Vivaldi Gloria, Verdi Te Deum, Rutter Magnificat

Three joyful settings of liturgical texts made up the programme for Tonbridge Philharmonic Society’s final concert of the 2010-2011 Season. Tonbridge School Chapel was the perfect setting and acoustic for these vibrant works. Opening with Vivaldi’s Gloria, the chorus and orchestra gave a confident and buoyant account of the work, written while he was teaching at the girls’ orphanage in Venice. Guest soprano soloist Wendy Nieper, making a welcome return to sing with the Society, was joined by the chorus’s own Dilys Benson in the duet Laudamus te. This was beautifully delivered; their voices well-matched, revealing clearly the delicate interplay of the parts. Contralto Margaret Bolt, also a member of the chorus, gave creditable renderings of the arias Domine deus and Qui sedes. There was striking singing from the chorus, and the words were completely audible. Always given balanced support by the orchestra, the work set exactly the right mood for the evening. The strings shone under the leadership of Penelope Howard.

Verdi’s Te deum, composed late in his life, is the last of his Four Sacred Pieces. Although operatic in style, it also shows his personal response to the text, with dramatic dynamic contrasts in the different sections. At times, the large orchestra threatened to overwhelm the clarity of the chorus’s words, but they met the challenges of the work and sang with evident delight.

Magnificat, set by the ever-popular John Rutter, comprised the second half. Using strong dance rhythms and syncopation in many sections, the work is the epitome of energy and gladness. Throughout, from the brilliance of the opening movement through the dark steamy, almost night-club atmosphere of the Fecit potentiam, conductor Robin Morrish drove the work along with verve and intensity, eliciting some thrilling playing from the brass section. However the two quiet and reflective sections were particularly moving and memorable: the chorus’s sensitive singing of the lilting setting of a 15th century poem Of a Rose, a lovely Rose, and in Esurientes (He hath filled the hungry with good things), a duet with Wendy Nieper who displayed her glorious upper register, soaring above chorus and orchestra.

Special mention should be made of outstanding orchestral playing: in particular the solo trumpet, oboe and harp to name but a few. The orchestra excelled itself, and the Society’s performance was given a justly enthusiastic reception.

A presentation was made to Choral Chairman Eileen Best after serving five years in that post and over thirty as a member of the chorus. Huge gratitude was given for unstinting service to the Society by her and her late husband Harold.