Review - 30 November 2019

Bridgwater Choral Society has never been known for sidestepping a challenge, and Saturday evening's concert proved that it is well up to it. The imaginatively chosen programme took the audience on a mini Grand Tour from London to Venice and on to the Austrian courts of Esterhazá and Salzburg. Each half of the concert began with an Orchestral sinfonia by William Boyce. Why on earth are we English so self-deprecating about our great musical heritage? Boyce was a younger contemporary of Handel whom he greatly admired; but his own music is nonetheless distinctive, full of individuality, robust and graceful in turn. The orchestra, led by Katy Latham quickly settled into the quintessentially English idiom, enlivening a splendid repertoire which is all too seldom heard.

The choir's opening salvo was Vivaldi's celebrated “Gloria", written for the musically talented pupils at the Venetian orphanage where the composer was employed, on and off, throughout his life. After a rhythmically rigid and lustreless beginning the performance quickly gathered momentum with effective solos from Sopranos Rachel Phillips - her voice was a little too edgy – and Mary Morgan, and mezzo soprano Louise Innes. Helen Rawstron's pleasingly ornamented oboe solo was praiseworthy.

Vivaldi's music was followed by Haydn's pastorally expressive and modestly scored St. Nicolas Mass. The composer wrote it in 1772 for the name day (December 6th) of his employer, Prince Nicolas Esterhazy. By now having comfortably settled into their stride, soloists, choir and orchestra gave us a tender, well defined account of a lyrical and intimate piece.

The evening concluded with Mozart's joyful “Regina Coeli" and his “Coronation” Mass. The solo ensembles in various configurations were clearly articulated and evenly balanced with sensitive singing by tenor Ryan Vaughan Davies - who stood in at the last minute - and bass André Soares. Choir and orchestra were invigorating and sharply focussed under the experienced and informed direction of Iain Cooper. A splendid achievement and a musical evening to remember.

Nicholas Anderson