High quality performance from Axminster Choral Society

PUBLISHED: 17:00 17 April 2019

Soloist Harriet Mountford, Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Soloist Harriet Mountford, Picture: CONTRIBUTED

Archant

Musicians and singers excelled in this production of The Seasons by Haydn.

The secular oratorio The Seasons, by Haydn, is a masterpiece of descriptive composition and Axminster Choral Society's performance on April 6, at The Minster marked another high point in their long history, write Sydie Bones.

The work is in oratorio form, written for three solo voices, chorus and orchestra.

Of these, the soloists and orchestra were performing all or much of the time, whereas the choir had the luxury of the occasional rest.

The three separated chords at the beginning reminded me of the overture to The Magic Flute (1791).

Most oratorios open with a chorus – not this Spring.

A recitative from the three soloists had to bid farewell to winter before the choir could stand to greet 'gentle Spring' which they did with lyrical expertise and attention to detail.

The trio and chorus that weaved its way to the end of Spring was in turn both light and majestic, with a fugue as a final flourish.

Summer also commenced with a recitative, setting the scene for the depiction of one day, from sunrise to midday heat, evening storm to stars at night.

Rhythm changed to triple time, horns led the country style music, chorus joined the soloists and dynamics rose to fff before the choir were granted a rest.

Haydn's orchestration of this movement is awe-inspiring, elegant continuo, flowing strings, delightful phrases from individual wind instruments, pizzicato raindrops and drumrolls of thunder.

Soloists and choir brought this idyllic summer day to a close, ready to welcome 'gentle sleep'.

One would expect that autumn and winter would turn mellow and more subdued. Not a bit of it – the second half of this concert was a romp.

Autumnal harvest was followed by youthful shenanigans in the orchard, rounded off with a climax of success in the hunt, all expressed with an amazing variety of musical techniques, the soloists and orchestra outstanding in their skill and versatility.

The choir mustered their full forces for the hunt, their Tally Ho and Hurrah well capable of matching the resounding merry horn.

Special mention must be made of the tenors, few in number but valiant in performance.

Although Winter started with a fog-laden fugue and a beautifully sung languid Cavatina from the soprano, it soon brightened into the rhythms of work and fire-lit evenings of song.

The song (not aria!) A Wealthy Lord was one of the highlights of the evening, soprano singing the verses with the choir on their toes to provide the choruses in traditional hostelry style.

The finale of the year turns to contemplation in which Haydn draws comparisons between a year and a life.

Heralded by horns and woodwind, the choir gave a superb rendering of this hymn of triumph, with soloists interweaving their voices or soaring above the ranks of singers in front of them.

Any praise I can give is inadequate for the musicians behind and in front of this exhilarating performance.

Accolades must go to Peter Parshall who trains the choir, Judy Martin whose conducting brings out the very best from all performers, Peter Lea-Cox as Continuo, the tireless professionals in the orchestra and all members of the choral society.

But for this programme, highest praise must go to the three soloists, Harriet Mountford (soprano), James Atherton (tenor) and Charles Cunniffe (bass), whose response to the huge demands made on them by this work was magnificent.

Congratulations to all.

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