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Hastings Philharmonic Choir at Christ Church by Peter Mould

Hastings Philharmonic Choir at Christ Church (photo: Peter Mould)

Opening concert of Hastings Philharmonic Choir’s new season

This Saturday Hastings Philharmonic Choir presents its first concert of the season at Christ Church, Silchester Road, St Leonards. It will feature Benjamin Britten’s St Nicolas cantata, Mozart’s Vespers, with its hugely popular soprano solo Laudate Dominum, and another English work for string orchestra, Finzi’s Romance for Strings Opus 11, writes Chris Cormack.

Benjamin Britten’s St Nicolas has a special place in the Sussex seaside and countryside where there are so many boarding schools. St Nicolas (without the ‘h’) is the patron saint of children (hence Santa Claus) and sailors. This cantata includes a wonderfully dramatic storm at sea and an evocative famine where St Nicolas is said to have brought children back to life after an unsavoury incident of cannibalism.

Written in 1948, this is redolent of postwar austerity and the hunger commonly felt in English boarding schools! The piece was commissioned for the centenary of Peter Pears’ old school, Lancing College, Sussex, and celebrated in its vast chapel, dubbed the ‘cathedral’, central to all the schools in the extensive ‘Woodard’ Foundation of schools after the Lancing founder, Reverend Nathaniel Woodard.

Britten’s work includes parts for young Nicolas and a children’s choir, sung by music director Marcio da Silva’s own children. The choir recounts the life of the fourth-century Bishop of Myra in Lycia, which is now Turkey. Although a modern piece, it is designed to be accessible and inclusive for both performers and audience, not difficult on the ear nor for performance; hence it became a classic and favourite for choirs and audiences.

Eric Crozier’s ‘words’ give the audience an opportunity of joining in two beautiful hymns at key moments: ‘All people that on earth do dwell’ and ‘God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform’. It has a very important role for the tenor as St Nicolas; originally for Peter Pears, this time it is sung by Robert Forrest, the Garsington Opera recipient of the Helen Clarke award and a regular performer at Opera Scotland.

Sophie Levi as Ottavia - photography: Peter Mould

Sophie Levi as Ottavia (photo: Peter Mould)

Mozart’s Vespers

Of the many mass and vespers settings that Mozart wrote, the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, KV339, is among the most popular. The famous Laudate Dominum soprano solo, part of these Vespers, a song of praise from Psalm 117, is designed to send shivers down the spine.

Sophie Levi, who performs it, played Ottavia in Marcio’s London production of L’Incoronazione di Poppea by Claudio Monteverdi and recently covered for  Donna Anna in Jenny Miller’s Longborough Festival Opera. The bass soloist, Leo Selleck, is a well-liked performer with Hastings Philharmonic, Ensemble Orquesta and Woodhouse Opera, while mezzo-soprano Rachel Falaise is another well-established soloist.

Gerald Finzi (1901-1956) is one of Britain’s most underrated composers, according to Classic FM, perhaps because his life was short and output relatively small. Although his roots are Italian, German and Jewish,  his music radiates, like Butterworth’s, the beauty of English landscape. He lived in Aldbourne, Wiltshire, where he devoted himself to composing and apple-growing, saving a number of rare English apple varieties from extinction.

The concert starts at 7pm on Saturday 2 November. Premium seats at Christ Church are priced at £20, £17.50 in the Nave and £12.50 at the sides. They may be purchased at the Hastings Tourist Information Centre, 2 Breeds Place, at The Bookkeeper, Kings Road, St Leonards, by telephone (01424 451111) and online.

Posted 11:52 Wednesday, Oct 30, 2019 In: Music & Sound

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