Reviews of our concerts
Bruckner and Nebuchadnezzar in Maidstone
Click on the link to read the Church Times Review of our November 2016 concert
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A message from the Councillor Derek Butler, Mayor of Maidstone:
Thank you for inviting my wife, Mary and I to the Sutton Valence Choral Society Concert at All Saints Church on 27th November 2016. This was a wonderful performance and indeed the venue added to the occasion. I thought the acoustics and the drama of the church enhanced the performance. To some extent the choice of the music had a dark hue, but most enjoyable and so professionally well delivered. Many thanks.
Excerpt from The Church Times 16 April 2016
There was a further concert only a week later in All Saints’ which really did bring the venue alive. This was by the Sutton Valence Choral Society, based just south of Maidstone, devoted to the music of Mozart’s pupil, and Weber’s colleague, Johann Nepomuk Hummel, who succeeded Haydn as Director of Music at the Eszterházy Palace in Vienna.
This Hummelfest was a triumph, not just because of the high level of performance, but because rarely does any English choral society have the courage to programme a concert focused entirely on a composer of whom many music-lovers have scarcely heard. Audience numbers inevitably droop, and that’s a pity; for what we heard was rip-roaring.
The best known offering was Hummel’s Trumpet Concerto in E, which does get a few gutsy airings and is certainly a work of great spirit, as shown here by Kevin Ashman, whose interplay with the capable Beresford Sinfonia revealed a work of elevated panache. But it was in Hummel’s vocal and choral works that this concert proved so thrilling and memorable.
Two Marian works, Salve Regina and Alma Virgo, the first, taken from the service of Compline, proved so wonderfully expressive in the hands of the soprano Stefanie Kemball-Read, with vivid coloratura (offset by touches of clarinet obbligato), that it recalled the defiance of Mozart’s Queen of the Night, or, even more, his explosive solo cantatas like Exultate Jubilate. Venturing close to Psalm 23, it is also achingly beautiful, as in “Ad te suspiramus, gementes et flentes in hac lacrimarum valle”.
The flamboyance of Alma Virgo is perhaps even more dazzling: Haydn was still alive when Hummel wrote this small masterpiece, beautifully orchestrated, and with chorus added for the buoyant words “in aeternum jubilantes”, which typifies the kind of music commissioned for the court of Prince Eszterházy.
But the work which enabled the choir, under Bryan Gipps, to shine fully is the Mass in D minor, which Hummel seemingly penned in the same year, 1805. Here it is even possible to feel the weightier influence of Beethoven, for whom Hummel would later be a pall-bearer. The opening Kyries are so substantial, you might think them part of an opera chorus; the writing is accomplished, in fact brilliantly imaginative, at every turn, and, though Hummel perhaps uses the soloists as a quartet where more purity of colouring might have been achieved by placing them separately, the impact is bracing.
The interspersing of choir sopranos with the soloists makes a strong effect at “Qui tollis” in the Gloria, and, as the later “Tu solus” builds, we seem to look ahead not so much to Beethoven as to Berlioz. The soft, oboe-led Credo makes a complete contrast, as does the plaintive tenor line for “Et incarnatus”; and here Hummel does indeed change the colouring by using just alto, tenor, and bass solos, which makes a surprising difference.
The pleasing thing about the choir as a whole is its uniformity: this is a choral sound that is strong, expressive, and lucid. Tenors excelled at “Et exspecto resurrectionem”, not thundering away, but floating as if to conjure up a serene anticipation of Mendelssohn. Very professional and effective. Supported by rich orchestration — four horns provide crucial support, and indeed sound like huntsmen in the triumphant conclusion — the work leaves us in no doubt that Hummel was a master, a perfectionist exponent of the Classical style as it moves toward earliest Romanticism.
All the soloists deserved praise, but most especially Laura Fowler, from the choir, who partnered the other soloists to perfection, producing a sound of assurance and real beauty.