Petersfield Musical Festival: Come on a choral journey through Europe

Petersfield Musical Festival’s two signature choral concerts promise to pull at the heart-strings and evoke a gamut of musical emotions from Baroque pathos to rousing Edwardian celebration of the British seas, ending with a dramatic Italian sacred Mass and an orchestral trip to Grieg’s Norway. They are scheduled on 18th and 25th March.

This year’s singers include young soloists drawn from the UK’s prestigious music conservatoires, the Royal College and Royal Academy, supported by a chorus drawn from a range of local choral societies including Rogate, Fernhurst and Petersfield.

Handel’s final and poignant oratorio, Jephtha, kicks off the Festival in style on Saturday 18 March. It is based on a Biblical story which poses a harrowing dilemma. Jephtha, an Israelite warrior, makes a foolish bargain: in return for victory against his enemies, he will sacrifice whatever he first sees on his return. As fate would have it, he returns victorious only to meet his daughter Iphis, which poses an impossible moral choice – to keep his promise or be loyal to his family.

The story drew forth some of Handel’s most moving and beautiful arias, most famous being ‘Waft her, angels, through the skies.’ Handel’s eyesight was failing as he wrote the work in 1752, and this affliction must surely have influenced the pathos of the powerful chorus ‘How dark, O Lord, are Thy decrees’ which closes part two. Redemption is at hand, however, after an Angel intercedes and the narrative averts tragedy.

The Festival chorus, soloists, and musicians of Southern Pro Musica will be conducted by Paul Spicer. Anna Patterson, who will take the role of Storgé, Jephtha’s wife, said: “I’m most excited to perform this dramatically-charged role with chorus on such a large scale. This will be my first foray into a larger concert setting, and I’m excited about the new challenge.” 

The final concert of this year’s Festival on Saturday 25 March offers a varied programme of choral music ranging from the rousing Edwardian Songs of the Fleet by Charles Stanford, to Puccini’s 1880 work Messa di Gloria.  The Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra will accompany the tenor and baritone soloists and chorus under the baton of Paul Spicer.

Songs of the Fleet portrays a range of haunting nautical and maritime themes, from Sailing at Dawn to The Little Admiral (with shades of Lord Nelson). But the sea is not always shown as benevolent, and The Song of the Sou’Wester paints a picture of the wild, elemental force of the oceans. Returning to the Festival for the second time, Ed Ballard takes the solo baritone role, and reminds us of a time when ‘Britannia ruled the waves.’

Puccini wrote his Messa di Gloria when he was only 22. It sets the five main sections of the Catholic Mass, scored for tenor, baritone and a four-part mixed chorus. Mostly known for his world-famous operas, there are already signs in this youthful work of the dramatic and sweeping melodies which were to make Puccini one of the most famous composers in the world.

Also returning to the Festival for his second appearance, Samuel Stopford will sing the tenor soloist role. ‘There are two marvellous tenor arias and a gorgeous duet with a baritone, so to be able to perform this for the first time to an audience as warm and welcoming as those who attend the PMF is truly a privilege,’ he commented.

Stephen Scotchmer will take over the baton with Basingstoke Symphony Orchestra for the middle section of this year’s closing concert, to conduct the popular Peer Gynt Suite No.1. The concert therefore takes us on a journey from rousing Edwardian Great Britain to the warmth and romance of Italy via the folklore of Norway.

Sarah Hard

Image: Anna Patterson

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