Originally sometimes called the ‘Mass for Troubled Times’, Haydn’s ‘Nelson’ Mass, paired with Mozart’s ‘Requiem’ was performed by the Yorkshire Philharmonic Choir (YPC) in Wakefield Cathedral on Saturday evening. It was a stunning performance which gave the audience a blissful night off from the ‘troubled times’ of today.
Any thoughts about an impending election, Brexit and a troubled world melted away for a couple of hours as YPC, conducted by Andrew Padmore and supported by the Amici Ensemble led by Eileen Spencer, Organist Thomas Moore and a beautifully balanced quartet of soloists sang the their way through the two wonderful Haydn and Mozart pieces.
Written in a world in turmoil in 1798 as Napoleon’s armies swept across Haydn’s Austria towards Vienna, small wonder that Haydn called his new work ‘a mass for troubled times’. But little did he know that by the time it had its first performance in the September of the same year, Napoleon would have been defeated by British forces led by Admiral Horatio Nelson. And so this work soon acquired the nickname of the “Lord Nelson Mass’ – later known simply as the ‘Haydn’s Nelson Mass’. A wonderful work – variously cheerful, exuberant and haunting but always beautifully melodic and gorgeously crafted. The Mozart Requiem followed the interval. A change of style and tone – grave and solemn in parts but no less exciting and dramatic. Historically, the Requiem is a fascinating work. Anonymously commissioned by a mysterious stranger, the piece was written by Mozart in the year of his death, 1791. He never finished it however, only fully composing it as far as bar eight of the Lacrimosa. Fortunately for us, he left enough clues and ‘scraps of paper’ for his work to be completed by his pupil, Franz Sussmayr. Whilst we may debate who the ‘real’ composer of this Requiem is, let us give the last word to Beethoven, who said of it ‘if Mozart did not write the music, then the man who wrote it was a Mozart’.
Both works present challenges – and both are demanding works for a choir – but YPC rose expertly to the challenge, singing with much attention to the dynamics of the works and bringing drama and excitement to the performance. The Lacrimosa was simply beautiful. Sung with such feeling and tenderness, clearly the choir knew this piece ‘by heart’.
Soloist Jenny Stafford has a rich soprano voice which blended beautifully with the other three soloists and worked well alongside the strong and powerful combined ‘voice’ of the choir.
Anna Burford, alto, stunned the audience with her the richness and the depth of her fabulous voice. Overheard during the interval was one person’s comment ‘I could listen to her all day’. Indeed, Anna left us all wanting more – wishing that the alto solos were longer and more frequent.
Not to be outshone by the female soloists, James Micklethwaite, tenor, was superb. One-time boy soprano performer with YPC, James has grown, both in voice and stature – and it was wonderful to have him join us again.
Finally, Henry Neill, bass soloist, was superb. Relaxed and seemingly effortlessly, his rich, accurate and beautifully modulated voice filled the cathedral.
Four distinctive voices, but in the solo quartets they were quite extraordinary. Beautifully balanced and blended. But what skill, what foresight, in selecting these four soloists – recognising that together their voices would work so well.
Andrew Padmore, as musical director and conductor, took not just the four soloists, but the whole of the choir, the superb Amici Ensemble and the enormously talented Thomas Moore on the organ, and created some real magic, demonstrating unequivocally Aristotle’s theory that ‘the whole is greater than the sum of its parts’.
Rain outside, troubled times around us – but for those inside the cathedral, a night of wonderful music, extraordinary talent and pure pleasure.