Hertford Choral Society featured strongly in a well-balanced programme of music by Haydn ably supported by the Chameleon Arts Orchestra. The concert got off to a good start with Insanae et vanae curae with a rich orchestral sound, effective dimuendi from the chorus and a good legato in the major sections.

Paul Mayes joined the orchestra to perform the evergreen Trumpet Concerto.  The opening showed off his clear bell like tones and the movement concluded with an imaginative cadenza.  The second movement was rather ‘matter of fact’, needing a much more legato line to match the beautiful phrasing of the strings and more care in pointing up Haydn’s ingenious visits to some startlingly remote keys (all designed to ‘show off’ the then new-fangled valve trumpet).  The final movement romped along to a rousing conclusion.  This deserved, and got, an enthusiastic reception.

The opening half ended with the Te Deum in C.  After a bright opening, there was much good detail and an effective balance between the chorus parts.  The demanding chromatics and obscure leaps were all well managed – bringing out Haydn’s sly joke in making the music for ‘confounded’ as awkward as possible with strange leaps and ever shifting harmonies.  The final fugue was well executed with careful, clean runs in all parts.

The second half was given over to the so called ‘Nelson’ Mass.  Derek Harrison reminded us all that as originally performed there would have been gaps, readings, probably a sermon and much else that separated the movements and so it was never Haydn’s expectation that they would be sung ‘straight through’. So for this performance there would be some extended moments of silence. It was helpful to have time to savour what had just been heard – though I felt the gaps were rather too long – in the mass one’s attention would be on whatever else was occurring. Nonetheless a good experiment and one I shall adopt on appropriate occasions.

The arresting opening of the Kyrie lead into some florid writing for the solo Soprano.  Fiona Hammacott made light of this and throughout her taxing solos showed great finesse and not a little stamina.  Whether it was this or familiarity is hard to say, but certainly the chorus sopranos rose to the challenge with added vigour.

The Gloria was our first opportunity to hear the solo quartet, all local singers and they made a well-balanced sound.  Julian Godlee made the most of his one big solo in the central section, punctuated by effective murmurings from the chorus. The final fugue was taken at quite a lick and brought the movement to a strong conclusion. The Credo was equally effective and Haydn’s cheeky use of rising phrases for descendit nicely brought out. The chorus seemed a little hesitant at first but rapidly grew in confidence giving the movement a very strong end. The orchestra had a chance to shine in the extensive opening of the Benedictus with a good internal balance and a short sharp Osanna from the chorus rounded it off well.

After confident and calm treatment of the first two sections of the Agnus Dei the really got their teeth into the final section – relishing the sudden pp’s whilst effectively conveying Haydn’s serene confidence in his maker.

As usual, Derek Harrison’s planning and direction were exemplary, showcasing just how skilled and varied a composer Haydn was.

Martin G Penny