(reviewed by David Huntington)
The concert started with soprano Jessica Holmes singing with clear simplicity the Song of Simeon (Nunc Dimittis) with music composed by Geoffrey Burgon in 1979, and used for the credit music in “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy”. Geoffrey died in 2010, and this was both a fitting tribute to him, and set the scene for the following work.
The Requiem composed in 1947 by Maurice Durufle (in memory of his father), uses plainchant for each of the sections embellished by a range of choral, and orchestral/organ styles and colours. It is an enormously challenging work, but the choir gave a very satisfying performance. With dynamics rather louder than the score indicates at the start, it meant the choir entries had additional confidence, and the sound carried through-out the Abbey. Not only was the orchestral playing (leader Julia Boulton), of very high quality, the registration of the organ part, played by Michael Haynes (the Abbey Director of Music), really added to the range of musical colours. Well integrated into the work were the soloists – Robert Seaton (baritone), and Emma Banks (mezzo-soprano). For me the “tingle-factors” were the sopranos and altos singing the “Quam olim Abrahae promisisti”, either side of the Hostias, and the clear words of the sopranos in the plainsong of the “Lux aeterna”, supported with the “ou” of the rest of the choir. An un-scored pause for the Abbey bells to chime 8pm immediately before the Agnus Dei seemed so appropriate.
Well done to Glenn Davis (conductor) for selecting this difficult work and training the choir to such a high standard of performance.
The second part of the programme was the more well-known Haydn “Nelson” mass. Here again we heard Jessica Holmes taking the major role in the solos and giving a superb account of the florid passages. She was ably supported by Emma Banks (alto), Chris Venazza (tenor, whose first visit this was as soloist to the Abbey), and of course Robert Seaton (bass). Haydn challenges his soloists and chorus, with a wide vocal range, which was admirably accomplished. Apart from a little choral-unsteadiness at the beginning of “Et Resurrexit” the performance was confident and assured, and one of which all performers could be proud.