Haydn: Harmoniemesse

Haydn: Harmoniemesse, etc.
London Youth Choir & Chamber Choir, Gabrieli Consort & Players
Paul McCreesh, Robbie Jacobs
St Andrew Holborn, 9 March 2017

Ian Grandage: Dawn, Sunset; Ola Gjeilo: Northern Lights; Rheinberger: Morgenlied and Abendlied; Rachmaninov: Bogoroditse Dyevo.
Haydn: Harmoniemesse

On a day when the BBC reported on research into the sad state of music education in English secondary schools, it was good to be reminded of the many musical activities that are available to young people. Two examples were on show at this event: Gabrieli Roar and the London Youth Choir.

Gabrieli Roar was founded in 2010, and is a partnership between the Gabrieli Consort and a range of British youth choirs, enabling the latter to perform alongside professional musicians and providing support and encouragement, particularly in areas of low cultural provision. The London Youth Choir (LYC) was established in 2012. It runs five choirs for children aged from 3 to 21 years living or educated in Greater London. The choirs are auditioned, and choir members pay £55 a term subscription. It has been a part of Gabrieli Roar since 2015.

The first part of the concert featured the LYC Senior and Chamber Choirs, the former with about 35 singers, the latter with around 18, aged between 16 and 21. They opened and closed their a cappella programme with Dawn and Sunset by the Australian composer Ian Grandage, the former in close harmony, the latter evoking the Australian bush by the ‘ssss’ sound that preceded the word Sunset. The Chamber Choir sang Northern Lights by the Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo, now living in the USA. It explores the idea of ‘terrible beauty’, using the concept of female beauty ‘as terrible as an army’ in Pulchra es amica mea from the Biblical Song of Solomon. They followed this with Morgenlied (a combination of a folk song and Lutheran chorale) and Abendlied (a classical piece with much imitative counterpoint) by Rheinberger, a composer best known today to organists. Both choirs combined for Rachmaninov’s sonorous Bogoroditse Dyevo from the All Night Vigil. In a tricky programme, the LYC singers proved to be exceptionally talented, producing excellent intonation and diction. They were conducted by Robbie Jacobs, Director of the LYC.

For the second part of the evening, they were joined by the eight singers from the Gabrieli Consort and their companion period instrument orchestra for Haydn’s Harmoniemesse. Four of the Gabrieli singers (Charlotte Beament, Helen Charlston, Jeremy Budd, and William Gaunt) took the solos. Upcoming mezzo Helen Charlston was particularly impressive; not least, from the LYC point of view, for not being that much older than their singers. The LYC were outstanding in what must have been a difficult work to rehearse and learn. There is something about young voices, as evidenced by the UK’s glorious tradition of collegiate choirs. But the average age of these young singers was considerably lower than a typical Oxbridge choirs.

There was no sense of a relaxing evening from the professionals singers and instrumentalists, nor, indeed, from Gabrieli conductor Paul McCreesh. The playing and singing was top notch, producing one of the most thrilling performances of this work that I can recall. Incidentally, many people assume that the nickname of Harmoniemesse has something to do with the harmony of the piece, which is indeed adventurous. But its title comes from the use of the Harmonie, as wind instruments were known collectively in German speaking lands. The full compliment of wind instruments had many exposed moments, and collectively added much to the overall timbre of the piece. For the young singers of the London Youth Choirs, it must have been a thrilling experience, as it clearly was for the enthusiastic Mums and Dads in the audience.

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