Wigton Choral Society

Cumbria Rural Choirs 1 April 2017

This year’s Cumbria Rural Choirs’ concert was full of contrasts and surprises. It consisted of
sacred works by two composers who are much better known for writing operas. One is an
early work; the other written late in life.

Giochino Antonio Rossini wrote his Stabat Mater after hearing the setting composed by the
Renaissance composer Giovanni Battista Pergolesi. He was by then an established composer
having written thirty nine operas in nineteen years. He wrote little after Stabat Mater
except for the Petite Messe Solennelle. In both the mass and in this Stabat Mater he showed
his talent for jaunty, memorable tunes. The tenor’s aria started with a dramatic and solemn
introduction but moved into a really rollicking tune despite its dolorous subject, which made
the listener want to sing along!

The Stabat Mater started with a rising theme in the cellos and bassoons and this returned at
the end to round off the work in the Amen. The chorus started with the rising theme from
the basses, followed by tenors, then altos, then sopranos. The choir, trained by chorus
master Ian Wright, sounded confident and the voices were well balanced and blended, a
good start to what turned out to be a most satisfying performance. There were several
passages when the choir was unaccompanied and carried this off with aplomb, maintaining
the line and pitch of the music and the blend of voices. The final fugue was exciting with the
entries from the different voices coming in clearly despite the headlong speed.

Among the quartet of soloists, both soprano Sarah Power and tenor Luke Sinclair achieved
the difficult task of singing upbeat, even cheerful, tunes to sober words while convincingly
conveying the meaning of the words. Bass Andrew Mahon, who memorably sang Elijah with
this choir two years ago, had the required gravity for the more solemn setting of the Eia
Mater, with some truly tender singing from the chorus at “in amando”. Mezzo soprano
Emma Watkinson sang the gorgeous Cavatina with great simplicity and pathos, with elegant
accompanying from horns and clarinets.

In the second half, we heard Messa di Gloria by Giocomo Puccini, an early work written
when the composer was a music student. His family had intended him to be a church
musician but he became more interested in opera after he graduated. A charming and
serene Kyrie eleison led into a more urgent Christe eleison. Then followed two more
substantial sections: the Gloria, with an opening theme full of joy which returned as a
refrain; and the Credo with long smooth unison lines from the choir. There was bright
playing from the trumpets of the Gloria tune against the Amen from the choir. The arias
were only for the tenor and bass soloists, including a serene Et incarnatus for tenor. The
basses of the choir sang an urgent Crucifixus with horns and trombones. Finally there was a
brisk Sanctus, a solo Benedictus, and an Agnus Dei with both soloists with interjections from
the choir.

Andrew Padmore returned again as guest conductor, adroitly managing the seemingly
impossible task of giving leads and direction to every part of the choir while also controlling
the orchestra. The orchestra of local musicians was led by Robert Charlesworth. There were
some moments of ragged ensemble and intonation problems but it was good to have an
orchestra to support the strong sound of the choir. The building, St John’s, London Road,
Carlisle, provided a helpfully lofty acoustic.

Cumbria Rural Choirs provided an evening of enjoyable if unfamiliar music for a substantial
and appreciative audience. Bravo to all involved!

Janet Hornby

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