding music to a large audience.

This particular reconstruction of the Vespers was compiled by Brian Clark for the Darlinton International Summer School in 2013, using six Psalms, the Magnificat and Antiphons composed by Rosenmüller, interspersed with the music of other composers, similar in style and time period. To this collection, Chorale Director Tom Williams had added two pieces, the Ego Dormio by Heinrich Schütz and Hans Leo Hassler’s Ave Maris Stella. The whole compilation had clearly been carefully thought out and all worked as a cohesive entity.

Making effective use of the Cathedral’s West end gallery, Baritone Johannes Arens and Tenor Simon Lumby set a reflective and reverend mood, with the singing of a short set of Versicles.

The wrathful words of Psalm 110, demand strong music to convey their meaning, which is what Rosenmüller offers. The performance had a lively quality to it, with an almost dance like feel at times. Soloists came across well and I particularly enjoyed the soprano opening of verse two.

During the setting of Psalms 112 and 113, I particularly enjoyed the performance by the violins, the part dancing delightfully above the sound of the choir.

Francesco Usper’s Sonata a 8 provided both a break for the singers and gave the audience a much appreciated chance to hear the sonorous tones of the English Cornett and Sackbut Ensemble in all their glory. In addition, these interludes allowed perhaps a period of reflection on the preceding psalm.

It was interesting to note that the many fine soloists, without exception, all came from the choir forces, demonstrating what fine musicians these choirs are made up from.

Psalm 121 required no less than eleven of those soloists. Of perhaps particular note was verse 6 sung by Christopher Ouvry-Johns which very much conveyed the feeling of prayer for the peace of Jerusalem. Verse 8 had a particularly wonderful lyrical flowing quality to it, while in verse 11 the lovely antiphony between the strings and cornetts was simply a joy to listen to.

The mood for the second half having once again been set by a solo Antiphon from the gallery, Psalm 126 was notable particularly for its Gloria Patri; for the excellent alto solo in verse 7 and an almost mesmerising rendition of verse 8.

Cavalli’s Canzon a 8 provided a second instrumental interlude. Sedate and full of feeling, it was sheer joy to listen to the sound of the period instruments.

The joyful praise and thanksgiving of Psalm 147 was reflected both in the music and in the performance of it, a good line and soaring harmonies being very evident.

Hans Leo Hassler’s Ave Maris Stella was gently opened by the soft tenor tones of Simon Brown, his voice perfect for a Gabriel wishing to announce but not to frighten. Soprano Katie Tincello gave a beautifully pure and clear response for Mary the mother of Jesus.

The closing Magnificat involved some fourteen soloists. The chorus sounded perhaps just a little tired on one or two of the entries, but overall the performance of this reflective and joyful movement, with special mention of the exuberant performance of the Gloria Patri, provided a fitting end to a wonderful performance.

I mentioned at the beginning that the compilation had been well thought out. What was also well thought out was the concert itself, from the positioning of the choir at the West end of the Cathedral utilising the Cathedral’s choir stalls and gallery, to the use of period instruments. The instruments added what seemed an authentic feel to the music, very much taking the listener into a different century.

Although the Cathedral lacks reverberant acoustic, which would possibly have been the icing on the cake in authenticity, the music came across with a clarity of parts which might have been lost in a more lively sonic setting. A lack of reverberation also makes the job of the singers much more difficult, mistakes are more easily heard, the voice needs to be better projected and a cohesive sound is harder to achieve, but these difficulties seemed not to worry the singers of Leicestershire Chorale.

Tom Williams directed the musical forces at his disposal with skill and enthusiasm to produce a performance of high quality, which held the listeners attention and which all came together as a beautiful ensemble. He inspired a performance which really brought the music off the page and dynamically into the ears of the listener. The wonderful music with its interwoven parts was a sheer delight to listen to. A fine effort all round.

Peter Collett

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