Bringing Rossini to Eastbourne

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Arriving early for the concert at All Saints Church on November 7 (in the hope of avoiding Eastbourne’s parking difficulties) I had time to study the printed programme.

Four illustrated pages contained a superb account by choir member Ian Fry of Rossini’s life.

This placed the night’s single work in the context of the composer’s brilliant career. In addition I was able to read biographies of the four soloists: an impressive line-up indeed. Noa Lachman has recently established herself as one of the best lyric sopranos hereabouts; Rebecca Anstey is a mezzo with the tone and range to sing as a contralto when required; tenor Stephen Rooke is equally at home in opera as in oratorio (an essential in the Petite Messe Solennelle, the night’s undertaking); and Riccardo Simonetti is a widely experienced baritone.

Rossini’s Messe is by no means Petite. This remarkable setting of the Latin Mass was his last major work, and all his vast operatic experience is therein. It was an inspiration on the part of conductor Jozik Kotz to give us a performance with the composer’s original accompaniment of piano and harmonium, though of course the latter was electronically activated. Colin Hughes (who can turn his hand to organ, piano and violin with equal facility) and John Ross (distinguished organist joining the Hailsham forces for the first time) were the two keyboard rocks on which Jozik built his superb musical edifice.

Throughout, the Hailsham Choral Society was beyond any criticism. The quiet passages never lost balance, the tone was round and smooth, and the climaxes (as in the great Amen which ends the Resurrexit) were spine-tingling. Some of the solo items deserve special mention too: the thrilling power of Stephen Rooke’s Domine Deus; the ethereal beauty of Noa Lachman’s O salutaris; the manner in which harmonium merged into the wonderfully-played piano’s Preludio Religioso; the combination of power with spirituality in Rebecca Anstey’s closing Agnus Dei.

The Hailsham Choral Society is back in Eastbourne with Mozart and Haydn on March 19 next year. Unmissable! Review by Robin Gregory.