THE pairing of Fauré’s Requiem with Poulenc’s Gloria made for a dream programme, but Henley Choral Society also struck gold with the Brandenburg Sinfonia, David Smith on organ, soprano Elizabeth Cragg and baritone Lawrence White. All this spring concert needed was a catalyst — and that came in the shape of the society’s youthful new musical director, Ben Goodson.
Immediate gratification came in the opening to the Fauré, thanks to the orchestra’s outstanding viola section and an assertive choir entry enhanced by guest tenors who helped ensure perfect choral balance. The choir knew exactly what was asked of them, whether in the constantly undulating phrases or contrasting declamatory climaxes. They were well on top of their parts, and this showed.
Goodson clearly seeks out the narrative in musical composition, which he realises through finely calibrated phrasing, tonal contrasts and perfectly judged pauses. His style is drama-less direction that lets the music do the talking.
Linked fluidly together, the Requiem’s seven movements were paragraphs of a well structured short story, an auditory journey that challenged the emotions at every turn. The baritone’s discreetly rich tone complemented the ethereal quality of the writing in the Offertoire, Agnus Dei and Libera Me, while the soprano was sheer perfection in the Sanctus, In Paradisum and Pie Jesu, her control always faultless.
The Requiem is exquisite listening and insinuates itself deep into the soul. Ben et alia succeeded brilliantly in distilling the essence of Fauré’s acute, yet understated, response to his father’s passing.
Greater technical demands followed in the Gloria by fellow French composer Francis Poulenc. It may lack the personal touch of the heart-wrenching Fauré, but it boasts the same perfection of structure and brilliant use of voice and instrument.
Of many highlights, the Domine Deus, Agnus Dei stood out for its orchestral introduction, haunting soprano solo and sensitive chorus accompaniment, while the last section emphasised Poulenc’s more sensual side — an extended impressionistic choral passage underpinning a gorgeously languid soprano solo. The final Amen was beautifully engineered.
HCS’s next concert of summer songs and madrigals is on 14 June in the Christ Church Centre. As always, more male recruits are sought. For membership and all other information go to www.henleychoralsociety.org.uk.
Henley Choral Society
St Mary’s Church
Saturday, March 29