On a blustery late autumn evening in Witney, a packed audience at St Mary's Church heard an all-choral concert from the local Lower Windrush Choral Society (the Windrush being one of the Cotswold streams). The choir of 70 voices was accompanied by a little orchestra of 6 violins, a cello and a double bass, plus organ. The atrocious massacre in Paris of 48 hours earlier was referred to in a short address by the Society's chair, but its presence was in any case palpable in the air. How appropriate that Mozart's Requiem, in which music and lyrics combine to form a profound outpouring of compassion and sorrow, formed the centrepiece of the programme.
'Face eas, Domine, de morte transpire ad vitam, dona eis requiem sempiternum.'
'Allow them, O Lord, to cross over from death into life, grant them everlasting rest.'
The programme, a longish and demanding one for a non-pro choir, began with Vivaldi's 'Gloria in D Major' (RV 589) from 1715-16, a work of Italian warmth, fluidity and bounce. Its forms are relatively straightforward – a handy warm-up before the altogether bigger challenge of the Requiem to come – and were tackled man- and womanfully by the choir. In the brief intro to the 'Domine Deus, Rex caelestis, Pater omnipotens', the violins sounded a little scratchy, and the mezzo soloist was inclined to be ponderous, in contrast to the crispness of Anna Shackleton, her soprano colleague.
The female soloists were joined after the interval by Deryck Webb (tenor) and Quentin Hayes (baritone) who sang powerfully; but the Requiem demands relatively little of its soloists since it's primarily of course a work for choir. 'The Introitus', perhaps the noblest opening to any piece in the Western tradition of choral music, came over as somewhat tentative when smooth power is required, but then players and singers got into their stride. Conductor Terry McNamara, in the Kyrie and later, noticeably maintained a commendably briskish pace, no doubt wary of a flagging in the tempo, a pitfall into which amateur choirs are prone to tumble. This was succeeded by the Tuba Mirum; here the audience was surprised and delighted to see the leader of the orchestra, Sharon Lindo, discard her fiddle, take up a gleaming trombone from beneath a pillar and proceed to deliver the melancholy duet with the baritone. A tricky feat, given there was no scope for tuning-up.
Sharon's a marvel of versatility. She told me that as one of the accompanying musicians at Shakespeare's Globe Theatre she has played the rebec, the shawm, the crumhorn and the mediaeval version of both fiddle and bagpipes. A one-woman boon to pub quiz setters!
In the 'Offertory' Mr McNamara developed a fine, rhythmical beat as the organ boomed out. This was preceded by the 'Lacrimosa', perhaps the passage of maximum longing and yearning. As the choir sang, my thoughts and surely those of many folk present, again turned to the shattered citizens of Paris:
'Lacrimosa dies illa qua resurget ex favilla judicandus homo reus, pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requiem.'
'Mournful that day when from the dust shall rise guilty man to be judged, merciful Lord Jesus, grant them rest.'