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A Piquant Contrast

Music by Fauré and Poulenc,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Fauré and Poulenc make a piquant contrast, particularly in a sacred context: the one mostly refined and meditative, the other unable to let go entirely of his knockabout side, even (especially?) when he is being serious.

Fauré's Cantique de Jean Racine opened the concert by Derby High School and Derby Grammar School Choral Society (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 28 February 2009); the performance displayed the choir's nicely blended tone, though it would have benefited from a firmer sense of direction.

Conductor Paul Hilliam's brief introduction to Poulenc's Organ Concerto, highlighting its main themes, was a nice touch. The soloist was Derby Cathedral Organ Scholar Ben Bloor. His remarkably mature grasp not just of the music's technical hurdles but also its structure and inner vitality made for a compelling performance which did not flinch from exploring the music's darker areas. String tone was occasionally a little raw, but the Heart of England Orchestra played with plenty of dash and fire.

The jollier moments perhaps needed just a touch more vulgarity. Somewhere in their ancestry lurks the spirit of Louis-James-Alfred Lefébure-Wély (the William McGonagall of nineteenth century French organ music). To underline the point Ben Bloor played his Sortie in E flat as an encore, letting rip a bit more than in the concerto and (a neat touch) taking his bow while the last chord was still sounding, thanks to the instrument's sustainer.

In Fauré's Requiem, after the interval, there was a fine balance struck between expressive depth and keeping the music on the move. There was just enough of a sense of urgency in the Offertory, and drama in Libera Me; the final In Paradisum took a little while to settle, but soon found the soft radiance the music calls for.

Baritone David Morris was nicely focussed in tone; Deborah Lamley was a more operatic soprano than we generally hear in this work nowadays. Though occasionally a whisker under pitch, she sang with nicely judged phrasing.

Copyright © 19 March 2009 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


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