Described as a celebration of “our magnificent and awe-inspiring churches” on their webpage, the City of London Sinfonia Orchestra bought their Fauré Requiem tour to Exeter Cathedral on 16th October. Yet with a repertoire ranging from Tallis’s 16th Century Choral work to Gabriel Jackson’s new “Countless and Wonderful are the ways to praise God,” one might expect the Orchestra’s collaboration with the Exeter Cathedral Choir to overreach itself. Fortunately this was not the case, and the combination of the touring group and our local choir can only be described as excellent.
The opening duo of Tallis pieces, Salvator Mundi and Why Fum’th In Fight pierced the silence of the vast cathedral and set the recital in motion. The choir was out of view, and the choice of placement was inspired, as the pitch-perfect sound was enhanced by the acoustics of their position. This created a distant, almost ghostly timbre - it was a truly unique start to the concert. The following Fantasia on a Tallis theme by Vaughan Williams exhibited the skills of the Orchestra’s string section, as they ably performed a cinematic and vast score. My only gripe was that the piece seemed a tad too long, yet that criticism cannot be leveled at the musicians that played it.
I’ll admit, I approached the string, timpani and organ concerto with trepidation, and to some extent I felt justified. For aside from an exciting opening five minutes with blasting organ chords and a hurtling string part, I found the piece rather forgettable. The Gabriel Jackson however was solid, and I’ll be following this composer’s work in the future. Of course, both these pieces were performed excellently by the Orchestra and Choir.
Yet, of course the centrepiece of the evening would be the Requiem, a piece of music that stands proudly alongside Mozart’s Requiem as one of the best funeral masses ever written. It was performed beautifully, and I was constantly taken back by the sublime pianissimos, created brilliantly by the Orchestra’s conductor, Stephen Layton, a man who throughout the evening threw in just enough showmanship without seeming ridiculous. The undoubted highlight of the night was a magnificent six minutes or so, which began with the divinely sung Lux Aeterna component of the Agnus Dei, before a dramatic bass solo bought us into an engaging Libera Me. All in all, this collaboration was an unmitigated success and I’ll be looking forward to watching the Cathedral choir and hopefully the Sinfonia again.