Achieved is the glorious work…
So runs the final chorus of Haydn's Creation. As choristers familiar with singing in King's Chapel know all too well, this architectural gem is nevertheless notorious when it comes to performing large-scale choral and orchestral works, especially when full of polyphonic vocal and instrumental lines and masses of running semiquavers. What can sound magnificent in a rehearsal space can all too easily sound one big muddle in the Chapel. That was categorically not the case on Saturday when Cambridge University Symphony Chorus (CUMS Chorus as was) produced a triumphant performance of Haydn's Creation, sung on this occasion in German. Just as Handel's oratorio choruses can appear 'samey' sung one after another in rehearsal, in performance, when interspersed by recitatives and arias that realise the dramatic thread, Haydn's choruses can be thrilling and full of musical contrasts. This the conductor, Richard Wilberforce, conducting the East Anglian Chamber Orchestra and a stellar line-of soloists, achieved with panache at Saturday's May Week concert.
Wilberforce paced the work well, never allowing the drama to sag or the list of created days to become routine. Along the way, the three soloists, soprano Dima Bawab (Gabriel & Eve), tenor Thomas Elwin (Uriel) and bass George Humphreys (Raphael & Adam), handled the acoustic superbly and brought an impressive range of colour vocal nuance to their roles. An excellent continuo team played their part in speeding things along - which is not to say there were not calm and affecting moments, including the famous aria ‘With verdure clad' or Adam and Eve's duet in the work's final part.
The star of the show was the chorus that, despite the preponderance of 'Town' as opposed to ‘Gown' in its ranks, sounded youthful, committed, and as sharp as a button, relishing the German text like native speakers, and filling the Chapel with sound, despite their relatively modest numbers. With a performance of this calibre, it was clear that CUSC is well and truly back in performance mode after a patchy pandemic, during which rehearsals were constantly disrupted by Covid, and the need to wear masks and to space out the singers. Back once more in typical chorus formation, the singing was beautifully in tune, tight, balanced, and impressively on the beat, a tribute to Wilberforce's incisive direction.
One can only hope that word will get around, and that next season students will flood in to sing such major choral/orchestral works that are impossible to perform by chapel choirs alone. If Saturday's Creation was a sign of things to come, next season will be very exciting indeed.
See original: https://www.cmp.cam.ac.uk/news/review-creation-cambridge-university-symphony-chorus
- Tim Brown (former Director of Music, Clare College)
CUMS May Week Concert at King's College Chapel
Alexander Brady finds himself impressed by the Cambridge University Symphony Chorus and Sinfonia, even if the concert peaked in its earlier stages
Monday June 17 2019, 11:00pm
For their May Week Concert this year, the Cambridge University Musical Society went with a Russian theme, and decided on Mussorgsky and Stravinsky as representatives for Russia's rich classical tradition.
The orchestra began the concert with Mussorgsky's Night on a Bare Mountain in its popular arrangement by Rimsky-Korsakoff, and David Angus's conducting elicited a swirling full-bodied mass of sound in the opening passages, even if the rapid staccato quavers didn't feel entirely under control at certain points. None of the early momentum was lost in the latter quieter passages, instead converted impressively into a subtler fizzing energy which carried the piece through to its conclusion.
Mikhail Svetlov's performance was so utterly enthralling that it was easy to forget that he was a last-minute replacement
The second piece on the programme – excerpts from Mussorgsky's opera Boris Godunov – was undoubtedly the most memorable. Despite only having been informed the previous day that Sir John Tomlinson would not be available to sing the title role, the organisers managed to enlist Mikhail Svetlov in his place, and his performance was so utterly enthralling that it was easy to forget that he was a last-minute replacement. His gloriously deep, throaty voice danced from bitter torment to contrition to acquiescence with complete assurance, and the sheer physical effort he expended on his semi-staged role was worthy of a fully staged performance.
The choir and the orchestra, again conducted by David Angus, were excellent, as were Sam Furness as Shuisky and Joseph Zubier (standing in for Hugh Cutting) as Feodor in their comparatively minor roles, but this was undoubtedly Svetlov's moment, and his performance captivated from start to finish; the organisers must be commended especially for procuring his services.
This was undoubtedly Svetlov's moment and his performance captivated from start to finish.
After the interval Stravinsky took over from Mussorgsky, first with an arrangement of Bach's Variations on Vom Himmel hoch (conducted by Toby Hession) and second with the neoclassical Symphony of Psalms (conducted by David Angus). Following Svetlov's Boris Godunov was always going to be a colossal task, and indeed the Variations, while highly assured technically, were comparatively lethargic and rarely ventured far from the middling dynamic range.
The arrangement itself is rather unforgiving in these regards – it is not, in my opinion, one of Stravinsky's most exciting moments – but the bite and the irreverent drive which make Stravinsky's orchestrations truly Stravinsky-esque were slightly lacking. Nevertheless, the orchestra and the choir's cantus firmi were played off each other well and were integrated into a satisfyingly coherent whole.
Concluding the programme, the Symphony of Psalms was more generally successful, the complex contrapuntal passages especially impressive in their relentless forward motion and the choir and orchestra rising and falling together with great grandeur in the final movement, though the final few laudates did begin to plod a little.
In a sense, the thrilling high of Boris Godunov in the first half somewhat spoiled the audience for the second, and it suffered unfairly in comparison. It seems strange to me that the programme was ordered in the way it was (though there may have been practical reasons of which I am unaware), particularly since the chosen pieces of Stravinsky were an arrangement of a set of Baroque variations and a work from his neoclassical period – both pre-Mussorgsky at their respective stylistic cores. However, this should not be thought to take away from the performances themselves, most of which were excellent
See original: https://www.varsity.co.uk/music/17695