Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum Shine in Mozart

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Mozart Choral Music:  Laurence Kilsby (treble), Julie Cooper (soprano), Jeremy Kenyon (alto), Christopher Watson (tenor), Christopher Borrett (bass), Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum of Dean Close Preparatory School, Charivari Agréable, Benjamin Nicholas. Pittville Pump Room, Cheltenham, 7.10.2011 (JQ)

Vesperae solennes de confessore K339
Requiem K626

This concert was given to launch the new CD by Tewkesbury Abbey Schola Cantorum which is to be released by Delphian in November. That disc will include the Vespers, which we heard tonight, and the ‘Coronation’ Mass, K 317.

Cheltenham’s magnificent Regency building, the Pittville Pump Room is a splendid venue for recitals and smaller scale concerts and with the Tewkesbury choir comprising thirty-one singers and some twenty-one instrumentalists in the band, the scale of these performances was just right for the hall.

The Vespers occupied the first half of the programme. The work consists of six movements, five Psalms and the Magnificat, and it dates from 1779. As Michael Nicholas observed in his very useful programme note, in several of the movements Mozart seems more concerned with matters of musical structure than in responding to the words. Nonetheless the settings are full of interest. They were very well done on this occasion. The choir sang with lots of spirit and I liked the tempi adopted by Benjamin Nicholas. For example, the fourth setting, ‘Laudate pueri’ is a fugue, which can seem somewhat severe, but Nicholas adopted a lively yet sensible pace, which stopped the music sounding heavy.

In these Vespers the chorus is well to the fore and the solo parts are relatively restricted, certainly the alto, tenor and bass parts. The most important solo role was taken by the choir’s star treble, Laurence Kilsby. I’ve heard him before – but only on CD – and have been impressed both by the quality of his voice and by the artistic maturity of one so young (I believe he’s thirteen years old). Heard for the first time ‘live’ he made a very favourable impression once more. He was by no means overshadowed by the three professional adult singers who were his colleagues in the solo quartet and I liked the way he just mucked in and sang the chorus part – enthusiastically – when not singing a solo. The treble soloist gets the ‘plum’ number, in the shape of the fifth movement, the celebrated ‘Laudate Dominum’. Laurence Kilsby sang Mozart’s long lyrical lines with fine control and a lovely tone. (His tone is surprisingly round and warm for a treble; there’s not much of the usual treble ‘edge’ to his voice.) At the end of the movement he floated his final extended phrase on the word ‘Amen’ quite beautifully, opening with a lovely sustained top F that was remarkable for its purity. I look forward to hearing the CD performance of this work.

After the interval came an admirable performance of the Requiem. For this the three male soloists were joined by soprano Julie Cooper. From the start of the ‘Tuba mirum’, impressively intoned by bass Christopher Borrett, it was evident that this was a strong quartet. It was particularly interesting to hear a male alto in this work. Jeremy Kenyon sang very well and the cutting edge of a male alto voice added pleasing spice to the quartet’s sound. The team gave an eloquent account of the ‘Recordare’ and of the ‘Benedictus’ and generally they sang well as a team although there were times in both movements when I thought that Miss Cooper, though singing very expressively, tended to sing out just a little too much, unbalancing the quartet.

Benjamin Nicholas drew committed singing from the choir. The singers numbered 17 trebles, four male altos, five tenors and five basses. The trebles were tireless throughout the evening and one could only admire both their enthusiasm and the quality of their singing. They produced firm, bright tone at all times. The tenor section also excelled but I felt that at times, particularly when the music was loud, the alto and bass sections didn’t register sufficiently strongly. Encouraged by their conductor, the choir delivered the dramatic moments, such as the ‘Dies irae’ and the ‘Rex tremendae’ with real fervour. And later in the work, at the start of the Sanctus, Mr Nicholas proved that one doesn’t need huge forces to deliver musical grandeur. He set some energetic tempi – though never rushing the music – but the choir and orchestra met these challenges. The pace for ‘Domine Jesu Christe’ was exhilarating, giving real vivacity to the music. Yet it was well articulated, so the speed paid off.

The members of Charivari Agréable, playing on period instruments, provided generally good support in both works. The only thing that disappointed me was that the small string section (3/3/2/1/1) sounded a bit underpowered and produced what often sounded to be rather thin tone.

Overall, this was a most enjoyable concert and the warm reception for the performers from the audience was well deserved.

John Quinn