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An ambitious and intriguing concert; Review.

TITLE: Huddersfield Choral Society VENUE: Huddersfield Town Hall REVIEW: By William Marshall TROUBLE with his arm, and doctor's orders that he rest it, meant that Martyn Brabbins - the Choral's conductor laureate - was forced to withdraw from this concert, at four days' notice.

Chorus master Joseph Cullen took over for this ambitious, intriguing and rewarding concert which made the point that even during its 175th anniversary season the Huddersfield Choral Society is stuck in no rut.

And neither are its audiences. They might like their Messiah and other staples of the repertoire, but they filled the Town Hall and applauded generously a concert of Stravinsky, Bruckner and the contemporary British composer Jonathan Harvey.

Martyn Brabbins has done great things on the podium in Huddersfield, and indeed he devised this concert.

But in one sense it was appropriate that Joseph Cullen should take charge. None of the repertoire featured vocal soloists, so the focus was almost entirely on the choral sound. This meant we had a concert conducted by the man who is responsible week by week for coaxing and refining that sound - a nice touch, were it not for the unfortunate circumstances.

The concert was also notable for the unusual nature of the orchestral accompaniment. The Orchestra of Opera North shifted shape for all of the pieces - a wind band for the Bruckner, a form of chamber orchestra for the Stravinsky and a large ensemble featuring unusual instruments and combinations for the Harvey. The common factor was that, throughout, there were no violins.

The concert concluded with a stirring performance of Bruckner's Mass in E Minor, a 19th-century work with deep roots in renaissance polyphony. The wind ensemble, especially the trio of trombones, were like an ancestral voice linking past and present.

The opener was Stravinksy's Symphony of Psalms, which Martyn Brabbins, in notes, read to the audience, described as "one of the great choral utterances of the 20th century".

The singers coped well with the dynamic demands of the work, shifting between raw, primordial excitement and long passages of serenity and resignation. Particularly well handled was the long, slow, sustained and spiritual ending.

Most interest perhaps was reserved for the UK premiere of Jonathan Harvey's Messages, a choral and orchestral work with a text consisting of the repeated incantation of the names of Persian and Judaic angels. There was a highly unusual orchestra for this, with a cimbalom highly prominent and some unearthly sonorities which were hard to identify until one realised that two of the large team of percussionists were drawing violin bows over the edges of their cymbals.

The piece opened with a flourish and closed with a long decrescendo to nothingness, sensationally well sung by the choir, but in between, Messages existed on its own astral plane. Things were happening, but time seemed to stand still.

The orchestra had some extremely complex passagework, but for most of Messages the choral part was sustained and serene.

It probably looks quite simple on the page, but that would be deceptive because the concentration and control required to perform this composition to such a high standard were of an exceptionally high order.

CAPTION(S):

* CONTROL: Chorus master Joseph Cullen
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Publication:Huddersfield Daily Examiner (Huddersfield, England)
Article Type:Concert review
Date:Apr 4, 2011
Words:529
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