A breathtaking and triumphantevening of music

A piece of Mozart is always a pleasure. Four works on the same programme '“ beautifully performed '“ is sheer extravagance. At a packed and appreciative St John's Church last week, Battle Choral Society gave us that glimpse of Heaven that music can sometimes achieve.

Tuesday, 23rd May 2017, 11:17 am
Updated Thursday, 7th June 2018, 10:10 pm
members of Battle Choral Society
members of Battle Choral Society

I do not use those words lightly. Music, and especially choral music, can sometimes touch the intangible.

It reflects that cliché about the sum of the parts, for beyond the hours of rehearsal which no doubt went into an evening like this, and beyond the mass of notes on the page, these singers and players took us higher.

Over recent years Battle Choral has performed many of the huge works in the repertoire – Mozart Requiem, Verdi Requiem, Beethoven Ninth – but the Society also has a habit of turning up some neglected gems, and Mozart’s Litaniae Lauretanae K195 is fascinating.

Completed when the composer was eighteen years old, it is filled with an almost mischievous sense of inventiveness. Had young Wolfgang been an A-Level student, it might have been a glittering piece of coursework, not flawless but still a definite A* grade.

From the very first chorus entries, the singers were clearly capturing not simply the mechanics of the music but its essence and spirit. When Mozart is in this sort of mood, you cannot afford to miss a semi-quaver; and they didn’t.

For a soloist or a smallish group of orchestral players, that may be second nature, but for a seventy-strong choir it presented a different challenge, and the singers rose to it splendidly.

Director John Langridge – the man who constantly takes this choir to new heights – set excellent tempi and conveyed his own sense of confidence to the performers. A highly accomplished orchestra under leader Pat Beament came into its own with the delightful Symphony 29 in A Major, a work that dances through its four movements, giving all sections their moments and proving more than once that the brass have more fun.

The evening’s four soloists, youthful but simply brimming with ability, were a joy. Soprano Natasha Day had by far the fullest load – I almost said heaviest, but the word would be incongruous in such a buoyant musical programme. The writing in the Litanae especially is frighteningly elastic, but Natasha was frighteningly good. Her delivery of the Exsultate Jubilate, and its exquisite Alleluia, left us breathless. Natasha Day: remember the name.

Mezzo Vivien Conacher, tenor Stephen Mills and bass Wesley Biggs each had their moments, and they blended immaculately in the quartets where, again, the young Mozart presages his later operatic work.

If the Litanae is the coursework, then Mozart’s Solemn Vespers are the PhD. At 23, they were the last work that he wrote for Salzburg Cathedral. The choir captured their range of style and mood, from the lively to the austere. Natasha’s Laudate Dominum floated above a reverent chorus, and then the final Magnificat brought a wonderful evening to a triumphant close. By Kevin Anderson.