French (and Estonian) choral concert from Cantoris

Cantoris: Mood


Duruflé: Quatre motets sur des thèmes grégoriens, Op. 10; Fauré: Messe Basse; Pärt: Triodion; Fauré: Requiem, Op. 48


Cantoris, Orchestra made up of players from Wellington Chamber Orchestra, Wellington Sinfonietta and Schola Sinfonica; Ailsa Lipscombe (soprano), Catherine Conland (soprano), Roger Wilson (bass), conducted by Rachel Hyde


St. Andrew’s on The Terrace


Saturday, 7 August, 7.30pm


The plethora of choral concerts this month is most unfortunate – even though the concerts themselves are certainly not!  In the past, Wellington choral conductors met to confer to avoid clashes.  But on this Saturday evening there has also been an earlier concert at the Wellington Cathedral of St Paul, by its choir, performing – Duruflé!


Although there is not a complete cross-over in the audiences for these events, nevertheless, all would obtain larger audiences if concerts were more spread out.


However, the downstairs part of St. Andrew’s Church was well-filled (upstairs was not open), despite there not being much publicity.


The Duruflé motets, sung unaccompanied, began gently. In this first piece, ‘Ubi Caritas’, there were effective close harmonies.  Here, and throughout the concert, the voice parts were distributed through the choir, rather than all sopranos etc. being together.


Dynamics were well observed throughout these pieces.  The men opened ‘Tu es Petrus’ with a rather rough sound, but the ending was beautiful.


Was Fauré making a joke in naming the next piece Messe Basse?  It was sung by women only. Presumably he was using the word ‘basse’ to mean lowly, humble, because the work was composed when he was on holiday at Villerville, in Normandy. In collaboration with Messager, he wrote a Messe des Pêcheurs, which was sung in the local church, with a solo violin, at a service to raise funds for local fishermen. Presumably the church choir only contained women, or male trebles. It reappeared with some changes, including score for full orchestra, as Messe basse.


The choir was accompanied by Heather Easting on the chamber organ.  Apparently at the talk, Rachel Hyde explained that she was aiming for the soloist to achieve a boy soprano tone, and this soprano soloist, Ailsa Lipscombe, certainly did.  The solo was quite lovely, yet blended well with the choir. 


The music was antiphonal, and was sung with a pleasing tone and a light touch.  In the last movement, Agnus Dei, there was some flatness of pitch on the top line, but otherwise it went very well.


Arvo Pärt is not everyone’s cup of tea, and I must say that the unaccompanied Triodion sent me to sleep momentarily.  Perhaps that was fitting, in view of the title for the concert.


The men’s entry at the start was not convincing, nor were the final s’s of words together.  Once the women entered, things improved.  The first of the three odes, ‘O Jesus the Son of God, have mercy upon us’ featured the opening lines repeated at the end. These repeated lines were very effective.


The second ode, ‘O most holy birth-giver of God, save us’ was much more assured.  The deep bass sound was impressive. Here, the words and music had greater clarity than in the previous ode.


Apparently simple, the odes employed diverse harmonies, and must have been quite difficult to learn.


After the interval, what is probably Fauré’s most popular work, the Requiem, was performed.  Heather Easting again accompanied tastefully, supportively but unobtrusively on the organ, along with the chamber orchestra, in John Rutter’s realisation of the composer’s chamber orchestra version.


The opening was gorgeous – except for one male voice!  The rest of the Introitus was marred by some other voices standing out, and the lack of vowel-matching meaning blurred sound.


The Offertorium’s opening section is for alto and tenor only, and the whole movement is accompanied by violas and cellos alone, playing with excellent tone.  This all went very well, the basses joining in with a full timbre, but a well-sustained pianissimo.  The bass soloist’s entry was very fine, and his singing was rich and characterful. 


The Sanctus featured the violins again, and the enchanting harp playing of Jennifer Newth.  The horn entry was striking, but the horn section suffered a little from intonation wobbles. 


Nevertheless, overall the orchestra of 24 musicians played well for a mixed group that included several very young players from the Sinfonietta, having an experience of playing important music in a public concert.


In the Pie Jesu, Catherine Conland managed a boy soprano sound, though with little dynamic variation.


The quiet opening of the Agnus Dei was beautifully sung and played.  Much was required of the tenors throughout this work, and in the main they delivered.


Roger Wilson sang the bass solo in Libera Me with suitable gravitas and tone; the whole movement was very fine.


The harp ornamented the music beautifully again in the rhapsodic In Paradisum, which gave an idyllic end to a satisfying concert.


The concert lasted one and a half hours, including the interval.


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