Hailsham Choral sings Rossini - another triumph for Eastbourne audiences
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Review of Hailsham Choral Society’s Autumn Concert held at St Saviour's Church, Eastbourne, on 11/11/23
by Carol Mounter.
At the end of Armistice Day, a day of reflection, Hailsham Choral Society offered a programme which began with the Anthem "For The Fallen", composed by Douglas Guest (1916 - 1996). This is a setting of the famous poem by Laurence Binyon, a gentle and spiritual piece which was simply and beautifully presented in the stunning setting of St Saviour's Church, under the experienced leadership of their Musical Director and Conductor, Jozik Kotz. He deserves much praise for the way he brings out the blending of the voices and manages to instil energy and a feeling of teamwork that lasted throughout the evening. I believe that the mark of a good conductor is how much the choir watches them and the eyes of most of the singers remained on Jozik.
The second piece, and my personal favourite of the evening, was a work written by local composer, Tony Biggin. To my ear, evoking echoes of Butterworth's opus, A Shropshire Lad, this beautiful composition summed up the loss of men in battle. The Day That Sussex Died, taken from a larger commissioned work, String! feature the words of Brighton based lyricist and writer, Stephen Plaice and relate the Battle of Boar's Head at Richebourg - l'Avoué in France on 30th June, 1916. In less than five hours, the three Southdown battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment lost 349 men and 1000 men were wounded or taken prisoner. Bass James Oldfield was the soloist for this piece and sang with sincerity and a great understanding of the lyrics. I want to hear this work again - and again!
Then to the major work of the evening, Gioachino Rossini's last opus, the Petite Messe Solennelle, which is curiously misnamed, being neither small nor especially solemn. Rossini, (1792 -1868) enjoyed enormous prestige as the leading composer of Italian opera, in particular Opera Buffa (comic opera) plus other notable works, and had a reputation for enjoying fine foods and also for indolence, despite the huge amount of works produced. He then suddenly withdrew from composing at the age of 37 and did not reappear for twenty years, although he wrote several little piano pieces and songs during this time, which he referred to as his Péchés de Vieillesse (Sins of my Old Age); the final work being the Petite Messe Solennelle.
The opening ostinato, played by pianist Colin Hughes (a musician friend who attended this concert described his playing as skimming stones) - drawing us in to the initial Kyrie Eleison, the choir observing the balance of loud and soft . An excellent beginning. The Gloria introduced us to the soloists: Noa Lachman, soprano; Rebecca Hughes, alto; Andrew Wicks, tenor; and James Oldfield, already heard in the previous piece. This was followed by a trio for alto, tenor and bass, then the tenor solo, Domine Deus, a movement full of syncopation, dotted rhythms and leaps, all accomplished by Andrew Wicks on top form with a silky smooth technique and dynamic leaps. This movement had me smiling as it contained a definite element of opera buffa. Noa Lachman and Rebecca Hughes blended well in the duet Qui Tollis. And then the bass adagio solo, Quoniam tu solus - I really liked the velvety tone of James Oldfield's voice. Cum Sancto brought together again the soloists and choir in a rousing finale to the first part. How many ‘Amens’ can you score in one movement...well, dozens and dozens, if you are Rossini!
The second part started with the Credo, followed by Crucifixus, with the soprano Noa Lachman showing her command of breath control and lyric phrasing. Et Resurrexit, announced by the sopranos, joined by other voices leading into a fugue which expands the text and resolves to an operatic plethora of ‘Amens’, sung by all the soloists.
We were then treated to a Preludio Religioso, beginning with a short piano introduction, followed by a long, solemn, modulating rhythmic movement, expertly played on the harmonium by Andrew Wilson. Salutaris Hostia, added by Rossini when he finally orchestrated his work, was sung with dulcet tones and lyricism by Noa Lachman, and then to the finale, the Agnus Dei, which the choir accomplished with enthusiasm and energy, plus the soaring voice of Rebecca Hughes, beautifully resonant above the choir, culminating into an impassioned Dona Nobis Pacem, so appropriate in today’s turbulent world. This was wonderfully performed and the highlight of this work.
Hailsham Choral Society is blossoming under the steady hand of Jozik Kotz and is a choir to take notice of. I look forward to many more evenings of delight.
Another triumph for Eastbourne audiences!
Photo courtesy of John Feakins