Hear my prayer
Petite messe solennelle
Julie Gray (soprano)
Rachael Lloyd (alto)
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Vuyani Mlinde (bass)
John Wyatt (harmonium)
David Smith (piano)
London Oriana Choir
Reviewed by: Edward Lewis
Reviewed: 9 February, 2006
Venue: St Pauls Church, Knightsbridge, London
In the beautiful church of St Paul’s, Knightsbridge, I found myself admiring what was a very fine performance by the London Oriana Choir, under David Drummond, wedged between a man who appeared to be practising particularly complicated tap-dancing routines and one who spent the entire concert trying, I can only assume, to dislodge an entire three-course meal from the back of his throat. But there again, my pen clicked. For which I am sorry.
Before getting down to the main business, Rossini’s “Petite messe solennelle”, the choir opened with Mendelssohn’s “Hear My Prayer” in a rather effective arrangement for choir and four soloists. As with many perfectly competent choirs, the Oriana singers seemed to take a while to warm up, with one or two lacklustre entries at dramatic moments and a few hints that this piece may have been under-rehearsed.
Richard Allain’s stunning “Salve Regina” followed. This highly effective piece features some superbly created textures, reminiscent of MacMillan’s “Cantos Sagrados”, with improvised whispering out of which the lower sections rise hypnotically. With several sections started by a singly note per part, it was noticeable that the choir consists of many very strong and competent singers but clouded by a few who are less so. This led to momentary divergence as to the required pitch, spoiling otherwise pure and evocative textures.
Then the Rossini. What a delightfully silly piece! The “Petite messe solennelle” is in no way ‘petite’, and certainly not ‘solennelle’. From the title downwards, Rosinni’s impish and self-aware sense of humour shines through, and one can not become too serious about this most buffo of liturgical works. The choir certainly seemed to approach this musical equivalent of the deserts-trolley in a highly professional, technically proficient, and yet light-hearted fashion.
David Drummond’s skill at choral training is imprinted on everything the choir does, with phrases, dynamics and textures all tightly controlled. The full vocal power of the choir, only previously hinted at in the previous works, was finally released on the forceful opening of the ‘Gloria’, and the following dynamic contrasts added even more drama.
The next mention must go to bass Vuyani Mlinde, with his strong, gently sonorous tone, intensely musical phrasing, and immense stage presence. This young South African has a voice that seemingly fills any space amply, taking time to wander through the pews and saunter into the organ loft before returning to make sure we hadn’t forgotten it. Mlinde obviously meant every word he uttered, with a sense of power in reserve normally only derived from having a small infantry regiment behind you or the wheel of a naughtily expensive sports car in front of you. Talking of which, the entire performance was suffused with a baffling display of choreography, with soloists and conductor exchanging positions in a slow, bizarre dance. No obvious reason presented itself. Maybe they just fancied a change of scenery.
Rachael Lloyd, brought in at the last minute, blended beautifully with a strong and expressively deep tone, and tenor Allan Clayton was technically and evocatively superb, especially in the ridiculous ‘Domine deus’. This movement would be far more at home in “Carmen”!
Soprano Julie Gray was perhaps the weakest of the soloists, with a voice that promised of a better place, but never really got there, and occasional moments of inaccurate tuning that jarred in an otherwise near-perfect ensemble.
The performance was accompanied with great skill and under-stated proficiency by David Smith. The work makes you realise that the piano is an instrument with infinite possibilities of tonal and expressive subtlety, and Rossini uses exactly none of them. But, given this small drawback, Smith’s playing was everything you could want, short of a more sensible accompaniment; so too John Wyatt’s harmonium.
The London Oriana Choir is an extremely well-trained and technically competent choir, and also, refreshingly, a choir which so obviously enjoys its performances with vitality and musicality. It is certainly worthy of its place among the leading amateur choirs of Britain.