200 Singers Congregate in Wells Cathedral for Millfield's Festival Chorus in Concert

On 10 March, over two-hundred singers comprised of students, staff, and members of the community gathered to perform a stunning rendition of Rossini’s Petite messe solennelle. The work was accompanied by its original instrumentation of two pianos, and harmonium; although the original force of only twelve singers and four soloists was magnified exponentially to fill the cathedral with the sound of two-hundred strong singers.

Directed by Matthew Cook, and accompanied by Niki Bracy and Josh Abbot, the solo parts were taken by Eloise Routledge, Louise Innes, William Wallace, and Andrew Davies.

The concert opened with Part One starting with the Kyrie-Christe – which began with its fast-memorable piano introduction before the choir began lyrically floating on top of this repeating pattern. The Choir sang with a sense of confidence which created a full and rich wall of sound which reverberated towards the back of the cathedral. Up next was the Christe section – the first time we hear the choir without the two pianos providing a decorated accompaniment. Here, just he harmonium and choir perform this plaintive and reflective polyphonic escapade. The Gloria sees the soloists enter for the first time after a powerful and declamatory two phrases from the chorus. The following section – Gratias is a solo only movement and which clearly displayed the talent and projection of the soloists. The next movement, Domine Deus was sung by tenor soloist William Wallace and accompanied by pianist Niki Bracey. William’s voice suited this solo movement very well, and the sound clearly reached the furthest reaches of the audience. After two more solo movements, Qui Tollis which heard a duet between soprano Eloise Routledge and Contralto Louise Innes; and Quoniam which saw bass Andrew Wallace virtuosically singing this solo movement; the choir performed one last movement before a moments respite – the Cum Sancto. Being one of the hardest movements perhaps in the entire work, director Matthew Cook kept a calm presence, whilst also displaying explicit detail to the chorus and accompanists, in relation to tempo and musical expression especially. After a short pause for the soloists, the second half began with another chorus movement – Credo.

Opening with a tenor solo, the chorus was then brought in by Matthew Cook with gusto and gravitas, which saw some of the most powerful and dramatic chorus singing in the work. Up next, was the Crucifixus sung my soprano soloist Eloise Routledge. This quiet and reflective movement paved the way for the contrasting nature of the following movement Et Resurrexit, which sees a powerful entry by the sopranos. However, this movement isn’t characteristically loud all of the time, it alternatives extremely between power and drama, towards even intimacy and delicacy, with its lyrical writing and extreme contrasting dynamics. Following this is a reflective and contrasting interlude on the harmonium – Preludio Religioso. This chorale inspired meditation lays the way for the more jovial nature and musical style of the Sanctus. The penultimate movement of the work – O Salutaris saw soprano soloist Eloise Routledge sing with clear musicality and virtuosity, displaying the more lyrical and soloistic writing of Rossini. The work finished with a large chorus movement with contralto solo – Agnus Dei – a dramatic yet definitive ending to a great work.

See all the photos from the evening here.

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