from the Wokingham Times, February 2003
NOTHING illustrates the riches of the classical music repertoire better than the contrast between the requiem settings of Faure and Verdi, the former elegant and poignant, the latter driven by sometimes controlled but often unbridled emotion. After a fine performance in 2002 of Verdi's Requiem in Eton by Wokingham Choral Society under their conductor Ed Gardner (now-enticed away to the Halle), the accompanying Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra was so delighted that it suggested another performance in Guildford Cathedral, with the Guildford Philharmonic Choir joining forces with Wokingham Choral Society to create an ensemble of over 220 voices.
For those who heard the first performance at Eton, the great interest this time was to witness the effect of the redoubled choir singing in a far larger building. Bigger is not necessarily better, especially if volume of sound is offset by loss of clarity and contrast. Here the combined choir achieved a notable success, credit to their separate grooming until the penultimate rehearsal and to Ed Gardner's ability to shape the huge resources at his disposal. The cohesion of choir, orchestra and soloists was truly impressive and the latter were never lost beneath the massed vocal and orchestral sound.
Although the diction, particularly of the choir, was excellent, it would have been helpful to those less familiar with the work if the solo passages had been identified in the otherwise informative programme.There were many moments to savour long after the last notes had died away: the thundering sound of the Dies Irae, made more terrifying in the austere grandeur of the cathedral nave; the miraculously controlled crescendo of the trumpet fanfare; and the lyrical contrast of Benedictus, quivenit. Apart from one brief lapse the soloists were vibrant threads amongst the musical tapestry. The tenor, William Kendal, had obligingly agreed to sing at very short notice. He, Claire Weston, Jean Rigby and Rhys Meiron - in spite of his name a partly Guildford-grown product - all sang with unforced resonance.