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Expert Playing

Music for voices and brass,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Belgian composer Joseph Jongen is little-known outside the organ world, though his Sonata Eroica is a staple of the 20th century organ repertoire. His Mass, of 1945-8, is his largest, and nearly his last, choral work. Scored for soloists, chorus, brass and organ, it suggests Debussyan elements overlaid on a bedrock of Franck.

Under conductor Malcolm Goldring the Sitwell Singers tackled this attractive but sometimes tricky work effectively (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 14 March 2009), giving the Kyrie a sense of quiet purpose and investing the choral fanfares of the Sanctus with plenty of energy. Tenors and basses were somewhat underpowered in the Gloria, and the Benedictus tended to lose focus. The unaccompanied or lightly unaccompanied passages of the Agnus Dei were the most successful, with a fine sense of serenity in the concluding Dona Nobis Pacem.

In Part 1 Bob Chilcott's Jubilate had all the qualities that put him streets ahead of most other composers writing in a similar vein. The quiet opening, compellingly realised by the choir, is a stroke of genius, although the soprano solo movement, setting words by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is less individual. Caroline Sharp was the soloist here and also sang Jongen's Pie Jesu after the interval -- a basically fine voice, though her fast vibrato lessened its appeal.

Parry's I was Glad was suitably rousing, though there were balance problems between choir and brass, which also surfaced in the Jongen.

There was expert playing from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama Brass Ensemble, three of whom opened the concert with Triangles for horn, trombone and tuba by American composer and tuba player John Stevens. This moved effectively from the moody to the bright and breezy, including a delightful samba-like passage in 5/4 time with an appealingly-played blusesy muted horn solo.

Copyright © 7 April 2009 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK


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