Reviews of Pailsey Philharmonic Choir

Paisley Philharmonic Choir
Paisley Town Hall – Sunday 16th May 2015

This concert opened with an elegant account of the first movement of Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusik for strings. This was followed by the pairing of two very different works – Schubert’s Mass in G and Mozart’s Requiem. This was imaginative programme planning because both works were very different in style, in period and in mood.

Schubert’s music contained many styles in which he adapted classical forms and language, but giving these a new emotional emphasis containing a treatment of melody which had spontaneity, clarity and variety, combining often in great beauty of sound. This was the language of the Romantic Era – “the addition of strangeness to beauty’, to borrow Walter Pater’s great phrase. This is evident in the music of this great tragic genius who died at the height of his powers in 1828, and is present in his six settings of the Mass from his mature years.

His Mass in G is a warm and often gentle work containing the above Schubertian hallmarks in its seven movements. In this concert it received a first rate performance. This was evident from the outset in the enfolding nature of the Kyrie with its warmth of tone, and in the Credo where a soft dynamic gave marked effect to the credal words alternating with well placed dramatic climaxes. The lovely, gentle Benedictus was notable for its fine duet and trio singing from the excellent young soloists and Andrew McTaggart’s rich bass timbre was integral to the closing Agnus Dei with its lacrimoso colouring. In general this was a performance pleasing, compact and secure and supported throughout by excellent orchestral accompaniments

Mozart’s great Requiem was his final, unfinished work, belonging to his Vienna period when most of the works which made his name immortal were composed during the last ten years of his life. Mozart had fulfilled the promise of his earlier years and his music now contained, in a marvellous way, that elusive blend of form, content, and emotional depth combining to produce a melodic perfection that belongs to no other music. This is evident in his Requiem which in some aspects turn towards the Baroque in the Kyrie’s Handelian double fugue and in the drama of the Dies Irae and Rex Tremendae. This performance communicated the essence of the Requiem that for this listener contained some outstanding moments – the excellent contrapuntal singing in the Kyrie; the combination of sonorous trombone and rich solo bass timbre in Tuba Mirum; the pure Mozartian Recordare, with its soft woodwind and strings and compelling quartet of soloists blending together in a warm tapestry of sound; an almost balletic Domine Jesu and a luminous Lux Aeterna which contained some inspired choral singing winding this great work to its emotionally charged close.

This was a fine concert enhanced by four factors. First, the choral singing was of a high standard throughout. Second, there was a quartet of young gifted soloists, the honours perhaps going to soprano Hazel McBain and bass Andrew McTaggart. Third, this was an orchestra whose playing was always strong and sympathetic. Fourth, the presence of a conductor whose steady, seasoned hand blended all together.

Our thanks and congratulations to Iain Anderson and his Paisley Philharmonic Choir for this memorable evening.

Paisley Philharmonic Choir
Silver Jubilee Concert 18th May 2014

This concert consisted of two major works – a substantial portion of Handel’s Messiah and Haydn’s Maria Theresa Mass.

Handel’s oratorios are not to be regarded as church music. They are intended for the concert hall and are much closer to the theatre than to the church. This is evident in Messiah and in any performance of this oratorio there are distinct features of Handel’s style that require careful attention for example, his pictorial and effective musical symbolism illustrated here in the relentless hammering accompaniment of Why Do The Nations?; his use of dance forms as in the gracious siciliano which is How Beautiful Are The Feet; the lacrimoso writing with its often unbearably sad intervals as in Thy Rebuke has Broken is Heart; Handel’s assured, often massive choral writing with its great contrasts of dynamics and its fugal textures, its great sweep of sound at climax points and the balletic lightness of His Yolk Is Easy. Thus we have Handel the dramatist whose style is simpler and less complex than that of Bach the other great master of late baroque choral music.

Any performance of Messiah should be measured against these criteria. So what about Paisley Philharmonic Choir’s performance under their highly able and experienced conductor, Ian Anderson? The answer is strongly affirmative. This was a first rate often moving performance supported by a fine chamber orchestra (who were occasionally too prominent) and containing a splendid quartet of soloists in Wilma MacDougall, Colette Ruddy, Alistair Digges and Andrew McTaggart. These soloists were all in fine form and particular honours go to Andrew McTaggart whose powerful dramatic voice was darkness personified in The People That Walked In Darkness.

The highlights for this listener were the assured choral singing which had genuine regard for the Handelian idioms within; the individual contributions of the excellent soloists, each bringing a different colouring, for example, Wilma MacDougall’s ethereal singing of the haunting phrase ‘the first fruits of them that sleep’; the admirable and effective quasi-harpsichord continuo present throughout; the burnished sound of the solo trumpet; and the great transition from mystery to triumph in Part 3.

All these combined in a very convincing synthesis which made this a memorable performance….

During Haydn’s visit to London in 1791, he became acquainted with Handel’s oratorios and when he heard Messiah in Westminster Abbey, he exclaimed, “Handel is the master of us all”. The results of this discovery appear in the choral writing of his later masses and oratorios. So it is with the Maria Theresa Mass of 1799, written in the Viennese symphonic style with Handel’s influence in the vocal writing.

This was also a convincing performance with highlights of its own – the Gloria’s brightness typical of Haydn’s vocal writing; the short and powerful Credo; the dance-like instrumental introduction to Benedictus and the closing fanfares of Dona Nobis Pacem.

There was slight loss of tuning and some vocal flagging towards the close of this work. But, no wonder, for this was a taxing, major programme which was splendidly performed overall. We wish Ian Anderson and his fine choir all future success.

Iain B Galbraith

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