REVIEW: Risk-taking pays off for Hastings Philharmonic

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Marcio da Silva is not one to avoid taking a risk. At a time of year when most are settled into comfortable Christmas music with mulled wine and mince pies he chose to present an evening made up of two settings of the Stabat Mater.

No matter how beautiful, to have serious music for Easter at this time of year was a challenge – but one which certainly paid off. The often austere musical lines and the close setting of the texts make demands on the listener which are then repaid with the levels of concentration and attention to detail.

The first half was given over to Scarlatti’s version of 1723. In many ways a straightforward setting of the poem, it treats each verse as a separate musical item, concentrating on the emotional impact. Only by the time he gets to the 13th of the 20 sections does he start to combine them and uses the 16th and 17th verses as recitative before the confident enthusiasm of Inflammatus et accensus.

Pergolesi’s more familiar setting seems not only more emotionally involved but also sets larger sections of the work to create extended musical structures, particularly in the second part where the singers often work together rather than as individual voices.

We are used to Marcio as a fine baritone but here he was singing counter-tenor. While this is not his normal range, and there were times when the sound was not as precise, the intensity and dramatic edge were impressive throughout. Soprano Emily Armour was given more lyrical settings, with occasional coloratura passages to delight the ear, her voice amply filling the large spaces of Christ Church.

Petra Hajduchova moved effortlessly from keyboard to harpsichord, producing apt support, along with the two violins and cello.

Two weeks until Hastings Philharmonic’s traditional Christmas Concert, and the New Year will bring us a Tango Night and Schubert’s Winterreise. By Brian Hick.