Saturday, 21 October 2017

Witches shine as choir magics up night of music to remember

Witches shine as choir magics up night of music to remember

Henley Choral Society / St Mary’s Church / Saturday, March 25

WITH unflagging consistency, Henley Choral Society and musical director Peter Asprey created yet another superb musical event at St Mary’s Church, supported by the Brandenburg Sinfonia and four fine soloists.

Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas was appropriately paired with Vivaldi’s Dixit Dominus, both works dramatic in style and written to be performed in female institutions, hence their myriad soprano and alto solos.

This mainly late 17th century programme called for a conscious adherence to the conventions of the day, especially in Dido and Aeneas, which was charmingly performed by Samantha Crawford (soprano), Lauren Zolezzi (soprano), Matthew Durkan (baritone) and Mae Heydorn (mezzo-soprano). Ben Comeau played the keyboard continuo.

The soloists acted out their parts, their eye contact and facial expressions animating the storyline.

The coquettish Lauren Zolezzi (Belinda) took to this like a duck to water. She and fellow soprano Samantha Crawford (Dido) also nailed the era’s ornate performance style. Matthew Durkan sang an assured Aeneas, his diction clear as a bell.

Mae Heydorn’s lower mezzo register was eminently suited to the role of the Sorceress, which she carried off coolly. Some fun was had at this point with the arrival of children from Henley Youth Choir dressed as witches.

Claudia Klaver and Kathy Munns, the two adult witches from HCS’s rank and file, were outstanding in their exchanges with the soloists.

The choir operated throughout as a well-drilled unit, every entry razor-sharp. They had been thoroughly prepared and responded as one body to the subtleties of Asprey’s intensely musical direction. Their balance improves markedly with every fresh performance, led from the top by the
ever-dependable sopranos.

Securely underpinning them was the Brandenburg Sinfonia, whose principal cellist acquitted himself impeccably in a particularly demanding continuo role.

Peter Asprey was as attentive to the instrumentalists as he was to the choir, making a real difference to the overall shaping of the work.

Following Dido’s piercing lament, sung beautifully by Samantha Crawford, the final orchestral epilogue was a masterclass in phrasing and timing.

In Vivaldi’s famous sacred motet Nulla in Mundo, Lauren Zolezzi excelled in what is a fiendishly difficult solo part. This was followed by Pachelbel’s Canon and Gigue, dispatched eloquently by three violins and a cello.

The final Dixit Dominus pulsated with variety and energy, as singers and soloist mixed and matched.

The chorus had much to do, impressing with some attractive falling figures in ‘Donec ponam’ and demonstrating their firm grasp of contrapuntal writing in ‘Juravit Dominus’ and the closing fugue.

Lauren Zolezzi, Samantha Crawford and Mae Heydorn were again magnificent in their solo and duet arias.

Henley Choral’s next concert is on June 17 with “Stage to Screen — famous choruses and arias from Monteverdi to Bernstein”. For membership enquiries, call (01491) 576929.

Trevor Howell

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