REVIEW: Verdi’s Requiem, Hurst College Chapel

Chanctonbury Chorus and Hurst College Choral Society and Orchestra joined forces to perform Verdi's Requiem

Chanctonbury Chorus and Hurst College Choral Society and Orchestra joined forces to perform Verdi's Requiem

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THE combined choirs of Chanctonbury Chorus and Hurst College Choral Society and Orchestra made their performance of Verdi’s Requiem a night to remember.

It is a long journey, both in time and distance, from the Church of San Marco, Milan, to the splendour of Hurst College Chapel in Hurstpierpoint, where, 140 years after Verdi’s Requiem was heard for the first time, a packed audience gathered on Sunday to luxuriate in a magnificent presentation of the funeral mass.

The combined might of the two groups performed this beautiful work in the chapel’s appropriately historical surroundings - and what a night it was.

Under the orchestral leadership of Charlotte Scott and the guiding baton of Neil Matthews, the Requiem launched into its softly descending opening, immediately suggestive of the word Requiem. Strong support from all four soloists in turn and the 100-plus mixed choir made this a tour de force to be reckoned with.

With no hesitation and no faltering, this was clearly building to be a performance to remember. The hours of rehearsal, missed meals and late nights were quickly forgotten as the performers got into their stride.

Mind you as with any professional or semi-professional performers, the cacophony of the orchestral warm up lead one to wonder how the 100-strong voices and 50-strong orchestra would pull off a performance to be remembered – but this was what they managed.

The beautifully tight, sometimes contemporary harmonies of the orchestra and voices totally belied the age of this piece. If we didn’t know better, it could have been composed just yesterday, not close to 150 years ago.

However, the forceful opening and explosive launch of the Dies Irie, approximately 40 minutes long, clearly pushed everyone to their limit, and they loved every minute of it, as did the audience.

All had a chance to excel with the wonderful interaction of the soloists, underpinned by the close harmony of the choir and the orchestra, all giving what they could without putting a discernible foot wrong.

After the scrabble for an essential glass of wine during the interval, the second half of this classic performance presented the audience with the Offertorio, Sanctus, Agnus Dei, Lux Aeterna and the climactic Libera Me with its hushed entry and return to full strength and terror, before leading to the final choral fugue which brought the work to its enthralling conclusion.

The piece was written by Giuseppe Verdi as a memorial to Italian poet and novelist Alexandra Manzoni. Verdi apparently forgave conductor Hans von Bulow’s perhaps untimely comment that the opera was ‘an opera in church vestments’, possibly because Brahms also reprimanded von Bulow.

The four soloists excelled – the soaring soprano voice of Leslie-Jane Rogers, the breadth of scale demonstrated by mezzo soprano Anne Mason, the confidence and clarity of tenor Stephen Brown and the bass resonance of Nicholas Warden brought harmony and depth to an outstanding performance.

And how lovely for Chanctonbury chorus director and founder Siobhan Denning to be able to lay down her baton and listen to the choir she has nurtured for the past 20-plus years. Let’s hope it is not too long before she regains the giddy heights of the conductor’s rostrum.

If anyone ever doubted that the coming together of two of the county’s premier choirs would be a success, then this performance was living proof that they surpassed average success. High drama, emotional extremes and sheer raw excitement were present in abundance, and all available for the cost of a modestly-priced ticket.

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