‘The French Connection’
Southern Pro Musica & Vox Cantab
Saturday, 21 February 2015
St Peter’s Church
The title of this concert, given by Southern Pro Musica and Vox Cantab, was The French Connection. The large audience were treated to wonderful music by Fauré, Duruflé, Poulenc and Rameau. Vox Cantab, founded in 2010 by Louisa Denby, is a highly accomplished group of current and former choral scholars from Cambridge University. They immediately showed their outstanding musicianship in Poulenc’s four unaccompanied motets for the time of penitence. The settings are homophonic with many finely articulated moods. There are sharply defined dynamic contrasts, phrase by phrase, with bloc-like shifts, which are the hallmarks of Poulenc’s style. The singing had eloquence and the intensity of the music was idiomatic. Duruflé’s four motets on plainsong themes for unaccompanied voices show an astonishing conciseness. They were all sung with love, warmth and precision….wonderful!
Richard Pearce was the exemplary soloist in Poulenc’s exciting organ concerto. The single movement work displays Poulenc’s ability to effect an abrupt change of mood, from high spirits to melancholy, seamlessly. The many contrasting sections, which differ in style, tone and texture were superbly registered by Richard Pearce. This was an exhilarating reading of great fluency and authority and beautifully supported by the strings and timpani of the orchestra.
The main work of the evening was Duruflé’s Requiem. Written in 1947, the layout is based on Fauré’s masterpiece. The work is based on themes from Gregorian chant, but Duruflé skilfully integrates the plainsong with a romantic approach. The chamber version of strings, harp and trumpets was used tonight with great effect. There was a good balance between the sudden outbursts of agitation and the work’s mysticism and warmth. The choir sang ardently throughout with moments of great tenderness – as in the Agnus Dei with the flowing accompaniment of harp and strings – and the passionate outbursts in the blistering Sanctus with its dramatic trumpet calls. The solos were sung with deep feeling and imagination. The Pie Jesu was plaintively sung by the ravishing soprano, Catherine White, and the dark, rich bass of Richard Latham was a joy. This was a deeply expressive, sensitive performance from the excellent choir and orchestra, directed with love and passion by Jonathan Willcocks.
The concert opened with music by one of the great French Baroque composers, Rameau. Southern Pro Musica played movements form his opera-ballet, Les Indes Galant. This attractive work is full of dance numbers which are tuneful, dramatic and imaginative. The playing was light and rhythmic, but I wish the timpanist had used hard sticks to give the performance a little more bite.
Thank you to everyone for an evening of outstanding music making.