The final concert of this year’s Petersfield Musical Festival was, on paper, something of a mixed bag. But not in practice! The programme, ranging from string quartet to full orchestra via wind and brass ensembles and organ showed off the splendid talents of the Hampshire County Youth Chamber Orchestra.
The evening began with a spirited and rhythmical performance of the overture to The Marriage of Figaro. There was some finely detailed playing from the woodwind and the whole was well shaped and phrased. Next came a charming Canzonetta by Mendelssohn for string quartet followed by an arrangement for wind band of Peter Warlock’s Capriol Suite. I, like I suspect many others, struggled through the piano duet version in my youth, so it was nice to hear it properly played! Bruckner’s Locus iste, with its sonorous and rich harmonies, works well in this setting for brass choir, although this old fogey still prefers the choral version.
Britten’s setting of part of the mystic Christopher Smart’s Rejoice in the Lamb was, for me, the highlight of the evening. I sang the alto solo as a very small boy at my boarding school in the late 40s, only a few years after it was written, and it has remained one of my favourite pieces ever since. Britten marked his score with a plethora of instructions to his performers and Paul Spicer, chorus, organ and percussion followed these to the letter. From the ppp opening, with Tim Ravalde’s meticulous and detailed organ playing, through to the fff “For the Trumpet of God is a blessed intelligence” the choir sang with clear diction and enthusiasm. Alright, the size of the chorus was probably larger than Britten envisaged, but this didn’t seem to matter given the commitment of the singers. The four soloists were equally matched. Claire Ward’s soprano paean to cat Jeoffrey was delightful and very moving with its beautiful climax, “For he knows that God is his Saviour”. Mezzo Hannah Bennet’s witty recounting of the valorous mouse standing up to the predations of a cat brought a smile to the audience and Peter Harris’s tenor blessed the flowers with warmth and excellent phrasing. Britten doesn’t give the bass much to do; Niall Anderson’s turn came in the Mozart. I had not come across this version with organ and percussion before but the later provided discrete drama coupled with Tim Ravalde’s incisive and virtuoso organ playing.
After the interval came Mozart’s Requiem. From the rich opening D minor Requiem aeternam – excellent entries here from all parts – to the piano and rhythmical et lux perpetua followed by Claire Ward’s beautiful Te decet hymnus, we knew we were in for a treat. Whenever I hear this piece, I always look forward to the Kyrie fugue and I was not disappointed. Taking it at a cracking pace, Paul Spicer was rewarded with some strong singing by the chorus and the Dies Irae that followed was equally exciting. I particularly liked the basses interspersions, “quantus tremor est futurus”.
Bass Niall Anderson came into his own opening in the Tuba mirum section. Mimicking the trombones, Niall’s rich voice filled the hall. He was joined in turn by the other soloists, who blended together very well and the sotto voce section, Cum vix Justus was magical as was their Recordare quartet. Space does not permit me to highlight the many felicitous moments that followed except to say that the chorus sang with energy and vigour throughout the piece and seemed to me to be particularly well balanced. There was much good phrasing and dynamic range and one could hear the words – and one can’t always say that! The four soloists were very well matched and the young players of the large Hampshire County Youth Orchestra provided a very professional and attentive accompaniment. The orchestra’s Director of Music, Carl Claussen, conducted the Figaro overture and Paul Spicer was in charge for the Britten and Mozart. Both coaxed excellent performances from their players and singers and the whole evening was a fitting climax to a splendid week’s music making.