UEA Choir and Symphony Orchestra
Review for 2nd and 4th eds
Under Sharon Choa and led by Christopher Colby, the UEA Symphony Orchestra showed its form in Joseph Haydn's Seven Last Words from the Cross. Originally composed as a sequence of instrumental movements for a Spanish Passion-Tide devotion, the score was interpreted with rich textures and apt phrasing.
Time and again the strings spun out melodies that had the charm and elegance of the more deeply felt parts of Haydn's Masses, and the woodwind intervened with tact and discretion to deepen emotions or bring out the meaning of each of Christ's utterances. After episodes of restraint and grace the famous depiction of the earthquake, with trumpets and drums added, had all the more impact at the end, especially since it made its point briefly.
The fact that Haydn himself produced different versions of The Last Words justified the insertion of choral works between the instrumental episodes. The choice was wide and stylistically very varied, which created intriguing contrasts.
The UEA Choir, trained by Julian Thomas and conducted by Howard Williams, did not match the quality of the Orchestra. Not much of the singing could be described as beautiful. Male voice tone was occasionally quite coarse, while the sopranos had difficulties putting any warmth into their high notes.
The singers did not seem at home in the polyphony of Palestrina's Stabat Mater. Wolf's Submission, in quite different musical language, did not make much impact either. Fortunately the Choir came into its own motet by Bruckner to help bring the concert to its climax. A programme lasting an hour and three-quarters without an interval was too long for comfort.