Richard Dacey stepped down from his post as Derby Choral Union's Musical Director with the choir on generally fine form, in a popular favourite, Vivaldi's Gloria, RV 589, and a relative rarity, Beethoven's Mass in C - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 13 April 2019.
Prefacing all that was the overture to Mozart's Così fan tutte. While the thunderclap at the start was perhaps more Don Giovanni than Così, Central England Camerata kept the music on its toes, in a spirited reading with an appropriate undercurrent of tension.
The Vivaldi - why does no-one ever seem to do his other Gloria, RV 588? - got off to a nicely incisive start, followed by a smoothly flowing account of 'Et in terra pax'. Soprano Natalie Montakhab and mezzo-soprano Jeanette Ager were operatic - in an appropriate way - in their 'Laudamus te' duet. The fugal 'Propter magnam gloriam' was light on its feet, followed by the gently rocking siciliana of 'Domine Deus', winningly-articulated by both Natalie Montakhab and the obbligato oboist. There was a good, bouncy tempo for 'Domine Fili Unigenite', though here the choir sounded a touch inhibited. Jeanette Ager and the choir pleaded eloquently in 'Domine Deus, Agnus Dei', Ager making the more forceful supplications of 'Qui Sedes' genuinely insistent. The choir rounded things off with an engagingly sinewy account of the concluding 'Cum Sancto Spiritu' fugue.
Right from the opening of the Beethoven Mass, the singers sounded fully engaged in a work they can't have sung all that often. In the Gloria, the darkening mood at 'Qui tollis' was convincingly negotiated, and the 'Miserere' became positively suspenseful. The orchestral opening to the Credo conveyed a feeling of suppressed excitement; there's certainly nothing at all solemn about this declaration of faith (if that's really what Beethoven had in mind) - one reason, possibly, why Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II, who commissioned the work, took against it so emphatically. The sombre atmosphere of the 'Crucifixus' was a vivid contrast to the clear articulation in the athletic 'Et vitam venturi' fugue.
Similarly, the unusually dark orchestral colours at the start of the Sanctus set off a buoyant, fresh account of the Osanna, The quartet of soloists, completed by tenor Christopher Steele - who tended to stand out because of his more Italianate tone - and bass Alan Fairs, explored some wide dynamic extremes in the Benedictus. Tension was well maintained throughout the Agnus Dei - the Dona Nobis Pacem is not like the jolly pay-offs to Haydn's great masses - but there was a beautifully smooth transition to the calm look back at the music of the Mass's opening. Often unconventional it may be - this is Beethoven, after all - but his Mass in C deserves to be treated as more that just a dummy-run for the Missa Solemnis, fifteen years down the line.
Copyright © 27 April 2019