Capital Choir reveals musical values with fine performance of Donizetti’s Requiem

Donizetti: Messa da Requiem

Capital Choir, conducted by Sue Robinson, with Pasquale Orchard (soprano), Maaike Christie-Beekman (mezzo), Jamie Young (tenor), Simon Christie (bass-baritone), Rhys Cocker (bass), Belinda Behle (piano)

Sacred Heart Cathedral

Sunday, 13 November  2016, 3pm

For an ‘all-comers’ choir, Capital Choir has achieved an enviable level of expertise, adventurousness and commitment.

Under Sue Robinson, the choir demonstrated a considerable range of choral skills and abilities.  The various parts all made a good sound most of the time.  There were many quiet passages in which the choir exhibited a lovely tone.  But there were others where things threatened almost to fall apart, especially among the men, and others where the high soprano tone was too screechy.  Tenors were strong, with pleasing tone.

Throughout, the choir showed its variety and control of dynamics; words were for the most part clear.  The main problem was the tendency, not uncommon in amateur choirs, to sing slightly under the note much of the time, especially when singing in higher registers.  Another common fault was rushing to the letter ‘s’ at the ends of words, and not giving the preceding vowels their full value.  However, timing and rhythm were both strong attributes.

The work is not well-known nor widely performed.  The internet informs me that “Donizetti wrote this piece for chorus, orchestra and five soloists, with the male singers getting the bulk of the work. Though Donizetti includes distinct arias, such as the tenor’s Ingemisco, he also alternates chorus and solo voices in a very operatic manner. Also operatic is his use of the soloists in ensemble.”

These comments were certainly borne out.  The Requiem was unlike that of Verdi, in that there were few long choruses, and there were many solos and ensembles interspersed.  However, the many dramatic passages put one in mind of the later composer.

After the opening movements, the ‘Tuba mirum’ revealed signs of strain from the choir, however, the splendid soloists then gave them a rest. The male trio in this movement included difficult chromatic music, but it was mainly steady, and the voices were strong.  The following ‘Judex ergo’ featured bass and tenor.  Their voices were well matched, making for a very pleasing duet. ‘Rex tremendae’ was very operatic, while in ‘Recordare’, the featured solo soprano was Pasquale Orchard (quite a challenge after her splendid solo singing in the Orpheus Choir’s concert the previous evening.  She was later joined by chorus and solo bass.

The tenor solo in ‘Ingemisco’ was very fine.  Subsequent movements made for pleasant, if not riveting, listening, interspersed as they were with solos and chorus singing, much of an operatic character.  The pace of ‘Praeces meae’ was not managed very well, but this movement again featured superb solo singing.

Rhys Cocker had the largest solo role throughout the work, but all the soloists acquitted themselves well.  Maaike Christie-Beekman was superb, as ever.  Pasquale Orchard had a relatively small role, and performed it well; Jamie Young’s tenor was strong, and he infused his singing with fervour and drama.  Simon Christie had less to do, and much of that was in ensembles.  Cocker’s singing was at times very expressive, and he had some gorgeous sustained notes, although there were other times when he needed to vary the colours in the voice more.

The ‘Libera me Domine’ was rather weak – perhaps the choir was tiring by this time, although the entire concert was less than an hour-and-a-half long.  It ended strongly with final chorus and solos in ‘Kyrie eleison’.

It was a shame not to have the sound-colours that an orchestra would have brought to the performance.  Cost would preclude this, but use of the organ would have been a good substitute; while Belinda Behle’s work on the piano was immaculate, it did not contribute the desirable variety.

One could not say that the work was an undiscovered masterpiece, but it has many splendid and beautiful moments.  My companion and I decided it was probably one of those works that was more fun to sing than to listen to.  The church was well-filled with an appreciative audience.

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