Cardiff University Symphony Orchestra & Chorus, Haydn’s Nelson Mass, Llandaff Cathedral 

March 25, 2019 by
A concert from Cardiff University students at Llandaff Cathedral made for a telling Friday night. The mood in this venue can be electric, with an acoustic that is simply profound. Watching conductor Andrea Quinn has become one of my favourite things. Her energy is hard to resist and her passion lies in every note. The jumps she takes during dramatic musical moments are another delight. This is a razor sharp maestro who is not to be reckoned with.
Beethoven’s 6th Symphony (known as the Pastoral) is a soft and most siren detour from his earthy  and bold prior output. The admiration of nature has been spread into this work, holding up as utterly charming and even quietly moving. Birdsong, babbling brooks and village bands are quaint recollections of the composer’s time in the country. The opening moment is a cyclic stroll, a round of insightful melody and inventiveness. Woodwind gets birdsong highlights of the quail, nightingale and cuckoo variety, as ingenious as it was then as it is now. The terror striking storm moment is a loud interruption from an otherwise quiet symphony, an orchestrated marvel in its own right. Whilst some of blend of instruments did not meld from the students at times, this was still a marvellous embrace of a musical idyll.
A perfect choral piece followed with Haydn’s Nelson Mass, or it’s correct name Missa in Angustiis. This piece is brimming with delicious chorus numbers and some true highlights for soprano soloist, The Symphony Chorus are here highly polished (masterfully brought to fruition by chorus master Timothy Hooper ) and have enough dramatic punch to ring out into the cathedral. Helen May does a supreme job with the soprano role and David Thomas on the renovated pipe organ gets some satisfying additions to the orchestral and choral harmonies heard within.
A silly idea by the composer is to have the three other soloists (mezzo, tenor & bass) reiterate the soprano or chorus’ Latin declarations for only one line and no repeats. This is an odd feature especially when you expect one phrase to be sung again and again for minutes on end. It was an amusing shock of shorts. As the additional soloists, Sian Meinir, Rhodri Prys Jones and Meilir Jones made valiant efforts in their supporting roles, rich in vocal dynamism.
As a work I had yet to hear, it has firmly become a favourite of mine thanks to this sparkling performance.

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