Review of Lancaster and District Choral Society’s concert at the Great Hall, Lancaster University, on Saturday 23rd November 2013.
Two contrasting nineteenth century works written within ten years of each other provided a challenge for Lancaster and District Choral Society, and how well they responded to the demands of the programme. An appreciative audience at Lancaster University’s Great Hall heard Bizet’s Te Deum and Brahms’ A German Requiem. Both pieces deviate from the texts of traditional church liturgy. Bizet’s setting, outgoing and operatic in character, rearranges the words in order to provide opportunities for dramatic contrasts and a triumphal ending, while Brahms’ piece, darker and intense, reflects his personal experiences of bereavement, expressed through biblical passages of his own choosing.
The choir clearly understood the character of the music, demonstrating a wide range of expression. The quiet singing was particularly impressive, with sustained lines and clear diction ensuring that the music never lost impetus. The singers commendably knew both works well enough to be able to watch the conductor and communicate with the audience, using their scores as prompts rather than having their heads in their copies. The ‘heads up’ approach enabled the choir readily to project their well-blended sound to the back of the hall, and their attentiveness to John Perrin’s clear direction made for mostly secure entries and unanimous singing, especially in the tricky fugal passages in both pieces.
Soprano soloist Elinor Moran gave a suitably operatic rendering of her part in the Bizet, and by way of contrast a serene, intimate performance of Brahms’ tribute to his mother in the Requiem. Adam Smith, in Bizet’s Te Deum, revealed a command of the full range of his tenor voice, retaining quality in the powerful high notes and a richer, almost baritone sound in the lower register. Bass soloist in the Brahms was Nicholas Morris, who stood in at the last moment. He gave a splendid account of his part, blending particularly well with the chorus.
Bizet and Brahms both call for a large orchestra, with a full brass section. The society’s orchestra, led by Julian Cann, lent colour and character to the performance. John Perrin achieved an excellent balance, so that we heard the full range of orchestral tone without any risk that the choir and soloists would be overwhelmed by instrumental sound.
The Great Hall’s rather dry and unforgiving acoustic makes it a daunting venue for amateur musicians. That there was so little to forgive and so much to commend is testament to the disciplined approach that John Perrin brings to our local choral society, and to the members’ wholehearted response to his leadership.