North Yorkshire Chorus, St Mary’s Thirsk, 21 May 2011

The large and enthusiastic audience enjoyed a thoroughly professional, enjoyable summer evening of music. Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, written as a graduation thesis, lay forgotten for 75 years but has gained popularity through growing interest in the composer’s non-operatic output. It foreshadows many Puccini trademarks: memorable melodies, sumptuous harmonies and unapologetic theatricality. This energetic and idiomatic performance by the North Yorkshire Chorus under the baton of Greg Smith and accompanied at the organ by Andrew Christer, was all that Puccini could have wished for. The conductor displayed a sure sense of the music’s ebb and flow while the organ, if lacking in out-and-out power, showed off an attractive range of timbres. The tenor soloist, Stephen Newlove, sang with an appealing light vibrato, clear diction and accurate intonation; the voice of the bass, John Cunningham, while less focused, projected great drama through a broad dynamic range. Internal balance and rhythmic discipline within the choir, and between choir and soloists, were excellent.

Rossini took life, himself and his music much less seriously than did Puccini. As a result, his compositions – however superficially frivolous or undemanding – achieve an integrity and heartfelt simplicity that often eludes Puccini. His Stabat Mater is a late work, and has long been a favourite of choral societies and audiences: the former, because Rossini writes instinctively for voices, the latter because there can be no doubting the sincerity of the piece. There is no ‘grandstanding’ here. The male soloists from the Puccini were joined by the soprano Andrea Ryder and the mezzo Joyce Tindsley. As a quartet, the blend was musical and satisfying. The challenging high soprano lines were dispatched with ease, if at times with too wide a vibrato. The mezzo solos were warm in tone and fervent in delivery. Here, the bass soloist sang with greater clarity of pitch, while the tenor succeeded in making the famous Cuius animam a model of restraint. Chorus, organ and conductor again played their parts in a performance that was skilfully scaled to the acoustic of the church, allowing individual lines to be heard clearly and yet achieving considerable power in climaxes. While there were no obvious weaknesses, the ending was especially successful and moving in conveying the emotional power of Rossini’s recapitulation of earlier themes, a structural device that, in a less coherent performance, can sound a merely arid academic exercise.

Andrew Bennett

(An edited version of this review appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 27 May 2011)

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