Glorious Stabat Mater at Eye

Stabat Mater, Dvo?ák, Eye Bach Choir and Orchestra at Eye parish Church, Saturday 8 March

Stabat Mater, Dvo?ák, Eye Bach Choir and Orchestra at Eye parish Church, March 8

Dvo?ák's “Stabat Mater” is a glorious work. Written in 1877 following the sad deaths of three of the composer's nine children, it is a moving meditation on the Virgin Mary's grief at the foot of the Cross, and the Eye Bach Choir under conductor Leslie Olive gave an emotional account in Eye's magnificent parish church.

It is not a perfect work - the solo Inflammatus is an awkward piece and probably not a cherished part of the contralto repertoire, while the contrapuntal “Amen” section in the last movement, however well sung, seemed incongruously cheerful. Tui nati vulnerati was also beautifully sung but has an oddly pastoral lilt for a movement about “punishment”.

It was a night of difficult openings. The first movement with its horns and strings in unison was hard to tune, but quickly settled, the first entry of the Choir's talented tenor section was very beautiful indeed, and Fac ut ardeat gave us singing of rare quality from the whole ensemble - not many amateur choirs can teach their orchestras a thing or two about intonation. Tui nati vulnerati was also sensitively phrased.

The Eye Bach Choir are undoubtedly impressive, with a well-rounded, homogenous sound. Balanced, precise and highly attentive, they sing with great restraint and make it all seem very easy. If one must criticise, the sopranos' exposed entries in Virgo Virginum were not entirely convincing. Sometimes a choir needs to be given its head.

Leslie Olive's precise conducting led the orchestra calmly through complex modulations and subtle rhythms, though his unfussy style was not quite equal to the drama of in planctu desidero. While the intonation in horns and strings was not always perfect, the orchestra gave a vivid account aided by David Morbey's restrained and well-judged timpani playing. With a full symphonic wind and brass section, only two cellos and one double-bass gave insufficient weight at the bottom of the harmony - but if you had more, in this fine parish church wherever would you put them?

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The Choir were well served by their soloists, Jay Britton, Catherine Denley, Benjamin Segal and Stephen Varcoe whose ensemble was impeccable. Catherine Denley's rich alto vibrato obscured tonality a little, and she seemed uneasy with the tempo of Inflammatus, but baritone Stephen Varcoe coped with the astonishingly wide range demanded by Dvo?ák and wrung every tear from ut sibi complaceam. Benjamin Segal's clear tenor was outstanding.

This was a great and very moving performance by any standard. That a small country town like Eye should be home to music of this quality is unusual and surprising, and although their audiences are always large and appreciative, such is the ability of the Eye Bach Choir that one wonders how they might seek a wider exposure - they certainly deserve it.

A.E. Hayward

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