REVIEW: Rachmaninov Vespers / Jongen Mass

For their latest concert, The Chichester Singers produced a programme with a variety of little-known works, most of which were based on instrumentation by organ and brass only. However, the first, and best known work was the totally unaccompanied set of choral pieces known as Rachmaninov’s Vespers. This presented a major challenge to the Singers, as not only was there no instrumental accompaniment to help them find their notes, but also the work was sung in Russian. The choir rose to the challenge admirably and delivered a fine performance of the work which evoked the feeling of Orthodox chants in a religious building. Despite the language, the sound in the Cathedral was decidedly English, and was dominated by the female voices, which were particularly sweet and clear. The basses sang manfully and produced very satisfying crescendos with their series of alleluias but lacked the sonorous sound of true Russian basses. On the other hand, a tenor in the choir (Martin Ridley) sang the short solo in the Nunc Dimittis in a splendidly Russian style.

After the interval, the Singers performed Joseph Jongen’s Mass Opus 130, which was written at the end of the Second World War, though in an older, classical tradition. It made an interesting contrast to the Rachmaninov and must have been easier for the choir to sing. The chorus, accompanied by the organ and a brass section, did justice to this rarely performed work, highlighting the mixture of melodies and the expressive power of the music, and they were competently accompanied by Southern Pro Musica Brass, who had some of the more exciting music to play and who generally kept their great power under control when working with the choir.

SPM Brass and Richard Barnes on the organ also performed two other works in the concert: a piece by Widor, composed during the First World War, which is suitably military and triumphal, and a Dialogue by Gigout, originally composed for two organs but arranged for an organ and a brass section. They were quite noisy and quite tuneful and allowed SPM Brass and Richard Barnes to show off their skills.

The four works were conducted by Jonathan Willcocks who had devised and rehearsed the programme, and gave the audience an enjoyable evening of not too familiar music.

Bill Witts