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Review Leeds Festival Chorus & Northern Sinfonia

Tom Goodhand watches a magnificent performance of two works by Mozart at Leeds Town Hall

Review: Leeds Festival Chorus & Northern Sinfonia

For most people of my generation, classical music just isn’t something we do. It’s what your parents, and maybe your gran, listen to. However, the preconceptions that surround the music do nothing to reflect the sheer variety of styles lumped under the ‘classical’ banner, or the magnificence of actually sitting back and watching quality ensembles perform some of the greatest works of music ever written.

We visited the wonderfully ornate Leeds Town Hall to see Leeds Festival Chorus and the Northern Sinfonia perform two works by Mozart – Symphony No 40 and Great Mass in C minor. The audience lives up to all stereotypes by being aged and predominately rather well-to-do. It makes you wonder who will come to such concerts in 30 years’ time.

That most people born in the 80s wouldn’t consider coming to such a concert isn’t surprising, but you can’t help but feel that if they gave something like this a go, they’d be likely to come back for more.

The first piece – the Symphony No 40 – was written by Mozart in an incredibly productive two-week period in 1788, and has an instantly recognisable first movement which classical novices would instantly be able to hum along to. Not that you do that kind of thing at a concert, you understand.

Rather, you sit in a revered silence, taking in the majesty of a composition that still sounds so vibrant and exciting, despite the familiarity. The performance itself by The Sage, Gateshead’s resident orchestra the Northern Sinfonia and conducted by Leeds’ very own Simon Wright is, to this untrained ear, perfect. Precise, but not at all without feeling.

The real treat here though – and what attracted me to the concert in the first place – is the performance of the Great Mass in C minor by the Sinfonia and Leeds’ huge Festival Chorus. Leeds Festival Chorus boasts some 170 singing members and has been proclaimed “one of Britain’s finest”.

They perform the mass with four soloists Elizabeth Watts (soprano), Sophie Bevan (soprano), Nicholas Mulroy (tenor) and Neil Baker (bass-baritone). The soloists are all excellent, especially Watts, who has been called “one of the most beautiful voices Britain has produced in a generation” by International Record Review, but the real treat here is hearing the 170 amassed voices of the Festival Chorus harmonising in union over the backdrop from the Northern Sinfonia.

The piece itself is an interesting one. Apparently not written under commission, but as a celebration of his marriage, its complexity (and length, at just under 60 minutes) made it impractical at the time, largely because the soprano parts were so taxing. Moreover, the third movement (the ‘Credo’) was never finished, meaning it is now performed in an edited form.

The rousing ‘Gloria in excelsis Deo’ from the second movement (‘Gloria’) is where the music hits its most elegiac, and celebratory note – interplaying the voices over stirring stings.

If you don’t walk away from the Town Hall at the end of a night like that feeling moved, then there’s probably no hope for you, but the sheer scale and celebratory nature of the Great Mass is enough to win over even the most dubious attendee.

The concert was held on 29th January at Leeds Town Hall and organised by Leeds Festival Chorus: www.leedsfestivalchorus.co.uk

Leeds Festival Chorus’ next performance is on 9th April at Leeds Town Hall as part of Leeds International Concert Season, click here for more info



Posted on Monday 31st January 2011

Leeds Town Hall

The Headrow, Leeds, LS1 3AD

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