June 2012: Summer Evening at the Abbey

Buckfast Abbey, Saturday 30 June 2012

Source: David Batty


Exeter Festival Chorus' summer concert on 30 June, dedicated to the memory of Mau Chapman, a former member of EFC who died recently, attracted almost a full house at Buckfast Abbey with three works from the English, French and German choral traditions.  Duruflé's Requiem was sung in the version with organ accompaniment.  The latter, virtuoso, part was well performed by Jonathan Watts but it was unfortunate that the Abbey's organ was out of action and had to be replaced by a not wholly satisfactory portable instrument.  The choir, under its conductor Nigel Perrin, with Penelope Davies and Julian Rippon (appropriately authoritative in the Domine Jesu Christe) as soloists, gave a dynamic performance of this lovely work.  The drama of the Offertoire and Libera me movements was well caught as was the flow of the Kyrie and the concluding other-worldliness of In paradisum.  Duruflé's work is a striking contrast to Fauré's Requiem, a work with which it is often compared, and the Festival Chorus brought out well the range of colour and mood that any successful performance demands.

The slight sense of uncertainty in the singing that affected the Agnus Dei of the Requiem was absent from a confident and often magical performance of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G minor in which the choir was at its very best.  This very English music fitted perfectly the Abbey's acoustic and the Festival Chorus, unaccompanied throughout with admirable tuning, achieved a fine balance in the writing for double choir from the beautiful Kyrie, the vigour of the Gloria to the strong affirmation of 'Et resurrexit' in the Credo.  The work also calls for numerous short solos, and plaudits are due to the individual choir members who rose so well to the occasion (and also to their smooth stage management).  What a pity that this work is not better known, although Nigel Perrin's fine interpretation of this work comes from a long attachment to it: he recorded it as an alto soloist under Sir David Willcocks way back in 1968!

Opening the programme was a strong performance of Brahms' motet Warum ist das Licht gegeben dem Mühseligen? (Why is the light vouchsafed to the weary of soul?), a masterly work of four short movements with wide dynamic contrasts ending with a Bach-like chorale.  The choir's involvement in this rarely-performed work was well demonstrated, for instance, by its forthright response to the dramatic gloom of the first movement answered by the gentle lilt of the second.