Mass in the time of War

Date: Saturday 2nd July, 2016
Venue: St Andrew’s Church, Sutton-in-the-isle
Programme: Mass in the time of War
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd & Organ/Piano ~ Charlie Penn and the Con Brio Chamber Orchestra with Steve Bingham


A day after the world commemorated those who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme, the Ely Consort completed its summer concert with an exhilarating performance of Haydn’s Mass in Time of War. Written in 1796, when Austria feared invasion from France, the mass combines defiance with despair, and features the military sounds of trumpets and timpani throughout.

In the extraordinary Agnus Dei, Haydn creates a strong sense of unease. His contemporary biographer Griesinger said that the rumbling timpani in this movement are intended to convey the ominous advance of the enemy. The choir, together with the Con Brio Chamber Orchestra and a strong team of vocal soloists – Sarah Rosewell, Karl Read, Mark Hounsell and Simon Adams – gave a gripping performance of the mass, capturing all of the drama.

In the concert’s first half, the choir and conductor Matthew Rudd used the warm acoustic of the church to give moving performances of a number of contrasting pieces. Throughout, the choir displayed impeccable control of dynamics and line. Particularly beautiful was the Consort’s performance of Faire is the Heaven, William Harris’s stalwart of the English choral tradition. The expressive singing and the piece’s fluid harmonic style caught Spenser’s words perfectly – ‘faire is the heaven where happy soules have place in full enjoyment of felicitie’.

Before the Harris, the audience was treated to a full-blooded, Italianate performance of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Season’s with solo violinist Steve Bingham. The storm that ends the piece didn’t materialise in the Cambridgeshire countryside – this was a rare, perfect summer evening.

Review: Graeme Curry

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