For too long, the Music Society has been at rest; a musical force waiting to be reawakened when time permitted. Thankfully, it returned to our annual programme of music events in June and what a treat awaited both performers and audience.
The programme began with Parry’s coronation anthem ‘I Was Glad’ – the 45-piece orchestra, led by Harry Kneeshaw, thundering the opening fanfares only to be usurped by the massed voices of the choir, all 110 of them, in wonderful homophony: ‘I was glad’. The piece had its moment of calm, with beautiful string playing accompanying the ‘Pray for the peace of Jerusalem’ passage, before one final climax from the combined forces.
The work was followed by Fauré’s Requiem, a work that at times touched the sublime. The choir, through their hours of dedication to rehearsal, turned what is a fairly easy work to sing into a well refined beauty. Their opening moved from a genuine pianissimo to a spine-tingling climax, and the counterpoint was woven with beautiful subtlety at the start of the Offertoire. The Agnus Dei was moving, with strings once again providing beautiful counterpoint to the tenor melody. The Libera me captured the dramatic intensity of the Dies Irae text with horns and trombones creating the cacophony of the day of wrath, vividly contrasted by the personal prayer, wonderfully sung with restrained power. The blissful In paradisum was a divine consummation of the piece, sopranos accompanied by rippling harp and organ in angelic beauty. The conductor, Mr Kettlewell controlled the sound with chorus and orchestra mirroring one another. The strings were a particular delight, rhapsodising beautifully around the Lux aeterna, and shimmering so convincingly in In paradisum that one could imagine this were a professional orchestra. Iona Kaye (OP) sang the Pie Jesu beautifully, and baritone Sam Hird (OP) had a velvet-smooth tone to his lines in both the Hostias and Libera Me.
Having enjoyed some delicate respite, the final work of the evening, Parry’s Blest pair of Sirens, was utterly thrilling and uplifting. This very fine piece has become, deservedly, a staple of the choral society repertoire; it’s a magnificent work to hear and even more thrilling to sing. Tonight, Mr Kettlewell established good forward momentum right from the start and the chorus offered assured, firm-toned singing, achieving clarity in the part writing. As the climax of the work approached, the sopranos and then the tenors delivered the wonderful melody at ‘O may we soon again renew that song’ with warmth and richness. The extended passage that follows soon after (‘To live with him and sing in endless morn of light’) is one of the most memorable in English choral music. The eight-part choral counterpoint is technically superb but Parry’s genius is to make the listener completely unaware of technical matters by building the passage impressively and inexorably to a marvelously fulfilling climax. The chorus did this passage full justice with the final chord resounding majestically throughout the church.
This was a performance that will last long in the memory of those involved.