Review: Petersfield Musical Festival: Annual Choral Workshop – Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise

Marcia Fielden loved the day’s singing, after an eighteen-month wait.

At last! Not only was the Autumn Workshop allowed to go ahead, despite dire predictions, it was a wonderful success. Throughout this second Plague Year, and especially when the Delta Variant began rampaging, we had doubts, as the Government refused – wisely, alas – to rule out further restrictions.

In the event, however, the whole day succeeded brilliantly in every way. As the singers converged on the ‘Quad’ at Bedales, hearts grew lighter and smiles wider as friendships were renewed to right and left. The sight of Sue handing out scores and Sally checking off the list was worthy of celebration in verse! It all suddenly seemed blessedly normal, after eighteen months of deprivation (unless you count online singing via Zoom, which most of us don’t!) And not a mask in sight.

The work we were studying was Mendelssohn’s ‘Hymn of Praise’. It is in fact the final movement of his Symphony no.2. Joyous and uplifting, it is the ideal work to celebrate the gradual return of normality and, most importantly, to welcome back choral singing for Petersfield Musical Festival, when it will be sung on 26 March 2022. The whole work is a paean of praise, with beautiful choruses strung amongst soprano and tenor solos. It had its first performance in Birmingham, which city Mendelssohn loved.

He conducted often there, in his visits to England (he singlehandedly revived the Bach St Matthew Passion and gave that fabulous work its first ever performance in England). Paul reminded us just how beautiful the centre of Birmingham was in those days – with its new waterways, famously claimed to be more numerous than in Venice; its tree-lined avenues, and its fabulous Palladian public buildings. Mendelssohn carried his sketch book with him everywhere and produced very accomplished watercolours.

Paul spent much of the morning working on the opening chorus which has some complicated fugal passages tricky for those new to it (which seemed to be nearly everybody!) The text comes from Psalm 150 – ‘All men, all things, praise ye the Lord’.

After a delicious lunch in the school refectory we tackled the final chorus, ‘Ye Nations, offer to the Lord glory and might’ from Psalm 96. This is the most difficult movement of all. The voices enter successively, beginning with the basses. The timing is difficult, the intervals are unexpected, and it gets progressively harder to ‘keep the line’ but, considering it was sight-reading for nearly everyone, Paul was very pleased with us. Then we practised no.4 ‘All ye that cried unto the Lord’ (easy by comparison), taking notice of the dynamic contrasts really well.

To finish what had been a splendid day getting acquainted with one of the best ‘sings’ in the English choral repertoire, Paul let us sing the first chorus all through, this time without pause. It was amazing! It had come together in our minds, and the difference from the first attempt in the morning was truly creditable. A fine way to end such a happy day.

Read about Paul here.

Read the Petersfield Musical Festival Newsletter Autumn 2021.

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