Puccini  Messa di Gloria,  Rossini  Stabat Mater

Saturday 11 May 2019 St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley

With Victoria Sharp (soprano), Helen Evora (mezzo-soprano), Michael Jones (tenor), Paul Gibson (bass), and the National Festival Orchestra (led by Sally Robinson). Yonni Levy (conductor)

As the audience gathered for Saturday night’s all-Italian programme, the usual air of anticipation was tinged by the knowledge that this was to be Yonni Levy’s last concert with the joint Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies. Music by Puccini and Rossini seemed deliberately designed to dispel any melancholy thoughts, even though both pieces embrace deeply religious themes.

Composed by the 21 year-old Puccini, the Messa di Gloria was described in the programme as uncomplicated and unashamedly operatic. However, beware the demand on non-operatic voices! In the opening sections of the mass, some tentative singing from both chorus and tenor soloist was not helped by rather ponderous tempi. By contrast, the speed of the fugue at the end of the Gloria was, unexpectedly, almost too brisk.

The chorus were more assured in the Credo and Paul Gibson, the bass soloist, was excellent in both the Crucifixus and, later, the Benedictus. However, changes of tempi continued to provide moments of uncertainty. Sally Robinson’s leadership of the National Chamber Orchestra provided reliable support and the soloists within the ensemble gave us many moments of added piquancy to the solo voices.

Both orchestra and voices seemed altogether happier in Rossini’s Stabat Mater after the interval. This is a curious work in that at least half of it was composed by another hand and the chorus sings in only a limited number of the sections. However, it is a marvellous vehicle for the soloists (although the famous tenor aria Cuius animam genentem is a daunting prospect for a young tenor).

The duet for the two sopranos, Quis est homo, was a delight as was the quartet Virgo virginum praeclara. Helen Evora showed superb technical and musical skills in her solo section with the orchestra giving the spirited support required. The chorus, at full volume, provided the operatic backdrop to Victoria Sharp in Flammis ne urar succensus.

The final unaccompanied quartet lost much of its intimacy by being shared with the chorus, the soloists standing within their appropriate section. With an energetic choral fugue and final Amen (not in the programme) and tremendous flourish from the orchestra, the programme came to a triumphant end and drew forth a very warm reception from the audience.

Adrian Heely and Anne Lovell (chairmen of the Ilkley and Otley Societies) invited the audience to share their farewell to Yonni Levy. Appointed when only 20 years old, this young man seems to have inspired members of both societies and their good wishes go with him to fresh challenges in Los Angeles.

Tricia Restorick                                                                                           in Ilkley Gazette