After an absence of two years, Marlborough College Choral Society returned in spectacular fashion on Sunday 20th March in a performance of two works of huge contrast and style – both equally persuasive and engaging.
With funds generously provided by the Arts Fund of Marlborough College Foundation, the MCCS and its innovative and talented conductor Adam Meehan-Staines, commissioned the eminent composer Paul Mealor to write a work which received its world premiere at the beginning of this concert. With text by renowned librettist Grahame Davies, ‘In This Place’ is a powerful and a highly focused work which is designed to reflect some of the words and images associated with Marlborough College and the locality. There are three movements: ‘Deus dat Incrementum’ (‘God gives the increase’ being the College’s motto), ‘The Wisdom of the Land’ links the town’s motto ‘Where now are the bones of wise Merlin?’ to the legend that Merlin is buried in the 62ft high prehistoric mound located in the grounds of the College, and finally ‘The Sky above the Downs’ which draws on the distinctive landscape of Wiltshire with references to the antiquity of the College site and the College’s Christian heritage and culture.
In a performance of tremendous conviction and drama the MCCS rose splendidly to the challenge, delivering some deft dynamic variance and some crisps top A’s in the opening movement. The second movement was sublime with Adam Meehan-Staines coaxing some subtle phrasing from the choir, leaving the rhythmic heartbeat to underpin the finale to great effect.
Dvořák’s Stabat Mater then followed which proved a clever and effective choice of programme. I’m ashamed to say that this is not a work with which I am familiar but one was immediately struck by the depths of feeling this work portrays, perhaps not surprising given the circumstances of tragedy which engulfed Dvořák at the time of composition. Here the impressive orchestra (expertly led by Sara Stagg) and the Choral Society were joined by four outstanding soloists: Claire Rutter, soprano, Rebecca Afonwy-Jones, mezzo, Elgan Llŷr Thomas, tenor and David Shipley, bass, who produced some exquisite lyricism, so necessary in capturing Dvořák’s alluring, highly romantic style. The programme notes suggest the listener is allowed to wander through an aural catharsis of darkness and light; painful sorrow to reconciliation and peace.