Reviews

Canterbury Choral Society concert reviews


Mendelssohn Elijah, 1 November 2014
Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District

Felix Mendelssohn (1809 to 1847) was a remarkably talented man who packed achievements in many fields into a tragically short life. Of course, he is now best known as one of the most popular and accessible of early romantic composers but in his lifetime he was renowned as a conductor and, in particular, as a champion of the then little performed ‘old fashioned’ music of the baroque masters J. S. Bach and Georg Frederic Handel. This enthusiasm led him to explore the sacred oratorio as a musical form and to the writing, in response to a commission from a festival in Birmingham, of what has now become a fixture of the oratorio repertoire, and choral society programming, Elijah.

In this work four episodes in the life of the Old Testament prophet are portrayed in dramatic and exciting form by orchestra, choir and soloists. Whilst the traditions of the form, and in particular the influence of Handel, are very obvious the music is suffused with the spirit of the romantic era and of Mendelssohn’s own particular style: first performed the year before Mendelssohn’s untimely and unexpected death it is in may ways his crowning achievement.

Saturday’s performance in the Cathedral, conducted by Canterbury Choral Society’s Musical Director Richard Cooke, brought out all the musical and dramatic power of the piece and in doing so conveyed an excitement and freshness that is difficult to achieve in a work that is so familiar and so much of its time.

All sections of the choir sang with commitment and expression with some particularly striking contributions from the sopranos and tenors whilst Canterbury Philharmonic Orchestra gave admirable support in what is an arduous work for the players. In solo parts Benjamin Hulett (tenor) was dramatically and vocally effective and Catherine King (mezzo-soprano) was notable for the power and expression she brought to her contributions; soprano Mary Bevan had a pleasant tone and boy treble Issac Lorden (a Canterbury Cathedral Chorister) came close to stealing the show.

Close, but not quite, because the evening really belonged to the world-renowned bass-baritone Sir Willard White singing the title role of the prophet with power, expression and even humour in places. Almost the last words of the piece (addressed to God) have the chorus saying that he, ‘fillest Heaven with thy glory'; on Saturday Willard White truly filled the Cathedral with the glory of his voice and his personality.

Simon Johnson


Beethoven Missa Solemnis, 21 June 2014

“Last night’s concert

Congrats to all involved with the Missa Solemnis in Canterbury Cathedral last night – what a triumph! And 1st prize goes to Clio Gould for her wonderful violin solo!! Please can we do the Four Last Songs together?!”

Sarah Fox, Soprano


 Monteverdi Vespers (1610), 19 January 2013
Kentish Gazette Canterbury & District, 31 Jan 2013

Few pieces of music are as closely associated with a single building as is Claudio Monteverdi’s Vespers (1610) with the Basilica of Saint Mark in Venice. Although probably not specifically written for performance in the Basilica this collection of settings of texts ordained for use on the Feast of the Blessed Virgin had one of its earliest performances there in 1613 and the impression that it made may well have secured Monteverdi the prestigious post of maestro di cappella at St. Mark’s, which he held for the rest of his life.

Although its plan is very different and it lacks the multiple galleries for part-choirs and groups of musicians that make Saint Mark’s such a distinctive setting for Monteverdi’s complex and mosaic-like musical patterns Canterbury Cathedral has its own splendours. It was in every way a worthy setting for Saturday’s performance of the Vespers by Canterbury Choral Society with the London Handel Orchestra and soloists Julia Doyle, Kirsty Hopkins, Benjamin Hulett, Nathan Vale, Robert Rice and Robert Macdonald, conducted by Richard Cooke.

Monteverdi’s long life (he lived from 1567 to 1643) bridged the transition from Renaissance Polyphony to the Baroque, if you like from ‘early music’ to the mainstream classical repertoire, and the Vespers reflect both. It is an immensely complex and demanding piece for any group of singers but the dedicated amateurs of the Choral Society’s choir, with their youth choir and guest soloists, rose to this challenge with beautiful and controlled singing that was in turn delicate, powerful and emotionally charged as its successive sections demanded.

All the soloists impressed in a work that gives each of them important and distinctive roles in creating an overall effect that combines religious fervour, tender emotion and intense drama. Julia Doyle (soprano) sang with particular beauty of tone but really it is invidious, and contrary to the spirit of the piece, to try to pick out individual contributions to an extremely effective performance fully worthy of its setting.

Simon Johnson


The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Concert: Mozart’s Coronation Mass, Handel’s Coronation Anthems, Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks (Kentish Gazette, 12 Apr 2012)

‘Rousing royal renditions in concert fit for a queen
The evening started in tremendous style with what may well be the best known music used at any royal ceremony in any country in any period: the set of four Coronation Anthems written by Handel for the coronation of George II in 1727 and played at every subsequent British coronation. The Choral Society has a well-established connection with the leading specialist baroque ensemble, the London Handel Orchestra, and that orchestra led off proceedings with a taut, stately and wonderfully dignified (perhaps one should simply say ‘majestic’) account of the introductory bars of Zadoc the Priest leading up to the thunderous entrance of the chorus.

In this, the most famous of the set, and the succeeding three anthems, orchestra, choir and soloists combined under the direction of Richard Cooke to produce a performance that was accomplished, exciting and evocative of the great ceremonial occasions that these pieces have graced over the years. The other piece in the first half, Handel’s Music for the Royal Fireworks, also has a connection with George II as he commissioned it. This is one of the most enjoyable and accessible of all baroque orchestral works and was performed with great panache and emphasis on its famous musical representations of rockets exploding and fireworks fizzing. The main piece after the interval had a more tenuous connection with royal events as Mozart’s Coronation Mass was only given that name long after his death and it has never been convincingly shown to have been performed at any coronation. But who cares! It is one of Mozart’s most enjoyable liturgical works and was given a fine performance in which the soloists, Susanna Hurrell (soprano), Laura Kelly (mezzo), William Morgan (tenor) and Peter Cox (bass), all had prominent parts. All in all this was a fitting concert to witness the first offering in the Cathedral of the official jubilee prayer.’

Simon Johnson


Handel’s Messiah (Kentish Gazette, January 2012)

‘Evening of exceptional quality
Canterbury Cathedral HANDEL’S Messiah has a fair claim to be regarded
as the best-known and loved piece of choral music in the Englishspeaking
world. Since 1742 this setting of texts from the King James Bible
has attracted huge audiences and did so again when an enthusiastic
audience heard a performance of exceptional quality by Canterbury
Choral Society, their guest soloists and the London Handel Orchestra, all
conducted by Richard Cooke.

Most of the audience were probably very familiar with the work and knew what to expect as the orchestral opening, played with great delicacy and an authentic baroque tone, led up to the first vocal entrance. What they might not have been prepared for was the heartrendingly clear and serene intonation of tenor Benjamin Hulett as he sang the opening words Comfort ye my people – a dramatic and moving opening that was the first of many delights to come. Soprano Julia Doyle, countertenor David Allsopp and bass Benjamin Bevan all made notable contributions, as did the orchestra and, above all, the chorus who sang throughout with a lively and vigorous spirit and the clear diction that is so vital. The sublime soprano aria I know that my redeemer liveth, beautifully sung by Julia Doyle, was a highlight of an evening with many memorable moments.’


Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust (Financial Times)

‘…this was a performance to remember, in an acoustic distinctly favourable to Berlioz’s rich orchestral resonances. Much was owed to the direction of Richard Cooke, well on top of the work’s large scale architecture and broad sweep, his pacing intelligent…’


Dvorak’s Stabat Mater (Church Times)

‘…it is impossible not to feel the distress underlying the score of the Stabat Mater, and it is a tribute to the Canterbury Choral Society and its superb young orchestra that their performance of the work shortly before Easter was one of such poignancy, immediacy and excellence. …the chorus’s overall dynamic control was admirable and the endings of movements were consistently well phrased. In short, this seemed a showing as good a several heard on disc, like Canterbury’s recent Berlioz, it deserved recording.’


Mahler’s 8th Symphony (Kentish Gazette)

‘…Dr Cooke’s main challenge must have been maintaining cohesion among the multiplicity of singers and instrumentalists. This he achieved with amazing skill through an exemplary display of precise and helpful guidance. All the performers responded obediently and sympathetically. Rapturous and prolonged applause left no doubt about the audience’s verdict.’


Verdi’s Te Deum, Elgar’s Enigma Variations and Janacek’s Glagolitic Mass (Kentish Gazette)

‘…a marathon achievement, flooding the Cathedral with gorgeous sounds.’


Bach’s St. Matthew Passion (Kentish Gazette)

‘…I left the Cathedral with that glorious final chorus ringing in my head, uplifted.’


Mozart’s Requiem (Kentish Gazette)

‘…performed with the accustomed expertise… it becomes increasingly difficult to fault the activities of the Society under Richard Cooke’


Verdi’s Requiem (Kentish Gazette)

‘…But it is fashionable now to applaud even conductors! Thus Verdi wrote in a letter of 1875, but he would surely have joined the prolonged applause of the packed Cathedral audience for Richard Cooke’s masterly performance of this Requiem… The Choir responded with a new-found cohesion. At no moment did any single voice or section disrupt the overall interpretation…’


Brahms’s Ein Deutsches Requiem (Kentish Gazette)

‘The numerous full-sound high climaxes were thrillingly and securely achieved. In contrast, at other times more lyrical and restrained passages were well conveyed with a sense of joy… This was a triumphant evening for Canterbury Choral Society…’


Berlioz’s L’Enfance du Christ (Kentish Gazette)

‘…The Society sings with beautiful control when singing very quietly, and this was just such an occasion – truly memorable.’


Saint-Saens’s Third Symphony and Duruflé Requiem (Kentish Gazette)

‘…Richard Cooke’s clear beat must have been a joy for all the performers. Such excellent performances of two fine works…’


Mendlessohn’s Elijah (Kentish Gazette)

‘…Richard Cooke conducted the long oratorio almost as if it were one continuous piece…never allowing the action to sag and unfolding the story with excitement and feeling …superbly supported by the Choral Society who, in recent years, have developed into a fine choral force… This was a lively and different Elijah…’


Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony (Kentish Gazette)

‘… on Saturday night the Nave of the Cathedral was full and the audience waited in anticipation of another outstanding concert that has become the norm for the Canterbury Choral Society…the chorus sang with accuracy and conviction, not only the forte passages but more particularly the piano passages which were very controlled and well-directed. Richard Cooke conducted with true understanding, negotiated the pitfalls and brought it to a moving ending.’