Concert preview: Portsmouth Baroque Choir with the Consort of Twelve Chamber Ensemble at Fareham

Portsmouth Baroque Choir Newsletter March 2024

It was wonderful to read the verdict of local author David Green that our July performance of The Messiah complete in Chichester was considered “in a class of its own” that it took him “ten minutes” to decide this was his Event of the Year and that he would eat a few of his hats if anything displaced it before midnight on New Year’s Eve.

Our two concerts at the end of 2023 – Rheinberger, Vierne and Vaughan Williams at St Paul’s Chichester in October and our Christmas concert, at the United Reformed Church in Havant (a new venue for us), drew delighted audiences. Confidence and enthusiasm were therefore high as rehearsals resumed in January for our Spring and Summer 2024 concerts.

The Spring concert, on March 16th at the United Reformed Church in Fareham, begins with Emanuele d’Astorga’s Stabat Mater, a setting of the medieval hymn to the Virgin Mary that portrays her deep sorrow at the crucifixion of her son. There were many such settings in the 18th century and this particular one became hugely popular right through until the end of the 19th century: and then – silence. The work went unheard until quite recently when its elegant, semi-operatic style attracted interest again, alongside attempts to pin down its conception to a specific date. The biography of d’Astorga reads a little like Lord Byron’s but without the supporting documentary evidence. So the Stabat Mater may have been written during a brief visit to London ca. 1720, although there’s equally a case for it having been Rome in 1707, or even 1727!

But it is known, for certain, that while in Vienna in 1712 he became godfather to Antonio Caldara’s daughter and the first half of our concert continues with Caldara’s Miserere Mei, Domine and Crucifixus, a masterpiece of counterpoint for 16 independent voices that we have preferred to rehearse in a circular formation in order the clarify the details, in particular the four-part canons that multiply towards the close of the work.

The second half of the concert is devoted to Fauré. The fifth of six children, Gabriel Fauré was born in 1845 in Pamiers in the south of France close to the Pyrenees. Showing early musical promise, he was packed off at the age of nine to the École de Niedermeyer in Pars where his teachers included Saint-Saëns. During his final year of eleven at the École, which was important for reviving church music in France, he won first prize for composition with his Cantique de Jean Racine, the work that begins the second half. It’s a piece that looks quite ordinary, even bland, on the page but its charms flourish when sung, nudging the listener into a new and individual sound world that would become consolidated a decade later in the Requiem.

One of Fauré’s star pupils, Nadia Boulanger, describes the Requiem as “a sober and somewhat severe expression of grief: no disquiet or agitation disturbs its profound meditation, no doubt tarnishes its unassailable faith, its quiet confidence, its tender and peaceful expectation”. That chimes with something Fauré himself said in an interview: “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.” Our performance of the Requiem in Fareham will stay close to Fauré’s original intentions, accompanied by string quartet, two horns and organ. Although not performed in the UK until 1936, Fauré’s Requiem has deservedly become as popular in our time as the d’Astorga once was. In the centenary of Fauré’s death, it continues to shine a gentle light into the shadows framing our existence.

This Newsletter began with positive feedback from our performances in the second half of last year. At a time when the arts in the U.K., music in particular, are again under threat from financial constraints it is vital that amateur groups, such as Portsmouth Baroque Choir, continue to perform with confidence. That confidence derives from the individual skills and enthusiasm of the performers and their director, but they do need the recognition that the response from an audience can bring; the larger, the better. So please do book a ticket through the links in the poster image above or pay at the door on the night. You might even consider singing with us in future. Either way, you will be most welcome. For more news and stories about the choir and its repertoire, please visit our website and do follow us on X @baroquechoir and Facebook.

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