Yorkshire Times
Weekend Edition
Steve Whitaker
Literary Editor
1:00 AM 19th March 2024

A Glimpse of the Light: Mozart Requiem At Huddersfield

Requiem, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
O Choruscans Lux Stellarum, Hildegard von Bingen, arr. Ellie Slorach.
Ave Verum Corpus, William Byrd.
Ave Verum Corpus, Re-imagined, Roderick Williams, after William Byrd.
Starburst, Jessie Montgomery, orchestrated by Jannina Norpoth.
Faire is the Heaven, Sir William Harris
A Glimpse of the Light, Rory Wainwright Johnston

Huddersfield Choral Society
Manchester Camerata
Ellie Slorach, Conductor
Soloists: Jessica Cale, Felicity Buckland, Ruairi Bowen, Dan D‘Souza

Image by Stephen Rattigan
Image by Stephen Rattigan
The idea of a brief revelation, an elusive vouchsafing of inspiration, might, itself, have arrived in a dream for composer Rory Wainwright Johnston. And if we are only ever allowed a fleeting apprehension of the ‘light’ of the afterlife or the cosmos, then Johnston’s vision, in conjunction with several musical reinventions, and a thrilling rendering of Mozart’s Requiem, opened a window on the universe at Huddersfield Town Hall on Saturday evening. The title of Johnston’s own contribution to the first half of a compelling overall performance - A Glimpse of the Light, redacted from a Robert Frost poem – turned, instead, into a panorama, as if an astronaut, emerging from the shadows, were suddenly rounding a penumbra into the brilliance of the sun.

And in an unusually affecting programme, we caught ‘glimpses’ of several musical styles and tonal shades set around both devotional, and for Johnston, ‘semi-secular’ themes. That a sense of the spiritual is at least as important an animus to emotional uplift as faith, was brilliantly realised in the seamless opening sections: conductor Ellie Slorach’s mystical arrangement of Hildegard von Bingen’s twelfth century antiphon O Choruscans Lux Stellarum, which saw an aural separation of the choir between stage and the front part of the stalls, gave, with slight tympanic accompaniment, the piece a pristine focus unmistakeably reminiscent of John Tavener. The solemn beauty of the rendition was nerve-tingling, and was followed almost as a temporal interplay by consecutive versions of Elizabethan composer William Byrd’s Ave Verum Corpus: the first in the polyphonic original, the second, in a nuanced but sympathetic modern interpretation by Roderick Williams.

Image by Stephen Rattigan
Image by Stephen Rattigan
The Huddersfield Choral Society never cease to astonish: with a range of interests as fittingly diverse as the constant through-flow of choristers, and a capacity for flexibility reflected both in locational positioning on the stage, and in musical selection, the choir makes persuasive work of the most taxing of vocal arrangements, even in the midst of the harmonic complexity of polyphony.

The key seems to reside in enthusiasm and endeavour – traits realised in the skilled vocal exchanges, and delivered with elan across the platform. Not least in a resounding performance of Johnston’s titular piece, where an exquisite intertwining of plainchant and orchestral parts creates echoes, of the poets – Francis Thompson, Christina Rossetti, Sara Teasdale amongst others – whose words add rich textures to a choral tapestry of reflection and contemplation. Building on the velocitous intricacies of their performance, earlier in the evening, of Starburst, a vigorous movement for strings by American composer Jessie Montgomery, Manchester Camerata emerged into the light with Brittenesque verve in Glimpse, a resonant and difficult piece that dissolves, like the heart, into the ritualistic solemnity of the Lux Aeterna.

Mozart’s glorious, unfinished Requiem, performed after the interval, needs no introduction. With passages as readily apprehended as lines from Shakespeare, the audience needed little convincing of the Mass’s place in the pantheon, and they were not disappointed. Ellie Slorach’s profoundly animated, but tight, supervision of choir and orchestra was, as ever, a good measure of the general energy, reaching a vicarious crescendo in the invigorating allegri of the Kyrie Eleison and the repeated Hosanna. And if the choir came spectacularly to the fore in the wonderful, audience-lifting fortissimo shocks that punctuate the Requiem, we should pay equal homage to the soloists who invested the performance with a cut-glass combination of gravitas and hope, not least in the subtle exposition of Soprano, Jessica Cale, and the natural authority of renowned Mezzo, Felicity Buckland. The elevated pitch of Ruairi Bowen’s Tenor contrasted markedly with the dark, but velvety tones of Dan D‘Souza’s imposing Baritone.

But it is to the uplifting force of choir, orchestra and soloists working in sublime conjunction that we will return, if only in memory. From the opening bars of the Introit to the sublime resolution of the Lux Aeterna, we were privileged by exposure to the Light.

A Glimpse of the Light: Mozart Requiem was performed at Huddersfield Town Hall on Saturday, 16th March.