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Marcio da Silva and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

Marcio da Silva. Photo by Peter Mould

Marcio da Silva and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir perform Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

Trevor Jones reviews Marcio da Silva, (conductor and director) and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and Choirs’ performance of  Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis, Mass in D major, Op. 123 at St John’s Church, St Leonards on November 11. 

Marcio da Silva is a brilliant musician and conductor; we should be very proud that he has chosen to live and work in Hastings. If you haven’t been to an HPO concert I recommend that you do. The sound of a live symphony orchestra is magical, and to have one this good so near to home is a real privilege.

A few weeks ago I was asked to write reviews of HPO concerts in Hastings. The first consisted of three works that I had heard many times before, and I have recordings of all three, so I was on familiar ground.

This concert was of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis for choir and orchestra. I have never attended a mass, and have never before heard a live setting of a mass. So I had a choice to make: I could read up about the work and listen to recordings, or I could go armed with the little knowledge I had about the work and just experience the occasion. I decided to go with the latter, remembering from my musical studies that Beethoven wrote two masses, and this is the later of the two, written about the same time as the famous 9th Symphony. So off we go for a new experience.

Marcio da Silva and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

Marcio da Silva and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir. Photo by Peter Mould

I took up my seat with a friend at the front of the church, less than a social distance away from the solo soprano, Helen May. The four solo singers, Helen May, Marta Fontanals-Simmons contralto, Leonel Pinheiro tenor, and Edwin Kaye, are situated in front of 34 orchestral players, and behind them a choir of around 40 singers. So quite a line-up.

The work starts with typical Beethoven chords, followed by a gentle orchestral introduction. The entry of the soloists and the choir at the opening of the kyrie was spine-tingling. The sound of an orchestra and a choir in a church acoustic was awe-inspiring. Conductor Marcio da Silva obviously shared my feelings as he paused after the kyrie to remove his jacket.

The five movements of the mass were divided into about 30 small sections, so what followed was a kaleidoscope of changing textures, pace and dynamics. With an orchestra, choir and four vocal soloists at his disposal Beethoven could search his soul for musical inspiration to feed his musical genius.

I have since listened to recordings of this mass, but the initial impact of the choral entry is impossible to replicate on hi-fi at home. I would liken it to watching a football match in a large stadium and then going home to replay it on Match of the Day. Live is best.

Marcio da Silva and the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra and Choir performance of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis

French horn. Photo by Peter Mould

In the mass there were sections for solo voice, two voices, four voices all interspersed with choral and orchestral sections. And there were soloists from different sections of the orchestra. I was particularly struck by a lovely French horn solo, played by Sian Collins, and an exquisite violin solo in the fourth movement (Sanctus) beautifully played by Yuri Zhislin

Yuri Zhislin 1st violin, and Helen May, left. Photo by Peter Mould

Sitting so near the front (not acoustically the most ideal spot), I was able to experience four brilliant vocal soloists at close quarters.

The final text of the mass, Dona Nobis Pacem (give us peace), is as relevant today as it was for Beethoven two hundred years ago, after years of Napoleonic oppression. Beethoven searched his soul to create this magnificent work, surely one of the greatest ever,and doing so captured mine.

Next two concerts before Christmas:

HPO events 2023

Please see the Hastings Philharmonic Orchestra Website for more details

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Posted 12:33 Friday, Nov 24, 2023 In: Arts & Culture,Performance

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