Lancaster Singers – concert in Lancaster Priory, 23rd March 2013
Conductor : Mavis Fletcher
Organ : Christopher Brayne
Soloists : Elizabeth Humphries; Lucilla Graham; Tom Morss; Stefan Berkieta
The first half of this concert alternated pieces for organ solo with a capella motets by Bruckner. The organ pieces – Three Pieces for Organ by Walton and Sonata No 4 by Mendelssohn – made for sensible programming, though they did little to excite this reviewer. In saying that, however, I must admit to being generally unenthusiastic about much of the organ solo repertoire. The Bruckner Motets – Ave Maria, Christus factus est, Os justi and Locus iste - were well sung, as was to be expected from this experienced choir. I did feel, though, that the choice of speeds made them sound hurried – I would have liked slightly broader tempi giving more space to convey the spirit of these essentially contemplative settings by a deeply religious composer. The parts were well-balanced and even though the bass section sounded a bit under-powered their line was always clearly audible whenever needed.
After the interval the choir was joined by a quartet of young soloists from RNCM to sing Beethoven’s C major setting of the Mass. This was a performance which served well the composer’s distinctive new approach to the words of the Mass though it was less successful in some of the more demanding fast passages, especially those with high tessitura for the sopranos. I particularly enjoyed the Kyrie section, there were some excellent unison passages and several occasions when the dramatic character of Beethoven’s setting came through well. The best passages showed a good forward sense of phrasing (which had been rather less apparent in the Bruckner motets) which gave extra vitality to the music. The organ accompaniment also contributed much to the performance by the use of a great variety of interesting and appropriate registrations. The four soloists were well balanced with each other and with the choir and all acquitted themselves well. I particularly enjoyed the well-rounded tone and legato phrasing from mezzo-soprano Lucilla Graham.