Choral Society rises to toughest of challenges

PUBLISHED: 11:23 30 November 2009 | UPDATED: 16:34 07 September 2010

REVIEW: HIGHGATE CHORAL SOCIETY - ALL HALLOWS, GOSPEL OAK. Because music critics tend not go to concerts that begin with the 1812 Overture, we tend to forget what an extraordinary score it is - with qualities beyond the rabble-rousing and moments you c

REVIEW: HIGHGATE CHORAL SOCIETY - ALL HALLOWS, GOSPEL OAK.

Because music critics tend not go to concerts that begin with the 1812 Overture, we tend to forget what an extraordinary score it is - with qualities beyond the rabble-rousing and moments you could not unreasonably call prayerful. That it was written for the consecration of a church (although to be performed outside, hence all the noise) is something we also forget - not least, because the church wasn't built in time, so the premiere happened elsewhere.

But this performance by Highgate Choral Society was a corrective to history, returning the piece to the spiritual turf Tchaikovsky intended and sounding wonderful in the booming resonance of All Hallows - complete with a choral ending that Tchaikovsky never actually sanctioned but was an irresistable thing to do when you've got 200 voices on tap, sitting waiting for the next piece.

And the next piece was, in truth, a challenge. Janacek's Glagolitic Mass explodes with joy (of a pantheistic kind, celebrating the created world rather than creator God) but its a joy that comes with fiendish rhythmical inflections and in language (Glagolitic is an ancient precedent for modern Czech) that doesn't easily trip off the tongue. So there were trouble spots.

But there was also energy and drive, which saw the voices through their troubles to a genuinely triumphant end. The HCS conductor Ronald Corp kept good control by not pushing the tempi to extremes. His new London Orchestra played their hearts out, especially the brass on whom so much of this score depends. And though the soloists were almost overwhelmed, they stood their ground - with fiery contributions from tenor Christopher Lemmings and a last-minute replacement soprano, Mary Bevan, who I'm told had learned the score in two days but delivered it with such assurance that you'd never know.

Michael White

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