Vaughan Williams/Poulenc – March 2012

DonaNobisPacemHARPENDEN Choral Society
 is to be congratulated on the concert given to a capacity audience last Saturday at the town’s Methodist Church.

The evening was a delight throughout and praise is well deserved for presenting such a challenging and exciting programme.

Conductor John Andrews knew what he wanted from his singers and players and they responded to many demanding challenges with seemingly consummate ease.

The programme got off to a great start with one of the most atmospheric though lesser known of Vaughan Williams’ choral works, Dona Nobis Pacem, written in 1936.

Vaughan V\/llliams had witnessed first hand the horrors of the First World War and, with the rest of the country, was facing with equal horror the approaching threat of another conflict. For its text he selected verses from the Bible and Mass, three poems of Walt Whitman and part of a political speech from the time of the Crimean War.

Both choir and orchestra portrayed this admirably, creating moods of anguish and dread accompanied by trumpet calls and drums beats, contrasted with a longing for peace in moments of serene optimism,

Soloists Sarah Redgwick, soprano, and Simon Lobelson, baritone, sang superbly. The rafters literally shook with excitement in the dramatic passages and yet contrasting quieter sections wafted across the audience.

There was good ensemble singing from the choir and apart from a couple of raw top notes from the sopranos in an exposed section in Part III the work was well received as the applause and cheers from an equally impressed audience indicated.

By way of contrast. The King’s Sinfonietta gave a warm and relaxed performance of the deservedly popular Pavane by Gabriel Faure. The central  section has some challenging bars where the mood changes slightly with a sequence of melodic and harmonic climaxes but these were played with complete ease and the performance was enjoyable.

The programme ended with a work from another French composer. Francis Poulenc wrote his Gloria for Chorus and Soprano solo in 1959 towards the end of his life. He makes use of contrasting moods, not always easy for the performers to pick up quickly, but again the performance was enjoyable with moments of beautiful singing and playing. A more audible sense of fun from the choir would have improved the Laudamus te and Domine Fili unigenite movements. Sarah Redgwick tackled her solo part well, coping admirably with many awkward intervals and challengingly long phrases.

The weakest part was the opening of the final section Qui sedes where the choir seemed to be surprised by the opening forte passage. Nevertheless a quick recovery was made.

This was a concert of which Harpenden Choral Society, The King’s Sinfonietta and conductor John Andrews can be deservedly proud.