Taunton Times August 19 1999
MUSIC lovers who took to the time and effort to travel to Wells Cathedral last week were rewarded by a marvellous evening that sustained Somerset Chamber Choir's Record as one of the finest examples of mixed professional and amateur performers in the country.
The evening headlined with Mozart's Requiem, but as usual for the choir, under the excellent professional touch of musical director Graham Caldbeck, provided some variety in their programme with supremely contrasting and little-known pieces by Benjamin Britten and Gerald Finzi.
The quality of the performance matched the choir's reputation for polished and professional finesse. It was impossible to fault the relationship of choir with orchestra, made especially difficult in Britten's often dissonant and fast moving Cantata Misericordium, which sees rapidly changing moods and rhythms throughout its 20 minute running time.
As with much of Britten, this version of the parable of the Good Samaritan, commissioned by the Red Cross in 1963, is perhaps an acquired taste. But it was performed by the choir, orchestra and soloists with vibrant energy and accuracy ensuring its success, whether or not it matched individual preference.
The roles of Samaritan and traveller were sung by solists Howard Milner (tenor) and Christopher Maltman (baritone) respectively, whose careers include many prestigious performances with names such as Royal Opera, Kent Opera and English National Opera.
The first half finished with Finzi's lyrical and uplifting Lo, the full final sacrifice, written in 1946 as the anthem for St. Matthew's Festival, Northampton.
The words, from St. Thomas Aquina's Adora te and Lauda Sion are filled with a religious ecstasy that came alive in the choir's moving rendition, interrelated by an excellent organ performance given by Richard Pearce.
The work incorporated gentle organ passages, and controlled, precise unaccompanied singing, but the piece was especially noteworthy for its tremendous use of dynamics, with soaring crescendos that echoed round the cathedral's magnificent vaults, and diminuendos that had the audience poised and motionless in their seats.
The second half was devoted to that most affecting and inspiring requiem of all, written by Mozart as he lay on his death-bed, and completed by his contemporary and pupil Franz Sussmayr.
The mood was set with the Requiem's opening passage sung with force and passion before the precise and meticulous runs that pepper the 'Kyrie'.
We were barely given the chance to catch our last breath after the last, beautiful chord reverberated around the walls and roof before choir shouted 'Dies Irae' and the roof was raised and the walls receded once more.
The performance was given with emotion and passion, conjuring up the images of hell and damnation that reputedly aroused the genius and imagination in Mozart which he portrayed so forcefully through his composition.
The soloists finished the work with a brilliance expected from their renowned and professional backgrounds. Altogether another memorable and distinguished evening.