Battle Choral Society

Handel   Messiah  as published on the Rye & Battle Observer Website.

Musicians and audiences never tire of Handel’s Messiah, and last Saturday it was given exultant, thrilling new life by Battle Choral Society. Messiah is the most famous work in the oratorio repertoire: rich with wonderful evocative music and great span of emotion. But Handel’s original work has, over the years, been at the mercy of the huge-scale approach, from the Victorians to Huddersfield Choral Society. But director John Langridge rediscovers the essence...

This is not Victorian but Baroque music, where you always lift the upbeats, and you never beat four in a bar where two will suffice, and where semi-quaver runs are never swamped in a flood of noise.John is the ideal director for major choral works. His beat is clear and assured overall, the touch is lighter when necessary, and he has that knack of steering the music rather than towing the singers and players. Large amateur choirs, however fine their sound, can be unwieldy.

 A Doppler effect between sopranos and basses? One tempo from the conductor’s baton and another from the altos? Not this performance: Battle Choral were 80 voices in perfect discipline and immaculate timing. The 20-strong professional orchestra gave assured support, and superb soloists set a high standard. Soprano Grace Constable sang warmly with just enough decoration.Emily Steventon’s mezzo was lyrical and expressive, in particular with a wrenching He Was Despised. Gary Marriott brought effortless range and phrasing to the tenor solos, and Michael White’s bass arias had a rich operatic quality. Chorus highlights abounded, and they captured the work’s broad range of emotions. Surely was impassioned and anguished, O Thou That Tellest simply danced, and the final Worthy is the Lamb and Amen chorus had massive, triumphant power. Handel does not compromise, and he leaves performers and audience alike exhausted but fulfilled. On nights like this, music is more than notes on a stave. 

It is music, indeed, with the power to heal a troubled world and – for those of religious faith – to touch the intangible. 

This was a magnificent Messiah. By Kevin Anderson

A Review of our Concert  Dvorak  Stabat Mater

Most settings of the Stabat Mater, the great Latin poem of Mary at the foot of the Cross, are quite spare, austere and contemplative: think Palestrina and Pergolesi.  But – leaving aside the theology – the unspeakable grief of a mother, witnessing her child’s death, may also find a fuller voice in railing anguish.Anton Dvorak takes the latter course.  His fine, rather neglected work is rooted both in the expansive Late Romantic tradition and in his own personal tragedy: he lost three of his own children in infancy, and the Stabat Mater is his musical response.  Poetry, said Wordsworth, is emotion recollected in tranquillity.  So often, Music is emotion captured and flung heavenwards in sound. It is not simply emotion, but the range of emotions, which makes Dvorak’s work so remarkable.  It opens with long plaintive legatos in the strings, falling and rising and eventually sweeping into a great almost Wagnerian flood.  And then, in nine very different movements, the music unfolds its story and its humanity.In the perfect acoustical clarity of St John’s Church, St Leonards, Battle Choral Society did full justice to the work.  Dvorak wrote in almost all musical forms, but he is principally an orchestral composer, and the triumph of this performance lay in the uniting of players and singers.  An excellent orchestra, always much more than just accompanying players, felt truly integrated with the chorus, sharing both the musical motifs and the rich passions of the writing.    John Langridge’s direction was decisive, and yet also sensitive to the changing moods of the work.  His baton drew from the choir an admirable performance, equal to all the technical demands, and conveying beautifully the pictorial and dramatic dimensions.  In the fuller chorus moments, they would have benefited from greater numbers, but they really knew their stuff and they were balanced and confident.  This choir is amateur only in the sense that the singers love what they do; their approach is committed and professional.Battle Choral has a fine tradition, supported by the Josephine Baker Trust, of engaging young but highly gifted soloists.  This quartet was phenomenal.  Alto Amy Lyddon, the most contemplative of the four solo parts, brought an aching beauty to her Quis Est Homo – “which man would not be moved?”. Simon Shimambu’s bass – often written quite low and perhaps the hardest to deliver of the four solo lines – was nonetheless resonant and moving.  His Fac ut Ardeat – “let my own heart burn with Christ’s love” – is a demanding dialogue with the orchestra, but Simon held his nerve, and his rich impassioned delivery was a joy.Gyula Rab’s high tenor range and dramatic phrasing had the power of a Bach Evangelist.  Soprano Natasha Day had purity and thrilling reach, and her Fac ut Portem duet with Gyula was absolutely immaculate. These are soloists who would have graced the Festival Hall – and one day they probably will do.   In its final movement the work comes full circle, but now in major and not minor mode, and the Paradisi Gloria is attained.  The dissonant diminished chords of the first movement  have vanished, and the performance ends in an almost defiant statement of faith.  As both composer and human being, Anton Dvorak moves in this work on a personal journey, through grief and despair into light. In Battle Choral’s company, we were privileged to walk that journey with him.   

A review of our Battle Festival Concert published in both the  Rye & Battle, Hastings  & Bexhill Observer 30th October 2014.

Battle Choral Society came home this month. As part of the Battle Festival, the choir performed in St Mary’s Church in Battle for the first time in nine years.

St Mary’s is actually the choir’s spiritual and historical home. Memorably in 1933, they sang the Mozart Requiem in the BBC’s first ever live outside broadcast of a musical concert.For logistical reasons now, the choir performs more often in larger venues in the area. Quite apart from its size – over ninety voices at full strength, and often with full orchestra – Battle Choral’s repertoire includes many large-scale works, including the Verdi Requiem, Mozart Requiem, Bach B Minor Mass and Beethoven’s Ninth: more suited to the ringing vaults of, say, Christ Church in St Leonards.

The St Mary’s concert, performed with organ (Nigel Howard), had a rather more intimate feel, and was none the worse for that. Acoustics were just right, with a pleasing clarity and balance.Buildings and homecoming were quite a theme, around the cornerstones of Parry’s Coronation anthem, I Was Glad, whose majestic architecture resonated, and Brahms’ beautiful How Lovely are Thy Dwellings.John Langridge is an outstanding choral director. His conducting is broad and bold when necessary, but never military, and he has the knack of drawing singers with him rather than simply dictating tempi and dynamics from the front.

Opening with a Zadok which was sprightly as much as stately, the choir set itself a high standard: this was to be an evening of light and shade, not blare and belt. In some amateur groups the sopranos and altos – often numerically stronger – can turn into quite a “regiment of women”, but Battle Choral’s ladies sang with grace and sensitivity to the music. Lyrical tenors and rich warm basses were never overshadowed, and had some fine moments especially in two Mendelssohn choruses and in Vivaldi’s Gloria.Other fine items included a thrillingly operatic Easter Hymn, from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana – with the fabulous soprano solo of Judith Colman simply taking the breath away. 

But – chorally – the high point of the evening was probably Mozart’s Lachrymosa, from his Requiem. The truth of the music simply shone through: achingly, imploringly beautiful.I did say chorally. 

But this whole company of singers, and a rapturous audience, had to give a special place to a remarkable solo violinist. Jada Marsh, a Battle Abbey School pupil, is just eleven years old, but her nimble fingers and intuitive understanding turned Beethoven’s Romance in F into a virtuoso performance. That violin simply sang as exquisitely as any voice. Well done, Jada. Battle Choral next performs on November 28, at St John’s Church in St Leonard’s, in a programme including the Dvorak Stabat Mater. Complimentary drinks from 7.00pm and concert at 800pm. By Kevin Anderson

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