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 Three Choirs Festival 2009 -Bach,  Mass in B minor:  Rodolfus Choir & Corelli Orchestra, Ralph Allwood. Tewkesbury Abbey, 10.8.2009 (RJ)

The Rodolfus Choir was founded in 1983 by Ralph Allwood, and consists of former members of the Eton College Choral Course. None of its members is older than 25 and their youthful energy was much in evidence in this concert, which formed part of the 2009 Three Choirs' Festival.

The singers made an impressive start in the vast Kyrie, which also provided opportunities for the Corelli Orchestra to demonstrate its fine ensemble playing. The treble duet, Christe eleison, in which the voices of Elizabeth Weisberg and Polly May blended together seamlessly, brought a lighter, more Italian element to the proceedings.

You could feel the full force of the Corelli's brass and percussion in the joyful opening to the Gloria which was matched by the energetic singing of the choir. Later after a quiet start to the Gratias agimus conductor Ralph Allwood demonstrated the good dynamic range of the singers by slowly and subtly increasing the intensity of their singing.

The Domine Deus was a particularly magical experience by dint of some delicate flute playing above muted strings and the good rapport between the soprano and tenor soloists. The dreamy sounds of the viola d'amore gave distinction to the alto aria Qui sedes, and the movement climaxed with a fast and cheerful Cum santo spiritu bringing the first part of the performance to a robust close.

The opening of the Credo had echoes of Gregorian chant, but the choir quickly adopted a more declamatory tone in the fugal passages. Et incarnatus est seemed to emanate from a different world as the young singers created a feeling of awe and mystery. The solemn Crucifixus was characterised by good diction and expression, which was not always shown by the soloists, and the Et resurrexit bounced along on a wave of exhilaration. There was more joy and hope in the Et exspecto.

Solemn slow chords which opened the Sanctus to give way quickly to the much sunnier Pleni sunt coeli and some energetic Hosannas. Tenor Ben Johnson's Benedictus, with flute accompaniment, was a joy to listen to and created a sublime aura of peace. After a good account of the Agnus dei by Polly May the choir had the last word, as it were, with a quiet, deeply spiritual Dona nobis pacem.

I am told that tickets for this particular Three Choirs Festival event sold like hot cakes. As a result there was not a spare seat in Tewkesbury's enormous Abbey. Clearly, Bach's Mass, which to a certain extent is a compilation of the religious choruses and arias of which he was proudest, continues to act as a magnet to concertgoers.

But I felt that the turnout also reflected a growing awareness of the reputation for excellence that the Rodolfus Choir has built up over the years. Certainly the choir's magnificent performance at Tewkesbury, supported by some splendid playing from the Corelli Orchestra, can only enhance this well-deserved reputation.

Roger Jones


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