On such a cold Durham night, it was a joy to be welcomed into the warm Durham Cathedral to hear a programme of beautiful French music be brought to life by Durham University Choral Society. Durham’s Choral Society believe that singing in a choir can be beneficial for the mind and the society prides itself on its welcoming and friendly ethos; tonight’s performance made evident that the group had bonded on more than just a musical level.
The Choral Society are certainly not strangers to singing in Durham Cathedral; last year they performed both the Fauré and the Rutter Requiems in this magnificent venue. The choir was heard in full force tonight, directed by their conductor Daniel Cook, who, as the Master of the Choristers and Organists at Durham Cathedral, is well acquainted with the truly magical and unique acoustic that the building has to offer. Heard also alongside the choir was the highly experienced organist David Wicks whose sensitive playing complemented the singers well. The incredibly high standard of the group, alongside support from professional musicians, made the night’s performance particularly special.
The opening piece on tonight’s programme was the Quatre Motets Op 9 by Marcel Dupré (1886-1976). This work, written in 1916 during the First World War, consists of four short movements for full choir and organ. The first movement, ‘Laudate Dominum’, saw the ensemble settle quickly and with ease into a good balance both between themselves and with the organist. The following movement, ‘Ave Maria’, showcased the female voices within the ensemble, who achieved a sense of unity, as well as a beautiful tone that was complemented by the acoustics of the Cathedral. The excellent balance produced by the ensemble continued throughout their performance of the work. For me, the most powerful moment of this piece came in the final chord which was left to ring out around the open space before it was met by much applause from the audience.
The excellent balance produced by the ensemble continued throughout their performance of the work. For me, the most powerful moment of this piece came in the final chord which was left to ring out around the open space before it was met by much applause from the audience.
Following this, the choir performed Franis Poulenc’s ‘Litanies A La Vierge Noire’, written in 1936, directly following the composer’s return to the Catholic faith. This piece is scored for three-part female voices with organ, and in the recent spirit of International Women’s Day, it was inspiring to hear such a display of the many talented female voices within the Choral Society. A special mention should go to soloists Lucy Irvine and Maggie Briggs, whose voices complemented one another beautifully throughout their short duet. For me, the singers truly managed to capture the inherently spiritual nature of this piece whilst also blending their voices as if they were one.
Next, adding a pleasant contrast to the programme, came a piece that featured only the male members of the choir. ‘Messe Cum Jubilo’, composed by Maurice Duruflé in 1966, is a work consisting of five sections which include the subtle use of Gregorian chant. This performance showed that the male voices within the choir are an equal match for their female counterparts; they executed this piece with similar confidence and sophistication. I was particularly impressed by their precision and ability to produce a unified sound during unison passages. A highlight of this performance was the rich, confident solo delivered by Matthew Walters, clearly an experienced singer who displayed a powerful and controlled voice.
After a short interval, in which there was an obvious buzz of appreciation from the audience, the Choral Society returned to the stage for their final piece; Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem. This beautiful work was written during the Second World War in 1941. It focuses more, however, on the theme of peace as opposed to the devastation of war, and I believe that the choir managed to create this atmosphere. Similar to the previous piece, Duruflé incorporates themes from Gregorian Chant into the work. This performance highlighted the choir’s ability to harness the full range of their dynamic palette, using their voices as well as the acoustics to highlight the powerful moments of this Requiem. The fifth movement of the piece, ‘Pie Jesu’, featured a beautiful mezzo-soprano solo by Lucy Irvine. The purity of Lucy’s voice was incredibly moving, even bringing some audience members to tears. The work also featured baritone solos from Edward Walters who equally did not disappoint, demonstrating his ability to engage with the audience during his solo passages. On the whole, this was a moving and well executed conclusion to a great concert.
A special mention should go to soloists Lucy Irvine and Maggie Briggs, whose voices complemented one another beautifully throughout their short duet.
Tonight’s inspired programme, matched with the talented voices of the Choral Society, made for a few hours of peaceful escape from busy Durham University life and I would highly recommend going to listen to one of their future performances.