Fauré programme enchants at Haddo

Requiem Rehearsal D

We are delighted to share Alan Cooper’s review of last night’s concert which held a packed audience in Haddo Chapel spellbound:

Sunday’s special Haddo Arts Concert presented by Dr Roger B. Williams MBE was ‘A Centenary Tribute to Gabriel Fauré (1845 – 1924). It was quite a short concert with two celebrated works by Fauré: the Cantique de Jean Racine Op. 11, followed by the even more famous Requiem.

The Cantique de Jean Racine is a French paraphrase of a Latin Hymn from the breviary for matins. Jean Racine (1639 – 1699) was a French dramatist, one of the three great playwrights of 17th Century France, the others being Molière and Corneille. Fauré, as Dr Williams told us, composed the piece at the age of just 19. Fauré entered his piece into a composition competition at the École Niedermeyer in Paris where he had been a student. It won him first prize.

It was scored originally for mixed choir with piano or organ. Since the four string players of the Nova Quartet were on hand in the Haddo Chapel on Sunday, it made sense to include them as well. The Organ clearly played by Professor David Smith was joined at the outset by cello, played by Gareth John and viola by Emma Alexander. Together they lifted the smooth voices of the male singers to a new and delightful level. Fauré’s melody shone clearly through. As the piece developed, the female voices came in along with the two violins, making the music fairly blossom forth. I was impressed by the perfectly balanced voices of the 18 singers making up the Haddo Arts Chamber Choir. I recognised several of the singers from the University Chamber Choir but there were some new faces too. Like the University Chamber Choir, here was a vocal ensemble with no passengers. Each vocal group, sopranos, altos, tenors and basses sang as one, beautifully well blended in almost orchestral fashion. They made this opening piece sound exactly like what it was all those years ago, a first prize winner.

This was followed by Fauré’s Requiem. The first recording I bought of this work was in 1963 by Ernest Ansermet with L’Orchestre De La Suisse Romande, they were pretty good, but the choir, L’Union Chorale De La Tour De Peilz were not! The sopranos did not blend at all. There were three types of voices which stood out from one another, hooting operatic voices, rasping sopranos and little girl voices. I have already mentioned how different were the absolutely splendid sopranos of the Haddo Arts Chamber Choir blending together like sweet wine. I only kept this early Ansermet recording because the baritone soloist Gérard Souzay was absolutely terrific.

Later in my student years came the recording by the Choir Of King’s College Cambridge conducted by Sir David Wilcocks. John Carol Case was the baritone soloist and the treble soloist was one Robert Chilcott. He is now a composer and conductor. He came to Aberdeen some years ago to conduct the Aberdeen Orpheus Choir. This recording was a triumph. Why should I mention it in this review? It is because today’s performance conducted by Roger Williams stood up to it remarkably well.

The two soloists were excellent. Soprano Katherine Williams sang with both delicious smoothness and great power in the Pie Jesu. Baritone Chris Brighty did not quite match Gérard Souzay but he was not far off Carol Case in both clarity and warmth. He made his two solos, Hostias et preces tibi and the magnificent Libera me stand out splendidly well. I loved those, and the choir in the Libera me were terrific too.

In the opening of the Requiem, the speed was slow but so well blended. The tenors and sopranos stood out splendidly as they both did too in the Sanctus. I was impressed by the way Roger contrasted gentle quiet singing with the most magnificent crescendi. I loved the smooth tenors at the opening of the Agnus Dei, and later in this section, Gareth John’s vigorous cello with the glorious choral crescendo was magnificent. Then Roger brought the sound back down where the choir recall the opening of the work, an absolutely formidable moment. In the choral section of the Libera me, the pizzicato strings sounded so exciting.

Professor Smith’s organ playing was excellent throughout, often recreating the melodic passages played by the full string orchestra. I was particularly impressed with his lovely fresh twinkling high notes in the In Paradisum.

This may have been quite a short concert but it was one of the most delightful. The Haddo House organ sounded splendid, and with the choir in front of the brilliantly colourful stained glass window of the Chapel, it was very much to be remembered. I will file it in my memory along with a performance long ago when Anne Brand sang songs from Kurt Weill’s Happy End including Surabaya Johnny and the Bilbao-Song with an instrumental group conducted by Ian Kemp. Another short concert but a brilliant one.

ALAN COOPER   

And don’t forget, there’s another opportunity to experience the brilliance of the Nova Quartet on 23 August, when they bring their Nova Bridgerton Classics programme to Haddo, to delight us with their arrangements of the music from hit TV series, Bridgerton. Tickets on sale from Monday 8 July.

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