Not long ago I reviewed
a concert performance by these same forces of the Mozart Vespers.
That event marked the launch of this new Delphian CD.
Surely a major factor in choosing the repertoire for this disc
was the opportunity thereby presented to showcase the talent
of the Tewkesbury choir’s leading treble, Laurence Kilsby.
And why not? This is an exceptional voice but one that, in the
nature of things, we won’t be able to enjoy - except through
recordings - for much longer as his voice is bound to break
before long. Only recently I reviewed
another disc by the trebles of this choir and I remarked then
not only on Laurence Kilsby’s rich, round tone but also
on his musical maturity, uncommon, I would suggest, in one so
young. He offers genuine interpretations of the music he sings
and, moreover, there’s spontaneity in these interpretations.
He’s on similarly impressive form here, more than holding
his own in the company of three good and experienced adult professional
soloists. He has a ‘plum’ in each of the two major
works. In the Mass setting he delivers the celebrated soprano
solo in the Agnus Dei with distinction and with disarming freshness.
Then in the Vespers he has the wonderful ‘Laudate Dominum’
movement - by some distance the musical highlight of the work.
His singing of this gorgeous solo is every bit as impressive
as it was in concert just a few weeks ago: he sings it characterfully
and with great poise. His technique is very impressive, especially
his breath control. Rightly, Benjamin Nicholas makes no concessions
in the matter of tempo, letting the music flow at a nice, easy
and expansive pace and Laurence has no problems with this. Here
we have a genuine artist, showing a feeling for music that belies
his years. I hope his interest in music will survive the breaking
of his voice and that he’ll develop a comparably fine
adult voice in due course.
The performance of the ‘Coronation’ Mass is characterised
by energy and enthusiasm, which is appropriate for the music
itself. Mozart doesn’t really attempt to plumb the depths
in this work and many of the tempo indications are quick ones.
Benjamin Nicholas adopts some lively speeds although he recognises
the need for a bit more gravitas at such passages as ‘Et
incarnatus est’ in the Credo. He doesn’t hang about
in the Benedictus and my first impression was that the music
sounded too hasty. However, a look at the score reminded me
that the tempo indication is Allegretto and Nicholas’s
tempo is not inconsistent with that. His solo quartet acquits
itself well in this movement and elsewhere
The Vespers isn’t a particularly profound work either,
though it’s an enjoyable one. Michael Nicholas, who contributes
an extensive and very helpful booklet note, observes justly
that Mozart doesn’t really probe the meaning of the texts
in this work. In general the Tewkesbury choir’s account
of the Vespers is confident and outgoing, though they do show
good refinement in the ‘Laudate Dominum’ and elsewhere
in the relatively few moments where Mozart pauses for reflection.
Once again Benjamin Nicholas adopts tempi that are, for the
most part, vigorous and he makes sure there’s good rhythmic
vitality in the singing. Sometimes, perhaps, the music sounds
a little unrelenting at these lively tempi but, frankly, that’s
the fault of the composer, I think, and one certainly wouldn’t
want stodgy speeds.
The accompaniment is provided by the Oxford-based period group,
Charivari Agréable, whose unusual name is translated
on their website as ‘pleasant tumult’. Apparently,
it’s a term taken from a 1707 French treatise on accompaniment.
At the concert performance of the Vespers I noted a certain
thin quality to the string sound. Happily, that’s not
the case here; perhaps they were in a less benign acoustic at
the Cheltenham concert. I do feel, however, that their timpanist
is consistently too prominent. That reservation apart, the playing
Unusually for Delphian, I have a reservation about the recorded
sound. It’s as clear as one always experiences from this
source. However, the recording is a bit up-front. One misses
the sense of space and resonance around the performers such
as one habitually gets from recordings of The Tallis Scholars
in this same venue. But, of course, The Tallis Scholars is a
much smaller ensemble. On this recording the choir numbers thirty-two
and there are eighteen players in the band. I suspect that forces
of this size rather strain the acoustics of Merton College Chapel
to the limit. Perhaps a slightly larger venue might have produced
more flattering results.
However, despite that reservation there’s a good deal
to enjoy here. I don’t think this recording would be a
library choice for either work but I don’t think anyone
acquiring it will be seriously disappointed and the disc does
offer the chance to hear the remarkable voice of Laurence Kilsby
caught on the wing.