Ah, lovely. It’s hard to imagine a more glorious rendition of Fauré’s sublime Requiem than that by Woodstock Music Society. With its emphasis on the calm, restful, tranquil aspects of death, rather than the more traditional focus on wrath and judgement, this is a deeply satisfying requiem, one that reassures rather than frightens, and both singers and orchestra captured the spirit of the piece to perfection. I have heard some impressive performances from this society over the years, but this probably ranks as one of their best.
With conductor Paul Ingram in masterful control, the choir sounded fresh and confident, singing with warmth and commitment, and paying close attention, as always, to diction. The purity of Katherine Walker’s clear, bell-like soprano made Pie Jesu a particular delight, in a performance that was both moving and captivating. Alexander Learmonth, too, impressed in the baritone solos. But it was really the choir that stole the show here; from the opening Requiem aeternam right through to the gorgeous In Paradisum, this was a gem of a performance, underpinned by sensitive support from the orchestra.
The orchestra had its own chance to shine after the interval with Schubert’s Symphony No. 8 (the ‘Unfinished’), the expansive, flowing opening providing an instant contrast to the more intimate feel of the Fauré. The players seemed to be relishing that famous melody in the Allegro, and there were some impressive solo passages from the oboe and clarinet. The warmth of the Andante brought yet another contrast, before moving to that tantalisingly ‘unfinished’ close. Finally, as befits the mood of Jubilee year, there was Mozart’s exhilarating Regina Coeli, delivered in suitably exuberant style by choir and orchestra, and featuring once again some sublime solo work from Katherine Walker. The evening ended with Benjamin Britten’s arrangement of the National Anthem, the hushed delivery of the first verse somehow far more effective than the usual boisterous rendition. Magnificent.