Three Choirs at Worcester

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With each new Cathedral Organist a fresh chapter in the annals of the Three Choirs Festival begins, and, subject to inevitable financial constraints, a change of direction is made. Jazz with religious overtones m the form of Stan Tracey's Genesis and Duke Ellington's Heaven in Ordinaire, given in Worcester Cathedral on 21 August by the Three Cathedral Choirs and the Stan Tracey Orchestra, was long in content and strong in decibels. The following day Donald Hunt's lecture Not only Nimrod but also at the Countess of Huntingdon's Hall laid particular stress on Elgar's Enigma music, rather less on its autobiographical elements. In the depth of Hunt's discourse insights were revealed which came as a great surprise even to those of us who know the work well. His lecture was supplemented by an exciting Piano Duo account of the Enigma Variations, in which its substance was expounded almost as potently by Hunt and his partner, Barry Hipkiss, as in the orchestral version, notably in the GRS and CAE Variations. In the latter, a Tristanesque poignancy was given to the glorious climactic cadence. All this bore fruit even more tellingly on 23 August in the Cathedral, where the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra responded magnificently to Hunt's detailed demands.

Seldom can the high notes of Dyson in D have been negotiated with such consummate ease as by the Worcester Cathedral Chamber Choir under Stephen Stellard's direction at Evensong on 22 August. The vulgarity of the First Part of Stainer's I saw the Lord, notwithstanding a graphically smoky house, was skilfully subdued, as was the sentimentality of the Second Part.

Later that day the RLPO under Adrian Lucas's direction brought an opulent glow to their accompaiiiment of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, which I first heard at the 1964 Festival in Hereford. Judith Howarth's singing was eager and ardent, though her scooping and vibrato were occasionally overdone. Orchestra and Organ at opposite ends of the Nave were synchronised beautifully, and the brass, especially the Tuba, rang out sonorously in Berlioz' Te Deum.

The Chorus was well balanced, with excellent blend in all departments, enabling the composers contrapuntal skill to be heard effectively. However, the work's main appeal is physical. Monotony in volume and tempi served only to emphasise a lack of distinction in the thematic writing. Lynton Atkinson was a lachrymose and tremulous tenor soloist.

The Anna Magdalena are a 36-voiced Canadian Girls' Choir, whose careful training and polished performance under Bruce Pullan were evident in their Hunringdon Hall recital on 23 August. Regrettably, one soon became aware of a sameness in style and a superficiality in their expressive range. Moreover, the tone lacked diaphragm support. This was particularly noticeable in their operatic items, and occasionally harshness reared its head, as in Schubert's Standchen, The composer's 4-part setting of the 23rd Psalm was balanced splendidly, with excellent German enunciation and detailed expression.

Later that day David Briggs gave us an appealing, sympathetic account of Poulenc's Stabat Mater, with Emma Silversides as a human, yet deeply spiritual soloist.

This Three Choirs was blessed with some very high quality chamber music concerts. The Florestan Trio's effulgent playing of the Schubert's B Flat major Trio at the Huntingdon Hall on 24 August was outstanding. Rachmaninov's Trio Elegiaque had an almost orchestral ambience, as the conflict between Susan Tomes' pianistic virtuosity pitted against the embattled Anthony Marwood and Richard Lester resolved itself in heroic fashion. Of equal stature was the Brodsky Quartet, who were joined by Catherine Marwood for their concert at Huntingdon Hall on 27 August, which included two of Mozart's magnificent Quintets. K 514 and K 515 are surely among the 18th-Century's supreme masterpieces and harbingers of Schubert. …