Luring England's David Briggs back to his native soil and under the soaring arches of Truro Cathedral is hardly a monumental feat when tempted by the works of Fauré, Poulenc and Charpentier, as well as a performance of his own Requiem. In a programme as equally stunning in its architectural beauty as the venue which housed it, the Three Spires Singers and Orchestra led the audience in a grand meditation of choral rapture, helmed by conductor Christopher Gray.

David Briggs
David Briggs

I am something of a devout hedonist when listening to any choral work in a religious setting, and this evening's concert fulfilled my desire to be elated and carried across on waves of polyphonic bliss. Charpentier's Te Deum was hoisted majestically on the shoulders of Cheryl Rosevear and Kay Deeming (soprano), Kieran White (tenor), and Nick Beever (bass), although alto Paul-Ethan Bright's sweet tones were left slightly ambushed by the overpowering volume of the rest of the ensemble, as were my own ears and ribcage at times, given the proximity of my seat to the stage. Any D major embellished with a blazing trumpet (such as this one, performed so regally by Joe Sharp), exposed as it is in the Baroque style, becomes a monolithic tour de force when thundering its fortes throughout any church, and this would have dominated even the vocalists had not Gray reined in the dynamics to produce a whole, balanced sound throughout the sections. Charpentier's arrangement contains that radiant clarity which can be so exquisite in Baroque works, and the performers harmonized well in both the smaller combinations (duos and trios) as well as the larger ones.

Yet where Charpentier's Te Deum was magnificently self-assured, Poulenc's Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings was brutally humanizing, as it came thundering down the pillars and jarringly transformed the atmosphere with its clashing, powerfully accented dissonances. Some concertgoers may argue that a good programme entails a smooth transition between pieces; yet sometimes a juxtaposition can create a resonating impression that awakens a new state within one's psyche, as any modernist might confess. Where Charpentier rose to the divine with a dignified eloquence, Poulenc grasped and spurned it in a manic yet revelatory obsession, in one tempestuous movement.

Here, the strings wrought out their anguish against booming timpani played with terrifying vehemence, only to be subdued by a gentle, more tonal section that resembled some spiritual inner peace, although it would continue to be disrupted. Less flatteringly, the upper strings struggled to maintain the eerie, mystical dissonance in pianissimo and were a little out of tune. Notwithstanding this, I admired the players' ability to shift between the drastic mood-swings, which contained a bit of the monk and rebel (to quote Claude Rostand), because this is what makes Poulenc so vividly human: striving to come to terms with death, loss, and something greater than himself by approaching it with a relentless vulnerability. Sally Woods played a haunting solo on cello, with a full, rich sound which added melancholic textures to the work, and Briggs' organ was particularly lush, as his spectral chords echoed around the church and dissolved into the tall archways. Delightfully disturbing my senses, it seemed to host something of God and something more sinister at the same time.

I was comforted afterwards by Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine – a song which has always enraptured me by its beauty and purity. The orchestra's soft tones were embraced by the choir, who were gentle in their handling of the open vowels, and even the fortes still retained that appealing hushedness which Fauré loves to breathe like a whisper in the ear. If only the choir had been slightly larger, and the quietness bigger, would the piece have reached an even more intensified climax. The desired effect was still achieved, however – just before plummeting the audience into another epic work.

If Briggs' Requiem was nurtured from a seed of inspiration by a "happened-upon" chord on the organ, then its cultivation of motifs represented a sometimes disjointed variation of ideas and influences, mixing post-impressionism, Pierre Cochereau, and Latin reverence. Predictably, Briggs was prolifically articulate on the organ once again, and Karen Morse (flute), Jessica Robinson (oboe), and Gabriella Dall'Olio (harp) were satisfyingly lyrical and precise on their instruments, noting the subtleties of the score, as in the earlier parts of the programme. The choir was excellent here, too; yet what captivated me the most were the rapturous tones of the soloists, especially Rosevear's breathtaking Pie Jesu. The radiant soprano was clearly on top form and in her element, exhibiting perfect control of her range and a rich, pure timbre that prevailed well both as solo and in chorus. At the concluding In Paradisum, the ensemble was unified in a climax of both high emotion and peaceful resolution, ultimately leaving the audience with a memorable evening of works which portrayed an edge to humanity which is both enticing and inspirational in its scope.

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