Nicely Shaped

MIKE WHEELER listens to Duruflé and Ola Gjeilo
from Derby Choral Union and its
new musical director Paul Provost


This was the debut of Paul Provost, Rector Chori of Southwell Minster, as Derby Choral Union's Musical Director - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 23 November 2019; choir and audiences clearly have a lot of good things to look forward to in the years ahead.

We don't hear Derby Choral Union singing a cappella pieces all that often, but it sounded at home in Duruflé's Four Motets on Gregorian Themes. Ubi Caritas had a nice sense of flow, with appreciable changes of tone between the two choral groups. Tota Pulchra Es, for upper voices, was agreeably bright-sounding, though the counterpoint took a few moments to come into focus. A forthright Tu Es Petrus was followed by a smoothly-flowing account of Tantum Ergo.

Paul Provost
Paul Provost

Norwegian-born American resident Ola Gjeilo has produced some exquisite choral miniatures, but I am yet to be convinced by his larger-scale work. Nights of the Soul comprises two works designed as a pair. Dark Night of the Soul sets words by St John of the Cross. Soprano Hannah Dienes-Williams soared clear in her arching solo lines, but the music's switches between energy and stillness seemed fairly arbitrary, and I got no real sense of where it was going. Luminous Night of the Soul mostly uses a rather twee (and at one point shockingly inept) poem by Charles Anthony Silvestri. The music is mostly sub-Philip Glass, though it did give the choir's rehearsal pianist, David Woodhouse, the chance to shine in an extended cadenza-like solo.

Online publicity for Derby Choral Union's Autumn Concert 2019
Online publicity for Derby Choral Union's Autumn Concert 2019

Duruflé's Requiem formed the second half, dedicated to the memory of three former choir members, and of Stephen Cleobury, who died the day before. It is a much darker setting than the one by Fauré, with which it is often superficially compared, and the performance fully engaged with that. The opening Requiem Aeternam was notable for tonal warmth from both the choir and the orchestra, Central England Camerata. In Domine Jesu Christe, the choir moved convincingly from sorrowful opening to an urgency verging on panic at the plea for the departed to be delivered from the lion's mouth. The baritone solo at 'Hostias et preces' was smoothly taken by the choral tenors and basses, as was 'Tremens Factus' in the later Libera Me.

In the Sanctus, as elsewhere, the flexible plainsong rhythms were nicely shaped, and the big, expansive climax was well sustained. Pie Jesu saw Hannah Dienes-Williams centre-stage again, with well-shaped phrases, and this time projecting a mezzo-soprano tone astonishingly mature for a singer still only seventeen.

Agnus Dei saw a slight loss of focus for a moment, but Lux Aeterna was a properly tranquil interlude before the bigger canvas of the Libera Me, in which the singers were fully responsive to the sudden storm, delivering a really punchy account of the Dies Irae section. The concluding In Paradisum was all serene luminosity.

Copyright © 3 December 2019 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK



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