Our performance of The Messiah complete in Chichester last July was considered “in a class of its own” by David Green The Year in Review – 2023 and our last two concerts in 2023 drew delighted audiences. Confidence and enthusiasm are therefore high as we rehearse for our Spring and Summer concerts. Although the choir has previously sung ”The Passing of the Year’, Jonathan Dove’s Britten-esque song cycle for double chorus and piano, our director has wisely included it in our current rehearsal schedule even though we’re not performing it until July. Its intricacies need to be well-mastered in advance so as to allow time for the other summer concert pieces. More on that in the next post.

Our programme for March 16th at the United Reformed Church in Fareham begins with Emanuele d’Astorga’s ‘Stabat Mater’, hugely popular in the 19th century, almost unheard in the last. It may have been written during a brief visit to London ca. 1720, though there’s equally a case for Rome in 1707. He was godfather to Antonio Caldara’s daughter and the first half continues with Caldara’s ‘Miserere Mei, Domine’ and ‘Crucifixus’, a 16-voice masterpiece.

Fauré’s ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ begins the second half: it won first prize during his final year at the École de Niedermeyer, which was instrumental in reviving church music in France. We end with the ‘Requiem’ in a version close to Fauré’s original intentions, accompanied by string quartet, two horns and organ. Although not performed in the UK until 1936, it has deservedly become as popular in our time as the D’Astorga once was. In the centenary of Fauré’s death, it continues to shine a gentle light into the shadows framing our existence.

As we rehearse those main works, the Fauré Requiem and the d’Astorga Stabat Mater, we might consider what characterises popular appeal; what makes the Stabat Mater such a favourite in one century then get neglected for over 100 years? Was it d’Astorga’s Byron-esque life story that drew the crowds or the emotional directness of the choral writing? Was it the young Bob Chilcott’s solo on the 1968 recording of the Requiem with King’s College that sealed its popularity in the UK? Does the frequent request to have the ‘In Paradisum’ movement played at funerals boost the ticket sales at concerts? Fauré’s sound world can be elusive, certainly non-Germanic. Where did that come from? A clue, I think, can be heard in his teacher Louis Niedermeyer’s setting of Lamartine’s ‘Le Lac’ (1820), a very different vocal proposition to Schubert’s.