United Kingdom Taverner, Vierne, Handel, Miškinis, Preston, Lauridsen, Parry: David Stevens (Organ), Belfast Philharmonic Choir / Stephen Doughty (Conductor), St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, 17.11.2018. (RB)
Taverner – Song for Athene
Vierne – Messe solennelle
Handel – Zadok the Priest
Miškinis – Dum medium silentium
Preston – Alleluyas
Lauridsen – O nata lux (from Lux aeterna)
Parry – I was glad
The Belfast Philharmonic Choir (BPC) has a long and distinguished tradition having been founded in 1874. They have a wide and varied repertoire ranging from the Baroque period to modern and contemporary works. The programme for this concert ranged from Handel to the early twentieth century and beyond. Stephen Doughty introduced each of the works from the podium.
The concert opened with Taverner’s Song for Athene which the composer wrote for a family friend who died in a cycling accident. It also featured at the funeral service for Diana, Princess of Wales, when her cortège left Westminster Abbey. The BPC created a beautifully blended sound against a sustained bass line and the diction was excellent throughout. The swell of sound in the final stanza was powerful and uplifting before the music ended on a note of quiet repose.
The longest work on the programme was Vierne’s Messe solennelle which was written in 1899 before receiving its première at Saint Sulpice in Paris in December 1901. It was originally scored for two pipe organs and then adapted for a single organ and it was this latter version which we heard. The organist of St Anne’s Cathedral, David Stevens, gave a highly accomplished performance of a movement from Vierne’s Symphony No.3 prior to the start of the Messe. There was much to admire in the BPC’s performance of this work. The flowing lines of the Kyrie were sustained beautifully, and the BPC moved from plaintive pleading to anguished utterances. There were some minor balance issues at the start of the Gloria although these were quickly sorted out and organist and choir combined well to convey the grandeur of the movement. One could not help but become immersed in the searching spirituality of the Domine Deus while the Quoniam tu Solus Sanctus had rhythmic dynamism and worked up to a joyous hymn of praise. The Benedictus had an unforced intimacy which provided a striking contrast to the previous movements although there were some signs of vocal strain in the high tenor lines. The final Agnus Dei had a lyrical openness and was sung with a tenderness which was very touching. Stephen Doughty’s pacing of the material was excellent and he ensured a first-rate balance between the various sections of the choir and between the choir and organist.
The BPC moved from the nave of the church to the choir stalls for the opening two works of the second half. The ceremonial grandeur and pageantry of Handel’s Zadok the Priest shone through in this performance from the BPC. I was intrigued by the next work on the programme, Dum medium silentium by Lithuanian composer, Vytautas Miškinis. The insistent and increasingly intricate repetitive rhythmic patterns were well handled while Doughty coaxed a striking and varied range of sonorities from the BPC. The BPC brought a luminous mysticism to Lauridsen’s O nata lux and it was wonderful to listen to the ethereal sounds and rich harmonies in this gorgeous piece resonate around St Anne’s Cathedral. The concert concluded with a stirring performance of Parry’s perennially popular I was glad which reached a thrilling climax.
Overall, this was a first-rate performance with excellent collaboration between conductor, organist and choir.
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