Oxford Times, March 2007 added 09/03/2015
ST MARY'S CHURCH, THAME, 10th MAR 2007
Rossini: Ave Maria, Petite Messe Solonnelle
Described by Rossini as one of the “sins of my old age” the Petite Messe Solonnelle is an enduring favourite in the concert repertoire, flamboyant and witty. Following the stylishly phrased Ave Maria, the choir were joined for the Mass by four opera students, past and present, from the Royal Academy of Music: Rebecca Lodge (soprano), Anna Graca (contralto), Robert Lomax (tenor) and Christopher Dixon (bass). The rather unorthodox accompaniment was provided by Alistair Ross, who miraculously made the electronic organ sound uncannily like the harmonium Rossini stipulated, and Judy Thompson on piano.
The choir began the Kyrie confidently, showing a vast dynamic range, and impeccable ensemble and intonation in the “archaic style” Christe. They took a back seat for most of the Gloria as the soloists came to the fore. The lower three voices blended beautifully in the Gratias, each relishing the virtuosic lines as well as producing some beautiful quieter colours.
Despite his comparative inexperience, Lomax rendered the Domine Deus with all the drama and passion of an operatic aria and with compelling pianos whilst in their Qui tollis duet Lodge and Graca’s experience of the stage was apparent. Dixon’s Quoniam was the real tour de force: imposing presence, confident delivery and visible enjoyment. The rumbustuous chorus Cum Sancto seemed a touch conservative in speed, but was delivered with such panache and style that we were swaying in the aisles even before our interval drinks!
Dramatic outbursts of “Credo” combined with wonderful intense legato singing in the next movement. After a moving Crucifixus soprano solo, the dramatic beginning of Et resurrexit was less convincing, although the Et vitam fugue had a suave poise with plenty of light. A faultless a cappella Sanctus and Benedictus showed how much the choir has benefited from Aspden’s choir training skills. The soprano solo O salutaris had lots of contrast in tone and colour, and the final Agnus Dei combined wonderfully expressive and impassioned singing from Graca with superb balance and sensitivity from the choir. Congratulations to all on a thoroughly enjoyable concert.