Furness Bach Choir, St James's Church, Barrow

FURNESS Bach Choir performed Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle, writes ALAN BOLT. Composed in 1863, it is certainly not small, nor very solemn! It is written for choir, four soloists, two pianos and harmonium - an unusual accompaniment. As its first performance included only 12 singers, one of the problems is to keep the balance when larger numbers are involved, and conductor Marco Bellasi achieved this well. Of the four professional soloists, tenor Dominic Stewart was outstanding, and the soprano Sarah Ashton, mezzo-soprano Lara Harvey and bass David Cane all gave fine performances. The leading piano part was played by the renowned Anthony Hewitt, and the second piano by a very successful young Bulgarian pianist, Pascal Pascaleff. The harmonium was a novel instrument for organist Colin Dean, but as usual his performance was first class.

Furness Bach Choir was on top form, and gave an excellent performance of the very demanding music. The Kyrie, which starts the mass, is a short piece with dramatic dynamic contrasts, followed by an unaccompanied Christe. The Kyrie is then repeated. The Gloria starts with an emphatic choral setting of the opening words, but is then followed by a series of duets and solos. The choir then sings the long and difficult fugue which ends the movement. To me, this was the highlight of the concert and the choir sang this difficult contrapuntal music with great confidence and clarity. The second half of the concert began with the Credo, sung by both soloists and choir, followed by a prelude in a surprisingly modern style played by Anthony Hewitt, who gave a very expressive performance. After a short setting of the Sanctus and Benedictus, shared by soloists and choir, soprano Sarah Ashton sang the O Salutaris Hostia, where her lovely voice made the most of this beautiful aria. Lara Harvey then sang the moving Agnus Dei with a hushed accompaniment from the choir in the Dona nobis pacem, which ends the work.

This was music in a style the choir has not performed before, and both choir and conductor must be congratulated on doing it so successfully in front of an appreciative audience. There was a good attendance, but this excellent concert deserved even greater support from the public. Marco Bellasi is to be congratulated on his direction, and we look forward to the choir's next concert, Haydn's Creation, on Saturday, June 30.