Conductor bows out in affecting style
Claire Sinclair reviews Dvorák’s Stabat Mater, performed at St Mary’s Church, Amersham on May 9
AFTER 34 years guiding Amersham & Chesham Bois Choral Society (Amchor) through a diverse repertoire ranging from Monteverdi to Tippett, Ian Hooker took up his baton for a final time last Saturday to conduct a performance of Antonín Dvorák’s Stabat Mater.
The occasion was understandably a devotional one, due both to the nature of the piece and to its being Ian’s farewell. Audience and performers alike were left at the end with a sense of the communal enjoyment which only a fully realised performance like this can achieve.
The words of the thirteenthcentury hymn, Stabat Mater, invite one to put oneself in the position of Mary at the foot of the cross as her son dies. Tradition maintains that the impetus for Dvorák was the loss of three of his children. The work’s first performance in
England was in 1883, endearing Dvorák to British audiences and going on to become a staple of choral societies. A very suitable choice, therefore, on which to bow out.
Amchor was joined on Saturday by four splendid young soloists from the Royal Academy of Music – Emily Garland (soprano), Anna Harvey (mezzo). Richard Dowling (tenor) and Bozidar Smiljanic (bass). T The accompanying St Cecilia O Orchestra, composed largely of R RAM students, gave an amazing p performance, having seen the score f for the first time only that afternoon!
It’s not easy in St Mary’s to ensure t that all three elements of such a w work (orchestra, soloists and choir) a are heard to equal effect. But Ian’s e expertise ensured that the choir, a allowed to sing out in full voice w when appropriate, held back when the soloists or the orchestra needed to be heard. Tempi in the Stabat Mater don’t vary a great deal so to maintain tension and impact, it’s vital to get the dynamics right. Here again Ian showed his mastery. The climaxes came and went; the orchestra swelled or died away to reveal the soloists; and at all times the text was allowed to be heard and felt.
The work blends the loud and majestic with the intimate. The soloists were deeply affecting in their quieter, more contemplative arias, while choir and full orchestra in their movements expressed the universal significance of the events witnessed at the foot of the cross.
After heartfelt applause, Amchor’s chairman, Sarah Vize, paid tribute to Ian and to his precious legacy. Ian, in turn, paid tribute to the choir, to the audience and to the soloists and the orchestra, and to all those who worked behind the scenes.
Despite the sadness at Ian’s departure, Amchor’s future is in the best of hands – those of Mark Austin, Cambridge graduate, accomplished chamber musician and director of the Faust Ensemble. From September he’ll be preparing Amchor for December’s performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. New recruits are always welcome, contact the society on 01494 785822.
Ian Hooker has conducted his last performance for Amersham & Chesham Bois Choral Society