Te Deum for the Empress Marie Therese
Symphony No.39 in E flat, K543
Mass in C minor, K427
Elizabeth Weisberg & Grace Davidson (sopranos), Ben Johnson (tenor) and Philip Tebb (baritone)
Reviewed by: Douglas Cooksey
Reviewed: 6 July, 2011
Venue: Cadogan Hall, London
Barts Choir, as it is now known, was formed in 1965 by a group of nurses at St Bartholomew’s Hospital. It comprises 300-plus singers and gives concerts in support of charities (this one was in aid of the Alzheimer’s Society). The Trafalgar Sinfonia, in its fourteenth season, was formerly known as the New London Soloists Orchestra. It is made up of talented young players. Given its participation, maybe we should have had Haydn’s Nelson Mass!
The evening did open with Haydn, the later of two settings of the Te Deum, this one written in honour of the Empress Marie Therese. It was first performed in 1800. This was the least satisfactory part of the concert, tempos too headlong to allow for clarity. Much better was a small-scale account of Mozart’s E flat Symphony, which, although occasionally rough at the edges, was increasingly convincing as it progressed, with some characterful wind-playing in the Andante, a sturdy vigour to the Minuet and both repeats observed in the finale. With just two cellos and one double bass, this was inevitably bass-light but in other respects – notably the crisp timpani-playing of Jonny Raper and an excellent clarinet contribution from Peter Sparks – it was an exhilarating performance.
The best was Mozart’s (unfinished) C minor Mass, which was blessed with a strong and well-balanced solo quartet, especially the all-important soprano roles. The two singers blended beautifully in ‘Domine Deus’ and ‘Et incarnatus’ had a rare and touching tenderness. The tenor and the baritone impressed in their lesser roles. The big choruses – especially ‘Gloria’ and ‘Sanctus’ – are Mozart at his most Handelian and, heard with a large choir in the near-ideal acoustic of Cadogan Hall, they made an imposing impact, giving a good idea of why Handel’s own oratorios reigned supreme in England for so long. With about 150 choristers performing, it would be idle to expect Barts Choir to produce the polish of smaller professional groups and sometimes Ivor Setterfield’s conducting left rather too much to chance – greater clarity in cueing fugal entries and shaping phrasing would not have come amiss. What was not in doubt though was the conviction of the whole. Sometimes amateur groups, especially when juxtaposed as here with excellent soloists, achieve a joy and spontaneity which eludes fully professional choirs. Be that as it may, large amateur choirs such as Barts are a vital backbone of music-making and deserve every support.