Thursday, 12 May 2016

Review 12th May 2016

URMSTON CHORAL SOCIETY  St Monica’s Church, Flixton

Gareth Curtis’s Reflections, which received its world premiere in the 75th anniversary concert of Urmston Choral Society under Julie Parker’s direction last night, is a fine and effective work that could make itself at home with many other moderate-sized choral groups.

Written for SATB (with a little division of parts but also many impactful unisons), with soprano and baritone soloists (Margo Campbell and Maurice Rushby) and piano duet accompaniment (on this occasion Miriam Graham and the composer), plus a speaker (Margaret Curtis), it has four movements and fills around 50 minutes.

It’s based on texts from the Latin mass – the traditional Kyrie, Sanctus, Agnus Dei and the final ‘Ite, Missa Est … Deo Gracias’ – with additional words, spoken and sung and mainly from the Bible, which reflect on the meaning of the liturgy, as if we are overhearing the silent readings and meditations of the gathered worshippers.

Gareth Curtis’s writing is direct and accessible, itself reflecting an eclectic mix of styles, with bell-like clusters and plainsong lines at the beginning and end, two engaging march rhythms for choral passages (and something like a samba at ‘Pleni sunt caeli …’), and a touch of Messianesque chording to introduce the Sanctus.

There are rich, smooth harmonies for the choralists to enjoy (a beautiful one to end ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’), lovely circling melody lines for the soloists (and hidden in the accompaniment to the spoken part of the Agnus Dei), while the final movement builds a jazzy head of steam, with well calculated highpoints using the performers’ combined resources to the full.

In some ways it’s in the tradition of the 1960s Christian ‘jazz cantatas’ by Malcolm Williamson and others – in many it transcends them and points towards a deep individual experience of Christian worship.

Robert Beale

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