Collegium Musicum 90

Alma virgo
Mass in E flat, D950

Susan Gritton (soprano)
Pamela Helen Stephen (mezzo-soprano)
Mark Padmore (tenor)
James Gilchrist (tenor)
Matthew Rose (bass)

Collegium Musicum 90
Richard Hickox

Reviewed by: Kevin Rogers

Reviewed: 25 July, 2007
Venue: Royal Albert Hall, London

Richard Hickox is ideally suited to this repertoire. He founded the chorus and orchestra of Collegium Musicum 90, which focuses on the performance of Baroque and Classical music.

It was pleasing to see a larger than expected audience for this concert if one still quite small with the Arena less than a fifth full. Perhaps Cadogan Hall would be a better venue for some late-night Proms and which would have suited this music better, too. Throughout one felt the Royal Albert Hall was too big, especially for Hummel’s “Alma virgo”.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was a protégé of Haydn, a pupil of Mozart and friend of Beethoven who, at the age of 25, and on Haydn’s recommendation, was appointed to some of the responsibilities Haydn had held as Kapellmeister to Prince Nikolaus Esterházy II. His Marian offertory “Alma virgo”, scored for soprano, chorus and orchestra, consists of two distinct sections. Hickox gave a sympathetic account of the piece that found Susan Gritton in dramatic form, if a little cautious when reaching for the top notes. The entry of the choir was also dramatic, with plenty of urgency, and the trumpets were uplifting.

The E flat “Mass” was the last of Schubert’s six written towards the end of his all-too-brief life. It is a mix of Romantic and liturgical grandeur and was first conducted by Schubert’s brother, Ferdinand, a year after the composer’s death. The music is often uplifting and almost defiant in its calm, such as in the ‘Sanctus’. The choir throughout produced a good body of sound. Its pleadings in the opening ‘Kyrie’ were full of detail and definition, while the horns were particularly well-controlled. In the ‘Gloria’ the orchestra seemed to take a while to find the required strength and power, but the close was magnificent.

The soloists’ parts are very brief. In the ‘Credo’ the two tenors and soprano were very expressive, with Gritton’s entry, in particular, heart-stopping in the way her voice seemed to grow out of the air. In the closing ‘Agnus Dei’ one could almost believe that Peace on Earth was around the corner, so moving was the music. If there was a lack of a bite throughout the work, the performance was convincing nonetheless.

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