Past Concerts

Haydn: Innocence & Experience

Sunday 22 November 2015, 7.30pm
St Dunstan’s Church Mayfield, East Sussex

Mayfield Festival Choir conducted by Jeremy Summerly with London Primavera, organist Andrew Benians and soloists Helen Brackenbury, Sofia Troncoso, William Blake and Tristan Hambleton.

  • Salve regina in E major
  • Organ Concerto in C major
  • Nelson Mass (Missa in angustiis)

In 1756 Haydn was 24 years old. Ill-advisedly, he fell in love with a woman whose parents had decided that their daughter should become a nun. With extremely good grace, the young composer wrote a musical setting of the ancient Salve Regina text for the religious ceremony that took Therese Keller from beyond Haydn’s grasp and into the arms of the Church. In this same year – the very year in which Mozart was born – Haydn composed an Organ Concerto in C major. Haydn was an organist as well as a violinist, and the concerto was written for the composer himself to play. It is typical of Haydn’s humility that the piece is a touchingly pretty work rather than a virtuosic vehicle for Haydn’s prodigious talent.

At the other end of his life, Haydn created his masterpiece. In 1798, as Europe was being threatened by Napoleon, Haydn had given the first performance of his groundbreaking oratorio The Creation. This left Haydn exhausted and in poor health, but his creative powers were stimulated as never before, and the result was theMissa in Angustiis (‘Mass in Time of Distress’). Although Nelson was winning the Battle of the Nile at the time, Haydn was not aware of the fact. But because Lord Nelson heard a performance of the Mass two years later, the name ‘Nelson Mass’ stuck. However anachronistic the title, it is fitting that Haydn’s masterpiece is linked to the name of a man who was dubbed the ‘saviour of Europe’ by his contemporaries.


The concert on Sunday 22nd November in St Dunstan’s Parish church, Mayfield, given by the Mayfield Festival Choir, was dedicated to the memory of Sir David Willcocks, who died recently. His leadership and motivation left their mark on all who experienced his inspired direction since his association with the choir from 1976 – 2002. He returned to conduct a performance of the Faure ‘Requiem Mass’ in 2011.

Sunday’s concert entitled Haydn: ‘Innocence and Experience’ brought together the choir, the London Primavera Orchestra and four soloists. The ‘Salve Regina’ was composed for his first love – despite the fact that she chose the church rather than marriage with Haydn. In this the soprano soloist narrated the Roman Catholic text, while the choir responded as the congregation.

The American soprano, Sofia Troncoso, was a convincing and assured soloist, bringing a voice of clear, focused and well-projected tone to the part. Here is a voice of much promise.

This was followed by the organ concerto, also composed for the same occasion, and performed by the church’s resident organist, Andrew Benians, so often heard in a supporting role, but here, rightfully, a fluent and polished soloist.

The second half of the evening was dedicated to the Nelson Mass, renamed from ‘Missa in angustiis’, after Nelson’s victory at the Battle of the Nile. Here the choir was heard at its confident best, with dramatic climaxes contrasting with some very poised and touching pianissimi. The four vocal sections of the choir now seem to be evenly balanced, thus enabling a fuller and more confident response to the assured leadership of their conductor, Jeremy Summerly.

As always, the London Primavera, under their artistic director, violinist Paul Manley, were effective and forever eloquent in their playing. The four young soloists fulfilled their tasks ably, with the lion’s share of the solo passages being sung by the confident young soprano, Sofia Troncoso. Mayfield are indeed fortunate to have a loyal and supportive audience community who always turn out faithfully to fill the church.

James Anderson

Mayfield Festival Choir - Haydn: Innocence & Experience from Jane Bolger on Vimeo.

Photos (courtesy of Knowle Farm Partnership) taken during the rehearsal and performance of our 23 November 2015 concert, St Dunstan’s Church, Mayfield UK. The music is not us, it’s to remind us of the fabulous Kyrie that opens the Nelson Mass (sound track Trevor Pinnock, The English Concert and the English Concert Choir)

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