Tuesday 29 September 2015

Festal Festival Finale - Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival

Stephen Cleobury, Choir of King's College Cambridge, Haydn Chamber Orchestra at Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival 2015
Stephen Cleobury, Choir of King's College Cambridge, Haydn Chamber Orchestra
at Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival 2015
Haydn, Charlotte Bray, Mozart; Choir of King's College Cambridge, Haydn Chamber Orchestra, Stephen Cleobury; Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival
Reviewed by Robert Hugill on Sep 27 2015
Star rating: 4.0

Classical and modern as the Hatfield festival finishes in fine style

This year's Hatfield House Chamber Music Festival concluded in fine style on Sunday 27 September 2015 with a concert in the Old Palace given by the choir of King's College, Cambridge, and the Haydn Chamber Orchestra conducted by Stephen Cleobury. They were joined by soloists Magnus Johnston (violin), Guy Johnston (cello), Nicholas Daniel (oboe) and Robin O'Neill (bassoon) for Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante in B flat major for oboe, bassoon, violin and cello, the choir sang two movement's from Charlotte Bray's Come Away and both choir and orchestra were joined by soloists Ruby Hughes (soprano), Lucy Taylor (mezzo-soprano), Richard Dowling (tenor) and Bozdiar Smiljanic (bass) for Mozart's Requiem.

Haydn's Sinfonia Concertante was commissioned by Johann Peter Salomon for his London concert series and premiered in 1792 (the same year the Mozart's Requiem was completed by Sussmayr) during Haydn's first visit to London. The opening Allegro had quite a military air, the music elegant and lively. The writing for the soloists was very concerto grosso like, with Haydn using the four as a group or in pairs, yielding some elegant playing from the four. The Andante opened not with an orchestral ritornello but with the four soloists accompanied just by plucked strings and the lyrically elegant music put the spotlight firmly on Magnus Johnston's violin. This continued into the final movement which opened with a series of  recitative passages for the solo violin before the perky, solo violin led Allegro. Cleobury took it a quite a speed, leading to some nifty passage-work from all the soloists.

The music of Charlotte Bray has threaded its way throughout this year's Hatfield House Music Festival. Her Come Away was written for Chester Cathedral Choir and premiered by them in May 2015, with the work being performed by the choir of King's College Cambridge in June this year. Stephen Cleobury conducted the choir in two movements from the work, Winter is past and Many Waters. Both sets texts from the Song of Songs in a style evoking a well-made part-song. Bray's music was lyrical and tonal but with some lovely textures, and their was a soberly calm and considered feel to the word setting. The opening movement seemed to get off to a slightly uncertain start, but the choir blossomed in the second, rather making you aware that this concert was taking place quite early in the academic year perhaps before the new intake was really sung in.

After the interval we had Mozart's Requiem, in the standard version completed by Sussmayr. Cleobury started the work at quite a lively tempo, keeping a lovely sense of flow to the music. There was a great balance throughout from the orchestra, with the two basset horn contributing strongly to the texture. As well as keeping the work moving, Cleobury brought out the more dramatic moments in the piece so that this was at times quite an exciting performance. You could certainly understand this approach as the acoustic in the Old Palace is a little dry, excellent for chamber music but a bit too dry for the choral forces; you could sense the choir constantly having to fight the acoustic. But the results were certainly vivid. Diction was always good, and the choir gave us some lovely neat passage-work in the faster movements. The Confutatis was wonderfully vigorous from the men, contrasting with the aetherial sound of the boys.

The soloists made a finely balanced group with soprano Ruby Hughes displaying a lovely lyric line enlivened by a warm vibrato; her first entry in the Requiem  was nicely poised. Mezzo-soprano Lucy Taylor was finely expressive; Richard Dowling's tenor voice brought a bright contrast to the texture and his tricky first entry was well done. Bozidar Smiljanic displayed a good firm bass voice, with some great bottom notes in the Tuba Mirum combined with a fine sense of line. In the ensemble passages, the four soloists worked well together with lovely characterful voices.

Before the concert Stephen Cleobury dedicated the concert to the memory of his great predecessor, Sir David Willcocks, who died recently and the concert was the first that the choir had done since receiving the news.

This was a great conclusion to the festival, and we are already looking forward to next year. The Fifth Hafield House Chamber Music Festival takes place from 22 to 25 September 2016.

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