Durham University Choral Society and Palatinate Chamber Orchestra came together in the beautiful setting of Durham Cathedral for an evening of Requiem’s. Following their successful concerts last term, and ahead of the Parry Centenary Concert and DUPO’s Mystical Travels both groups are going from strength to strength, and this evening was no exception. Programming Rutter and Faure’s Requiem’s together was an informed decision, given their natural similarities and meant the evening was filled with emotive performance enjoyed by all.
The first half presented Rutter’s Requiem, written in memory of his father, a setting of the traditional Latin Requiem but with added psalms and biblical verses in English. Its seven movement structure gave the musicians the opportunity to display the entire gamut of human expression in this smaller scale and more devotional version of the Requiem. The first movement, Requiem Aeternam, began with steadying timpani and haunting melodies in the low strings that had the audience enraptured from the first moment. The anticipation is heightened by the initial insecurity of tonality, which the orchestra execute excellently. This movement allows the choir to demonstrate effective unison as well as question and response – a special mention must also go to the Sopranos.
Moving on to Out of the Deep, a setting of Psalm 130 commonly used at funerals, the choir seemed to settle more here with the English text and the emotive performance of the cello soloist was particularly echoed by the altos and basses together. The first of the evenings soloists joined the ensemble for the Pie Jesu; congratulations to Sophie Reed for an exquisite performance with pure tone and elegant style, and to the orchestra for their light, delicate accompaniment. The central movement, Sanctus, allowed the lively orchestra to showcase themselves and here we can feel the ensemble totally relaxed and comfortable with one another.
The Agnus Dei is once again steadily driven by the percussion section and leads to the climax of the Requiem. This is expertly handled by director, Daniel Cook, and the outpouring of emotion is never untidy or coarse. In complete contrast, in The Lord is My Shepherd the choir fully engage with the emotion and expression of utter trust in God. The choir and orchestra could be more together but this does not detract from the overall performance. The soprano soloist joins excellently again for the Lux Aeterna and brings the first half to a reflective and enjoyable close.
For the second half the ensemble offers Faure’s Requiem, said to have inspired Rutter’s and equally emphasising the very human aspect of faith, death, and eternal rest. In this notably more difficult work the ensemble are less sure of themselves and at times the Latin is less clear. In the opening Introit and Kyrie the orchestra and choir are not quite together but the director’s control of the choir is evident. The next of the evening’s soloists, David Nehaul, joins us for the Offertory. His sound is full and the audience clearly enjoy listening to him. Faure’s Sanctus contrast that of many other Requiem composers as the writing is simple, focussing on human emotion and this is what the choral society does well.
The ensembles were once again joined by a soprano soloist – this time Alys Smith – for the Pie Jesu, arguably one of Faure’s most iconic works. The leaps in the melody soared in the acoustics of the Cathedral and the soloist clearly understood the message of calling again and again for eternal rest. The choir returned for the Agnus Dei, and special mention must go to the tenors for their confident melody. Towards the end of the movement as the choral melodies from the opening of the Requiem contrasted with the orchestral Agnus Dei displayed some of their most emotionally informed performance so far.
The Libera Me showed off the ensembles dynamic control and sensitive accompaniment to the baritone soloist who handled the often difficult leaping melody very well. The shimmering orchestral triads of the In Paradisum (for which the concert was named) brought the evening to a close to rapturous applause from the audience.
This term has been an impressive feat for Durham University Choral Society and Palatinate Chamber Orchestra with considerable amounts of repertoire learnt for numerous concerts and performances and they have risen to the challenge admirably. Whilst at times the two ensembles were not entirely together, overall this was a thoroughly enjoyable concert and we look forward to seeing what the two groups achieve together in the Music Durham Concert on 1st June.