The Bells - Reviewed by Dawn Brook | Regional News Connecting Wellington

The Bells

Presented by: Orchestra Wellington

Conducted by: Marc Taddei

Michael Fowler Centre, 3rd Oct 2020

Reviewed by: Dawn Brook

I had thought that I might find the full forces of the Orpheus Choir too heavy for the beauty of Fauré’s Requiem. On the contrary, the hushed singing of the Introit et Kyrie, the beautiful unaccompanied passage for altos and tenors at the opening of the Offertoire, and the floating quality of the soprano sound for the final In Paradisum were highlights of this performance. It was ironic then that at other times, the choir seemed to force their voices to find the volume being asked of them. Perhaps it was the stage configuration; the choir was a long way back from and above the orchestra during the Requiem.

The space was filled for the second work of the concert, Rachmaninoff’s The Bells, by a much-enlarged orchestra, adding powerful percussion and brass and additional woodwind for this impressive work. The Bells is truly a choral symphony, rather than a choral work with orchestral accompaniment, and the often-huge vocal sound achieved became an integral part of the whole.

While the titles of the two opening movements, Silver Sleigh Bells and Mellow Wedding Bells, suggest fun and celebration, the work in fact has an underlying mood of foreboding. Sleigh Bells starts lightly but even this movement provides a full gamut of volume, flavour, and emotion. Wedding bells is solemn, soulful, and sacrificial rather than celebratory. The mood is then downhill into the darker, world-weary but urgent soundscapes of Alarm Bells and Mournful Iron Bells until at the very end there emerges a rising, hopeful spirit leading to a full and mellow final chord.

A word on the soloists. The voice of Margaret Medlyn (soprano) is sadly unsuited to the sweetness and clarity required in Fauré’s Pie Jesu movement. However she, Wade Kernot (baritone), and Jared Holt (tenor) made expressive and beautiful contributions to The Bells.

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