On Saturday, 19 May, MFC combined with Tunbridge Wells Choral Society and Cranbrook Choral Society in a massed performance of the Verdi Requiem.
The orchestra included four off-stage trumpets for the Tuba Mirum and the huge ‘Verdi Drum’ to give the deepest notes.The drama and passion of the Dies Irae conjures up the Day of Judgement with an intensity that only an opera composer could bring, but this is contrasted with the many gloriously tuneful quieter and more thoughtful pieces, many of which featured the four soloists, who brought lyrical beauty as well as power to their parts.
Graham Caldbeck gave his final performance in Sussex and Kent before temporarily relocating to Jersey. He has been Musical Director and Conductor of the Mayfield Festival Choir for the past eight years and has left a legacy of quality music in the region. For tonight, he brought his vision of the controlled drama and contrast of the Requiem to make the performance a spectacular success, acknowledged by the large and enthusiastic audience.
In this work, the conductor’s task is multifold – to hold together such a vast assembly and to make the work coherent. It must not be just a selection of bits; rather, it must follow its own logic, culminating in the Libera Me, which was written first and which sums up the whole piece. In the Libera Me, we have not only the drama of the Dies Irae and the Requiem Aeternam, but also the heartfelt plea of Libera Me itself, leading to the comparative peace of the ending. On both counts, Graham succeeded splendidly. The sound was balanced (the size of the massed choir making up for the positioning of them at the back of the stage, where the curtains dampened the sound) and he brought out the contrast between the quieter passages and the loud and the progress of the work to its final calm.
The choir performed brilliantly. On several occasions, they were singing unaccompanied and, each time, when the orchestra came back in, the tuning was perfect. My only criticism would be that the Sanctus, which provides the dance-like foil to all of the serious funeral music, was taken a little more solemnly than I am used to.
A special word must be said for the soloists, who have a large part of the drama. They were excellent, providing a real feel for the music. Although it is invidious to single out one from such a fine group, I must mention the mezzo-soprano, Anna Harvey, who gave the most sensitive performance of the evening, particularly in the Liber Scriptus, the Quid sum Miser and, above all, in the Lux Aeterna. However, the others – Fiona Howells (soprano), Philip Modino (tenor) and Michael Bundy (Baritone) also gave sterling performances.
The orchestral writing is at times fiendishly difficult, but the orchestra rose to the occasion magnificently. All in all, it was a splendid evening and a wonderful send-off for Graham Caldbeck.