Hawes and Vaughan Williams: 17 March 2012

The concert was outstanding for many reasons: the interest of the music performed, the excellence of the performances; and the great sense of occasion which the evening conveyed through the presence, and involvement as conductor, of a major contemporary composer.

The Choir’s imaginative programming, which recently brought us music by William Walton and John Adams, was here again exemplified in the decision to couple a recent work by Patrick Hawes with a long-forgotten early Mass setting by Ralph Vaughan Williams. There was a very good audience in the Cathedral to hear this rather unusual concert, and the performances of both works were received with enthusiastic applause. The evening was also notable for the attractive programme which had been produced for the occasion.

The Vaughan Williams Mass setting is an early work, and quite untypical of the composer’s mature style. It was nevertheless very interesting to hear such a substantial piece by one of our greatest composers, and the performance did it full justice. It is clear that in places RVW was intent on displaying his (considerable) skills in traditional choral and orchestral forms, the writing for double choir was highly skillful, and the impact of the many climactic moments was considerable. It was interesting to hear several anticipations of later Vaughan Williams’ works, the ‘Hosanna’ theme being almost an inversion of the setting of the same words in the composer’s great Mass setting of 1922. The ‘Benedictus’ of 1899 similarly looks forward to the same movement of the 1922 Mass. The purely orchestral Offertorium, played with great sensitivity by The Sinfonietta, was a very attractive interpolated movement, which showed the composer’s already mature skills as an orchestrator. The Choir and orchestra’s performance of this at times very demanding A Cambridge Mass was admirable, with well balanced choral singing, striking dynamics, and impressive fortissimo climaxes to several of the sections.

Patrick Hawes’s A Lazarus Requiem, here receiving a concert performance under the composer, not long after its recording by the Philharmonic and the Cathedral Choir, together with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, is a work of considerable stature and emotional impact. It takes a familiar moment from the Gospels, recounts the story, and meditates on its significance. The style of the music is very approachable, with arresting harmonies to illustrate crucial points in the text - harmonies which underpin a notable melodic gift. It is clear that composers like Patrick Hawes, as with others such as Leonard Bernstein, in his time, or Karl Jenkins and Cecilia McDowell today, have a great deal to convey using traditional musical language.

The performance of this beautiful work was inspired. The three soloists, Catherine Hamilton, Rebecca Smith and Michael Bracegirdle, were all outstanding, though perhaps a special mention should be made of the soprano, for the special radiance and power of her singing. Both Choirs sang with the greatest expressiveness and warmth, and The Sinfonietta, led by Richard Studt, responded with great attentiveness to the composer’s committed direction of his work. All of those who had the privilege of attending this concert enjoyed an experience, both musical and spiritual, which will surely remain with them for many years to come.

Exeter Philharmonic Choir has reached in both this concert and the accompanying recording of A Lazarus Requiem another notable milestone in its long history.

Hawes Lazarus Requiem
Vaughan Williams A Cambridge Mass

Joint concert with The Cathedral Choir

Conductor: Andrew Millington

Paul Teal





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