It was a thrill to hear the splendidly-trained Hereford Choral Society celebrating its 175th anniversary (one audience-member present had sung in its centenary concert!) with the Verdi ‘Requiem’, spectacular, emotionally searching, and perfectly at home in the ambience of Hereford Cathedral.
The acoustic proved almost entirely accommodating to the sonorities of the piece, now dramatic, now confidingly intimate. Only the gleeful dancing “Sanctus” fell prey to a texture-clouding echo. No fault of the excellent choristers, who projected throughout the work’s 90 minutes (thankfully no tension-sapping interval) with exemplary clarity of diction and virtually immaculate intonation.
And the absence of an interval meant the Philharmonia cellos, still nicely warmed-up, were able to launch fearlessly into the taxingly exposed “Domine, Jesu Christe”. Indeed, the experienced and wily orchestra were staunch collaborators to the HCS throughout the evening, one where conductor Geraint Bowen’s occasionally deliberate tempi and elongated pauses between sections threatened to disrupt the flow.
His positioning to the right and behind the solo quartet, plus the fact that his body masked the baton grasped in his left hand, meant that communication of tempi was not without pitfalls, though the vocalists managed with heroic professionalism.
Despite a full, rich tone, soprano Claire Seaton seemed disappointingly uninvolved in the terrifying drama of “Libera Me”; no quibbles about her colleagues, mezzo Jeanette Ager so alert to the words, late-replacement tenor Justin Lavender exuding quiet, controlled charisma, bass David Stout gravelly and authoritative.
Seaton and Ager delivered an impressive “Agnus Dei”, cruelly demanding in its unaccompanied octaves, the orchestra increasing in plaintive eloquence by degrees. This was my highlight of a memorable performance.
And praise to the backstage team present, who dealt with a medical emergency quietly, efficiently, and with consummate expertise.