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A Wonderful Sound

Mozart's Requiem at Canterbury Cathedral,
praised by PIPPA HARE


On 27 January 1756, Johannes Chrysostomus (golden mouth) Wolfhangus Theophilus (beloved of God) Mozart (as he was christened) was born in Salzburg. A man of genius, known to us as Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.

In July 1791 Mozart, then 35 years old, was asked to compose a Requiem Mass by Count von Walsegg after the death of his young wife Anna. After a frenetic few months Mozart was able to begin work on the Requiem in October, but he soon became seriously ill and subsequently died on December 5th, leaving an incomplete manuscript.

By the time of his death he had completed only the opening movement in all of the orchestral and vocal parts, although some more of the orchestral parts had been briefly indicated. Joseph von Eybler was asked to complete the score, but after some time working on it he felt unable to continue. Franz Xaver Süssmayr, once a pupil of Mozart and also Constanza's lover, was invited to continue to work on completing the score. It is believed that other composers may have helped Süssmayr; one such person was Maximilian Stadler.

For the concert described below, Richard Cooke chose to use the edition of Franz Beyer which follows Süssmayr quite closely.

Richard Cooke
Richard Cooke

On Saturday 24 January 2009, Mozart's Requiem Mass K626 was performed with accuracy and vigour by the Canterbury Choral Society under the direction of their choir master, Richard Cooke, to a packed Cathedral and I would venture to suggest that very few of the audience were disappointed with this performance.

The substantial choir filled the large space with a wonderful sound, and even 'on full volume' they never sang too loudly, although there were occasions when it might have be tempting to do so! It was particularly impressive that one could hear their words so clearly, which is rather rare these days. On many occasions one has to strain to catch even the odd word. Richard conducted with precision and accuracy, keeping the pace even throughout yet still introducing the required amount of dramatic intensity. There was certainly never a dull moment.

The Requiem opens with somber strains from the lower strings and alto clarinets, briefly lightened by the soprano solo.

The 'Dies Irae' (the day of wrath) was sung with adequate frenzy and I particularly enjoyed the choir's rendering of 'Rex Tremendae' (Oh King of dreadful majesty) which was almost in danger of raising the roof of the Cathedral! The opening bars of the 'Sanctus' (holy, holy, holy) had an air of confidence and was suitably uplifting.

Canterbury Choral Society
Canterbury Choral Society

The London Handel Orchestra, which was led by Adrian Butterfield, is made up of some of London's finest professional baroque players. Their playing was always sensitive, accompanying and enhancing the sound of the singers who rightfully 'take the stage' most of the time. It is all too often in my experience that it can be hard to hear the choir above a less-disciplined orchestra.

The four soloists, who are such a pivotal part in Mozart's Requiem, did not disappoint. The piece requires a strong sound from the women as well as the men. Sophie Bevan's voice had the required resonance. I liked Christina Astin's voice which was softer but produced a pure, clear sound. The beautiful entrance of the 'Tuba Mirum', with the trombone and the bass, was achieved well by Michael Pearce.

The blend of the four soloists was good; in particular in 'Tuba Mirum' and in the 'Recordare'. Andrew Staples and Sophie Bevan made a lovely sound together at the beginning of the 'Recordare'.

The addition of the Canterbury Choral Society Youth Choir was most successful. Forty boys and girls aged between seven and fourteen augmented the main choir to sing the Requiem. These young people are trained by Richard Cooke on a weekly basis. Their sound could be heard and brought a delightfully youthful addition to the music and indeed to the evening itself.

It must have been a great experience for them and they appeared to have a most professional approach to the evening and definitely deserve a big 'well done'.

Copyright © 2 February 2009 Pippa Hare, Kent UK


Canterbury Choral Society's future concerts, conducted by Richard Cooke, include Handel's Messiah (Saturday 21 March 2009, 7.30pm at Canterbury Cathedral, with Julia Doyle, soprano, David Allsopp, counter-tenor, Andrew Staples, tenor and Benjamin Bevan, bass, accompanied by Sinfonia Britannica), Verdi's Requiem (Saturday 20 June 2009), Haydn's Creation (Saturday 24 October 2009) and a family Christmas carol concert (Thursday 17 December 2009, 7pm, with the Canterbury Choral Society Youth Choir).

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