Sheer Irrepressible Confidence

MIKE WHEELER listens to Mozart and Haydn choral music


Large-scale sacred works by Mozart and Haydn made a neat pairing in Derby Choral Union's concert, conducted by Paul Provost - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 25 November 2023.

Mozart's Requiem is, of course, a familiar favourite, but this performance didn't take anything for granted. The forceful tread of the opening 'Requiem aeternam' was followed by a robust, urgent reading of the 'Kyrie eleison' fugue. The opening of the Dies Irae had a whiff of sulphur and brimstone enough to evoke the darker moments of Don Giovanni - the two works share the basic key of D minor. 'Rex tremendae majestatis' had real impact, and the 'Lacrymosa' successfully balanced grief with forward motion. The 'Osanna' following the Sanctus went at an effectively swift pace, taking a few moments to settle, but the repeat after the Benedictus hit the ground running. The expressive contrasts in the Agnus Dei were given full value, and the repeat of the 'Kyrie' fugue at the end had the same robust vigour as on its first appearance. Though the choir's consonants did not always come across, its commitment was unimpeachable.

Poster for Derby Choral Union's Mozart and Haydn concert on 25 November 2023 with conductor Paul Provost
Poster for Derby Choral Union's Mozart and Haydn concert on 25 November 2023 with conductor Paul Provost

Our view of Haydn's late masses tends to be dominated by the popularity of his 'Nelson' Mass, so a chance to hear one of the others is always welcome. His Theresienmesse gets its nickname from the Empress Maria Theresa, and the erroneous belief that it was written for her, which arises from the fact that she acquired a copy of the score for her personal library.

Haydn's Kyrie fugue actually has a passing resemblance to the equivalent in the Mozart, underlining the aptness of pairing the two works, and it was given similarly sturdy treatment. Everyone was responsive to the Gloria's changing moods, with a firm structural grip on the 'Domine Deus'. The Credo has all Haydn's usual ebullient energy, well highlighted here. At the start of the 'Resurrexit', the choir convincingly demonstrated the fact that minor-key music isn't always sad. The Credo was topped off by a nicely bouncy account of 'Et vitam venturi saeculi'. In the end we were left marvelling anew at Haydn's inexhaustible invention, and sheer irrepressible confidence.

The four soloists worked well together. Soprano Emma Ward had a pleasingly bright tone, though inclined to a little more vibrato than we are used to in eighteenth-century music these days. Mezzo-soprano Ruth Massey brought warmth to her contributions, tenor Matthew Spillet had a slight, but not obtrusive edge to the voice, while bass Matthew Jordan made a welcome swift return visit to Derby following his appearance with Derby Bach Choir two weeks earlier. Central England Camerata gave rock-solid orchestral support.

Copyright © 9 December 2023 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK



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