by Duncan Eves
A shorter version of this review appeared in the December 1st 2011 edition of the Hampshire Chronicle.
Energy and passion throughout club performance
Winchester Music Club and Orchestra with Winchester College Glee Club and Quiristers
Terrifying brass fanfares, soaring operatic melodies, masterly orchestration, the Day of Judgment – yes, it’s Verdi’s Requiem, and the combined forces of Winchester Music Club almost shook the very foundations of Winchester Cathedral with their inspired performance of this great choral masterpiece on 17 November.
Before this, however, we were treated to a world première: a twenty minute choral and orchestral work by 21-year old, ex-Winchester College composer, William Cole. His setting of Emily Dickinson’s poem I Died For Beauty presented a performing challenge to both chorus and orchestra with its dissonant vocal harmonies and its exposed instrumental writing. From its very soft, spare, fragmented opening the orchestra built up a gradual and huge climax, adding layer upon layer of sound. Nine minutes into the piece, as the sound of the orchestra reverberated around the cathedral, the chorus entered softly with Dickinson’s poem. The words from beyond the grave were highlighted with some atmospheric choral and orchestral scoring. It was slightly unfortunate that the cathedral acoustic muffled some of the intricate detail in the orchestration, but this was a work revealing a young composer of considerable merit. The Music Club is to be congratulated upon its bold decision to commission such a composition.
The drama and passion of Verdi’s Requiem is a gift for performers: who can resist the theatrical treatment of the Dies Irae, the sobs of the Lacrymosa, or the sheer joy of the Sanctus? Under the inspired direction of Nicholas Wilks the performance took off and the chorus gave it their all. During the Dies Irae and the Tuba Mirum (stunning brass fanfares), as the sound reverberated around the cathedral, one half expected to see the ancient Saxon kings rising from their thousand-year sleep. The choral sound had energy and passion throughout and if the chorus sounded just a little tired toward the end it was no wonder after the challenge of the William Cole and then all the drama of the Judgment Day.
The quartet of soloists was led by Claire Rutter, a last minute replacement for an indisposed Claire Seaton. Here was some truly fabulous singing: Claire Rutter has a brilliant, diamond-like tonal quality and she combines it with a passionate lyricism. She was well-matched with mezzo-soprano Susanna Spicer, who had power, tonal depth and some gleaming top notes. The blend of these two voices in the Recordare was quite magical. Tenor Andrew Mackenzie-Wicks and bass Michael Bundy provided the necessary male support. The tenor had ringing top notes with a full Italian operatic tone and an appropriate sob in his voice for the Ingemisco while the bass had gravitas and depth to his tone and conveyed a sense of awe and terror. A stunning quartet of solo singers.
Mention should be made of the orchestral support. The Music Club orchestra always play like a professional outfit and this was no exception. Some particularly fine woodwind playing caught my ear but it would be ungracious not to compliment the whole orchestra. The intricate and demanding music of William Cole’s piece would be enough to terrify a seasoned professional, but then to follow this with the masterly writing of the Verdi… Hats off to our Music Club! Singers and orchestra: you do Winchester proud.