Nottingham University Choir and Philharmonia
November 30 2019
Albert Hall, Nottingham
Review: William Ruff
A high-energy performance of sweeping melodies, grandeur and spiritual conviction
In many ways the young musicians of Nottingham University were exactly the right people to perform Puccini’s Messa di Gloria on Saturday. If you thought that Puccini only wrote operas, you wouldn’t be far wrong – but when he was a student he wrote the Mass as a graduation exercise. After just one performance (despite some encouraging reviews) it was forgotten about for 75 years.
The University musicians made a very convincing case for it in their high-energy performance, capturing its sweeping melodies, grandeur and spiritual conviction. And they also had the flexibility to cope with the range of styles which the young Puccini threw into the melting-pot, everything from Bach to Wagner with Venetian gondola songs and Strauss waltzes thrown in for good measure.
Choral singing was bright, crisp and well-balanced throughout, with conductor Calum Fraser ensuring that ensemble was tight, diction clear and phrases moulded to convey the work’s spiritual intensity. The massive Gloria (which takes up nearly half the entire Mass) was a good test of musical versatility, moving from the folk-like, animated and cheerful opening through the hushed calm of the ‘Et in terra pax’ to the startling magnificence of the ‘Laudamus te’. Much of the explosive effect depends on careful control of dynamics – and Calum Fraser’s well-drilled forces certainly achieved that.
Anthony Flaum and Ossian Huskinson were the tenor and baritone soloists, well-matched in the ardour, operatic power and razor-sharpness of their singing. The tenor’s fervent ‘Gratias agimus’ and the bass’s dark ‘Crucifixus’, were dramatically compelling and reached deep into the music’s emotional core.
In the concert’s second half conductor Jonathan Tilbrook took to the podium to conduct a spirited performance of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony, in which the solo part was played by John Keys. Despite a few problems of tuning and ensemble in the slow movement the effect of the Binns organ providing a soft bed of sound for the gorgeous string melody was one of the evening’s highlights. As was the symphony’s triumphant ending when organ and orchestra threatened to remove the Albert Hall’s roof. The audience loved it.
Nottingham University Choir
Nottingham University Philharmonia
Anthony Flaum, tenor
Ossian Huskinson, bass
John Keys, organ
Calum Fraser (conductor of Puccini’s Messa di Gloria)
Jonathan Tilbrook (conductor of Saint-Saens’ Organ Symphony)