POULENC FOR PASSIONTIDE
Chelmsford Singers in Chelmsford Cathedral
This fascinating evening culminated with a rare chance to hear a live performance of the Stabat Mater. Like much of Poulenc's religious work, it is a heady blend of the sensual and the austere. Beginning with a sombre march, reminiscent of the more emotional moments of Dialogue des Carmelites. The Singers gave an impressive account of the challenging choral writing: the emphatic Quis est homo, the celebratory Eja Mater, the urgent Inflammatus et accensus. They were joined by soprano soloist Julia Wilson-James for key moments such as the tenth movement – and soaring wonderfully over choir and orchestra in the climactic Paradisi Gloria.
The orchestra was the Chelmsford Sinfonietta, led on this occasion by Robert Atchison. They provided powerful underpinning to the other major choral work on offer, the Litanies à la Vierge noire, the timpani and the strings foreshadowing some of the effects in the Organ Concerto which followed, with soloist Oliver Brett.
This popular showpiece – moving deftly from Bach to burlesque and back again - had a plaintively eloquent string sound to start, then the orchestra bounding playfully through the Allegro Giocoso, the organ excelling in the viscerally thrilling fortissimo passages before the tranquil Largo coda, solo viola against rhythmic strings and a sustained pedal note.