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Concert review: Bishop's Stortford Choral Society and Bishop's Stortford Sinfonia perform Bach’s Magnificat in D and Haydn’s Nelson Mass at All Saints' Church, Hockerill

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Bishop’s Stortford Choral Society and Bishop’s Stortford Sinfonia held their first live concert in over 18 months with a performance of JS Bach’s exuberant Magnificat in D and Joseph Haydn’s triumphant Nelson Mass at All Saints’ Church, Hockerill, on Saturday December 4.

Singing in public for the first time since the first coronavirus lockdown in March 2020, the choir was in good voice and sang the choruses with verve and commitment. Conductor Richard Brain ensured that everything moved on at a good pace and with real energy.

The glory and fascination of Bach’s setting of Magnificat is how he constructed the sequence of choruses, solos, duet and trio, with such colourful vocal and orchestra writing. The five soloists brought a full range of appropriate energy and calm to their verses. Alto Leonora Dawson-Bowling and the Sinfonia’s two flutes were a notable high point in Esurientes and the oboe d’amore brought a characterful ‘nutty’ edge to the sound in Quia Respexit.

Bishop's Stortford Choral Society with Bishop's Stortford Sinfonia at All Saints' Church (53617392)
Bishop's Stortford Choral Society with Bishop's Stortford Sinfonia at All Saints' Church (53617392)

Joseph Haydn’s Nelson Mass – named after Admiral Horatio Nelson but originally called ‘Missa in Angustiis’ or ‘Mass for Troubled Times’ – was written in 1798 at a time when Napoleon Bonaparte was terrorising Europe. From the menacing opening Kyrie, Haydn demands much of singers and players with a soaring soprano solo – the fine Theresa Pearson – and the three military-style trumpets.

The subsequent movements are celebratory. Gloria has splendid opening and closing choruses and a central Qui Tollis in which the bass soloist, Robbie Haylett, brought good shape to a truly lovely tune. The Credo, a two-part canon, was driven along with plenty of energy by the choir.

Et incarnatus est is another fine melody introduced by the soprano soloist and then taken over by a suitably calmed chorus, before the Et Resurrexit, which was set up with great determination by the chorus tenors. This chorus has one of the best sections in the whole piece, where syncopated upper voices ‘bounce’ against the on-the-beat tenors and basses.

Bishop's Stortford Choral Society with Bishop's Stortford Sinfonia at All Saints' Church (53617394)
Bishop's Stortford Choral Society with Bishop's Stortford Sinfonia at All Saints' Church (53617394)

The movements which follow bring more challenges to soloists, chorus and orchestra. There are many notes to play and very high notes to sing. Sanctus starts slowly and jumps into a bright allegro; Benedictus (and later Agnus Dei) sets the orchestra violins a challenge which these players met very well, and then the trumpet fanfares are back against the chorus.

The choir and orchestra brought this wonderful piece to a stunning end with yet more high notes for basses, altos, tenors and sopranos.

All were well entitled to the sustained applause and enthusiastic reception by the audience. Well done to Richard Brain, soloists and orchestra, choir members and committee and all who help behind the scenes. Live music is back in Bishop’s Stortford!

* Bishop’s Stortford Choral Society will celebrate its 80th birthday next spring with a special performance of Edward Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at prestigious international music venue Saffron Hall in Saffron Walden. New members are very welcome. Rehearsals start on Thursday 6 January at 7.45pm at Water Lane United Reformed Church. More information can be found at http://www.singwithbscs.org.uk.

David Boarder

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