Con­duc­tor bows out in af­fect­ing style

Claire Sin­clair re­views Dvorák’s Sta­bat Mater, per­formed at St Mary’s Church, Amer­sham on May 9

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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

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