To the Cadogan Hall on Thursday to hear the choir of the Retrospect Ensemble, conducted by Matthew Halls, perform Rachmaninov's Vespers. The slightly dry acoustics of Cadogan Hall are not an obvious location for Rachmaninov's rich, dark orthodox inspired piece. But perhaps they formed a fitting backdrop to a performance which was in the lighter, brighter English tradition. There were basses who went down to the famous low notes, but their voices did not resonate with the dark brilliance of some Slav ones. The other singers were competent in their Russian but sang with a light, beautifully moulded sound which was some way from the sounds of Russian Orthodox Choirs. Halls brought out the Romantic feel of the music, pushing it and moulding it to show that this was music by the creator of the famous symphonies and piano concertos.
The choir numbered some 22 singers and was inevitably made up from London's pool of talented singers, I knew at least two, one of whom has recorded for me. But I felt that the singers had not quite sung enough together, there was a strong feeling of a group of individuals rather than an ensemble. There were too many moments when there was a lack of unanimity about when to come in on Halls beat; this was particularly noticeable in an unforgiving piece like P&aauml;rt's Totus Tuus. There was a great deal to admire in the concert and both singers and conductor treated Rachmaninov with utmost sincerity and great intelligence. There were fine solo performances from Ruth Massey and Mark Dobell.
Before the concert started Matthew Halls made a short speech asking people not to clap until the end of each half. But this effect was rather ruined by the very audible harmonica-like sound of his pitch pipe, as he re-tuned the choir between each movement. Also, he informed us that there was going to be a short break in the 2nd half, between parts 2 and 3 of the Rachmaninov. It would have been fine if he'd just said that, but it seemed odd to emphasise that the break was because he was concerned for the health of his singers voices. Each time I've sung in the Rachmaninov, we've sung it through without a break and included another work in the first half.
The biography of the Retrospect Ensemble in the programme now makes no mention of the Kings Consort which seems a great shame and gives me a feeling of history being airbrushed.
The hall was not full but the audience were rightly most enthusiastic about the performance.