REVIEW: Billingshurst Choral Society, Brighton Festival Fringe

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The Brighton Festival Fringe annually prides itself on varied, unusual and sometimes controversial events. Last Saturday was no exception – a UK Premiere of a musical masterpiece that graphically describes the horrors perpetrated by the Nazis during WW2.

Billingshurst Choral Society, with their visionary musical director George Jones, chose the beautiful All Saints Church, Hove, as the venue for this powerful and emotional work, in the presence of its Norwegian composer Ståle Kleiberg. Along with the three superb soloists who had appeared on the original CD in the USA, they also welcomed the excellent Sinfonia of Arun (leader: Robin Morrish) with whom they regularly perform nearer home.

The evening of contemporary music began with another little-known work – the stark “Berliner Messe” (Berlin Mass) by the gifted Estonian composer Arvo Pärt, and ended with the uplifting and sonorous “Lux Aeterna” (Eternal Light) by the better-known American composer Morten Lauridsen.

The central work was undoubtedly Kleiberg’s “Requiem for the Victims of Nazi Persecution”, and earned us all an extended interval during which, over a reviving glass of wine, we were invited to informally discuss, appraise and inwardly digest all we had witnessed. Much of it was harrowing in the extreme, with poignant verses by Scottish poet Edwin Morgan describing the heart-rending experiences of the “Yellow Triangle” (the Jews), the “Brown Triangle” (the Gypsies) and the “Pink Triangle” (the Homosexuals) – all derided, tortured and dehumanised by the abhorrent ruling Nazi regime. Morgan’s poems were tellingly sung in turn by Hungarian soprano Noémi Kiss, British mezzo Catherine King and German baritone Christian Hilz. They also sang a wonderful trio using the timeless words of Psalm 13

Interspersed with all these were the more familiar choral texts in Latin and Greek, in turn dramatic - “Dies Irae”, pleading -“Kyrie Eleison” and “Libera Me,” and prayerful - “Requiem Aeternam”, “Agnus Dei” and “In Paradisum”

Both choir and orchestra acquitted themselves quite superbly, considering the difficulties and daring nature of their programme, and all credit is due to each and every performer who so profoundly moved us on this memorable occasion.

Marilyn Dennis