Choir singing in Royal Hall
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Harrogate
Choral
Society

Review

Rossini
Petite Messe Solennelle
Faure
Cantique de Jean Racine

The Royal Hall, Harrogate, 10 November 2012

Petite Messe Solennelle flyer

Choral group on fine form

Autumn evenings in Harrogate can be particularly beautiful and it was on such an evening that Harrogate Choral Society under their Conductor, Andrew Padmore, gave their Autumn Concert. The programme comprised two works and opened with the popular Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Faure. This setting of words by the poet and dramatist, Jean Racine, was one of Faure's early compositions written in 1865 when he was in his final year at The Ecole Niedermeyer. The quiet, sombre and prayerful atmosphere of Racine's words, sung from memory and with great warmth, was captured perfectly by the Choral Society with beautifully controlled accompaniment from Beryl Pankhurst, the Accompanist to the Choral Society. There were many examples of fine and musical shading especially from the gentlemen of the Chorus whilst the ladies of the sopranos and altos also sang with great control and expression. This was a well-prepared and beautifully executed performance.

The second and main work of the evening was the Petite Messe Solennelle by the Italian composer Gioacchino Rossini (1792-1868). Neither short nor solemn as implied by the title, this is a warm and generous outpouring of genuine musical sentiment. Superb accompaniment was again provided by Beryl Pankhurst but here she was joined by Thomas Moore on the harmonium thus providing a typically French sonority to support the singers. The performers settled into a well-shaped and sung Kyrie which was followed by the fugal Christe Eleison. This was particularly good, Andrew Padmore shading the well-balanced voices carefully to allow each fugal entry to be clearly heard. Returning to the Kyrie, the chorus and accompanists handled the frequent changes in tonality and especially the Neapolitain sections with subtle grace.

The soloists were extremely well chosen; Teuta Koco, Soprano, deputising for Samantha Hay who was sadly indisposed, Gaynor Keeble, Mezzo Soprano, Bonaventura Bottone, Tenor and John Cunningham, Bass. These formed a remarkable variety of individual tone from the rich dark tone of John Cunningham in the Gloria and in Quonium, to the rich, vibrant, and yet not overpowering tone of Bonaventura Bottone. Then we had the full and sumptuous voice of Gaynor Keeble with Teuta Koco crowning the quartet with richness and sensitive brilliance. The Choral Society sang with great control and with much feeling from the very outset of the concert with carefully produced tone from the Sopranos and Altos supported equally well by good natural and unforced tone from the Tenors and Basses. Rossini is very careful how he balances solo and chorus sections as well as how he groups the soloists together. In the Gracias, for example we heard soprano, mezzo soprano and tenor as a trio of soloists, beautifully balanced. Domine Deus featured Bonaventura Bottone who sang with total commitment and incandescent tone. This was just wonderfully free singing, his voice filling the Royal Hall with splendid tenor tone. Qui Tollis featured by way of contrast, the Soprano and Mezzo Soprano soloists. The Choral Society sang with great enthusiasm throughout the evening, no more so than in the splendid double fugues Cum Sancto Spiritu and Et vitam venturi with excellent suppport on both piano and harmonium. In the Credo, which forms a major part of the total work, the first section, which alternates between soloists and chorus was performed very well, the Conductor keeping a tight rein on  the contrasting sections. Teuta Koco sang Crucifixus with great sensitivity over its uneasy rocking accompaniment.

Thomas Moore performed the Preludio Religioso well adding just enough rubato to shape the phrases effectively.

The Chorus with soloists kept perfect tuning during the unaccompanied Sanctus while the following O Salutaris was an example of excellent delivery by Teuta Koco who is to be praised for her performance at such short notice. Equally beautiful was the singing of Gaynor Keeble during Agnus Dei; her full, beautiful and expressive voice filling the Royal Hall and our hearts with great warmth.

This was a lovely performance. The Conductor and all who took part are to be congratulated on what was an excellent evening of musical entertainment.

Adrian Selway