The legendary Choir of King's College Cambridge conducted by their very own Stephen Cleobury, was accompanied by the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment on period instruments at the Royal Albert Hall for a sold out Sunday evening concert. The programme was packed with classical, charming works with Haydn’s "Mass in Time of War" and Fauré’s Requiem. With queues of prommers stretching around the corner of the Royal Albert Hall, Prom 3 appeared to be one not to be missed.
The concert commenced with Lucy Crowe being welcomed to the stage to perform Mozart’sExsultate, jubilate, K165. Originally written for castrato Venanzio Rauzzini, this virtuosic motet contains two arias, joined by a recitative. Crowe skillfully brought out the difference in styles with her effortless upper range on display particularly in the complex cadences and pronounced and tidy Allelujas to finish.
The Choir of King’s College, Cambridge defined the concert. Where there was at times a lack of emotion or drive in the orchestra, the choristers exuded charm and passion. The Kyrie, which opened Haydn’s 1796 “Paukenmesse” was evocative with the young voices rising prominently over the timpani introduction. As the work progressed, each section of the choir brought out their part with artistry, the passing of melodies and runs between sections were beautifully balanced, particularly in the Filius Patris section of the Gloria. The younger members of the choir seemed to be thoroughly enjoying being centre stage, physically moving with the music. The entire ensemble delivered the music's inflections sensitively, leading each section of the mass with attack and energy. The four soloists blended well in this particular section of the work with tenor Robin Tritschler’s zesty and refreshing tones a bright counterpart to Roderick Williams’ smooth and relaxed deep and smooth sonorities.
Making her Proms debut, Irish mezzo-soprano Paula Murrihy performed the opening to the Gloria as a contrast to the warm and enchanting Kyrie. Her voice was well-placed, her articulation was crisp and her line was clean. Baritone Roderick Williams looked incredibly confident on the stage, featuring as a soloist in both the Haydn and Fauré's Requiem. Evidently an oft-performed piece by Williams, the baritone sang the work off-score. His voice carried magnificently and with dignity around the Royal Albert Hall. His ability to tell a story with his rich tone makes for very comfortable and involved listening. It was apparent at times that the ensemble was being led by Crowe.
Fauré’s Pavane received its London premiere at the 1902 Proms and in spite of its name, bears little resemblance to the dance. The flute opening was delicate and the OAE’s realisation of the piece was successful in conjuring pastoral images through swells and some colour in the bass parts. Overall, the piece lacked lustre and did not add much to the concert. The Cantique de Jean Racine, performed to a setting by John Rutter, was infinitely better, mostly due to the choir's return. The stripped down ensemble consisted of solo strings, lyrically and emotionally played. Aside from the impeccable phrasing of the choir, the French was clear and sounded authentic and the choristers’ interesting and expressive repetition of a single note throughout a passage was highly effective in capturing the Romantic essence of the work.
There is something to be said for ‘popular’ music done very well, which was the case when the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge began Fauré’s Requiem. The work, a common choice for school choirs and choral societies, is often considered mundane, which might be due to the frequency with which it is performed. This aside, the opening to the Introitus and Kyrie was ethereal and sustained by the choir with deep sonorities being produced by the Organ Scholar Richard Gowers generating a calm atmosphere. Cleobury provided reassuring and precise support, and the reaction of the choir to his smallest gesture was impressive. The conductor shaking his fists at the basses to give more power in the Sanctus, however, caused the audience to giggle. Chorister Thomas Hopkins performed a virtuous Pie Jesu without the slightest hint of nerves. The young chorister’s phrasing was impeccable, holding his phrases to the end until Cleobury brought him off. The large intervals in the piece were handled skilfully and with evenness. Throughout the piano sections, the soloist cut through the orchestra and each word was audible leading to an absolute silence and stillness around the vast Royal Albert Hall.
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