Hutt Valley choirs combine for two Haydn masses and other items

The Wainuiomata Choir and the Hutt Valley Singers, conducted by Brian O’Regan and Eric Sidoti

Haydn: Mass No 7 in B flat, Hob. XXII:7 (Missa Brevis or ‘Little Organ Mass’, 1775)
Mass No 11 in D minor, Hob. XXII:11 (Missa in Angustiis or ‘Nelson Mass’, 1798)
Telemann: ‘Machet die Tore weit’ (Psalm 14:7 and 8)
Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine
Francesco Durante: Magnificat in C

Church of St James, Lower Hutt

Sunday 18 August, 2:30 pm

It’s embarrassing to find you’ve arrived late because you’d recorded the wrong time in this very website’s Coming Events listings. Though I was a little comforted to find that the document I’d taken the information from, emanating from a choral organization, had it wrong.

But it was still disappointing to have missed the first item on the programme, Haydn’s Little Organ Mass.

The concert was arranged for the two smaller works to be sung by Hutt Valley Singers conducted by the conductor pro tem. Brian O’Regan (he had also conducted the Little Organ Mass: so I am additionally sorry not to have heard him in that larger work with the combined choirs).

Telemann’s output in almost every genre was prodigious though his choral music is probably not as well known as his orchestral and instrumental. This short cantata, Machet die Tore weit, is a lively, tuneful piece in triple time which should have been within the capacity of this choir, but it suffers as a result of too few men’s voices and the very common problem of markedly individual voices affecting the achievement of a homogeneous sound. So the accompaniment by the string orchestra was of significant help in these circumstances.

It was followed by Fauré’s lovely Cantique de Jean Racine; while the start was tentative, the singers
soon gained a degree of assurance, especially when the whole choir was singing and when the strength of the music carried the singers along more successfully than in the Telemann. The accompaniment was from the organ, played by Judy Dumbleton.

There was a general rearrangement of singers and players for the next work, as it involved both choirs (as had the Missa Brevis), as well and the return of the orchestra. It was a Magnificat by Francesco Durante, a contemporary of Bach, Handel, Domenico Scarlatti and Rameau, which was previously believed to be by Pergolesi, as was a great deal of music by other composers who expected to gain a better hearing for their music by publishing it under Pergolesi’s name. The larger Wainuiomata Choir, now conducted by Eric Sidoti, was a different experience, a striking demonstration of the importance of having enough capable singers in every section, especially the men, to create confidence among amateur and not specially skilled voices.

The other important ingredient is an experienced and talented conductor, and Sidoti provided all that was needed to achieve good blend and ensemble, to minimize the effect of voices that might obtrude if left without guidance.

The scene for the second section, the slow ‘Et misericordia’, was set by the orchestra for the entry of soprano soloist, Imogen Thirlwall; her voice was tight to begin with , but her singing was well projected and accurate, as was alto Emily Simcox who followed in this short section.

The men soloists (James Adams and Roger Wilson) joined the women in the fugal ‘Deposuit potentes’, and in the next section they sang a fine duet with steady support from the strings, and throughout, their contributions were important. The solemn peroration involving the whole choir again, dealt with dignity with the famous concluding verse, ‘Sicut erat in principio, et nunc, et semper, et in saecula saeculorum’.

Then, after the interval came the Nelson Mass, so named because Nelson, after his victory over Napoleon at the Battle of the Nile, somehow found himself in 1800 at Eisenstadt (though Haydn’s permanent post at the princely court had ended in the early 90s, he continued to write his series of masses for the Princess Maria, the wife of Prince Nikolaus II Esterhazy who had succeeded to the principality).

Nelson appeared at Eisenstadt (this was the Esterhazy family’s earlier seat, abandoned after Nikolaus I built a new palace, Esterhaza, but returned to by his grandson Nikolaus II because Eisenstadt was closer to Vienna) presumably because Nikolaus II was a major general in the Austrian Imperial army: so a bit of tactical diplomacy? Encouraged by Nelson’s victory, both Austria and Russia formed a coalition with Britain, declaring war on France in 1799. I can find nothing to indicate that Nelson had gone there partly to meet Haydn or to hear the mass that had acquired his name.

The combined choirs found the right quality in this mass, regarded as perhaps the finest of the six written late in Haydn’s career. A martial air coloured the Kyrie, and the Gloria was driven by a firm 4/4 rhythm, followed by Roger Wilson’s striking delivery of the ‘Qui Tollis’, slow and suitably sententious. Here and there, I found myself harbouring heretical thoughts about the character of the music that often seemed rather at odds with what the words were saying, let alone what they might mean to the laity. The fugal treatment of the last words of the section, ‘Cum santo spiritu’ struck me, not for the first time, as pretty artificial and formulaic. However, regardless of one’s reaction to antiquated liturgy, the music was often near Haydn’s most vigorous and inventive, and the singers showed no sign of concern at any moral conflict.

The strings continued to offer fine support, and at several stages the trumpets contributed strongly, for example in the Credo and of course, in the triumphant conclusion of the Agnus Dei: ‘…dona nobis pacem’; and the timpani offered portentous commentary in the Benedictus.

So the ending was what one would expect from a liturgical work that is doubling as victory celebration. The choir, the soloists, the orchestra, and not least conductor Sidoti could be well pleased with their efforts.


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