Concert in Erl, Austria on Sunday 17th September 2017

Corsley Festival Choir travelled to Austria recently to perform in a concert, together with two choirs from Austria, a choir from Bavaria Germany, and a local orchestra.  The performance was Mozart Requiem.

The invitation came from Kufsteiner Singkreis, a choir in Kufstein, Austria.  Their choir leader is Drummond Walker a renowned former opera tenor who now lives in Erl which is on the border between Bavaria and the Austrian Tyrol region.  Drummond’s brother, Legh Walker is a member of Corsley Festival Choir.  Hence the link.

Some 23 singers from Corsley Festival Choir and the Athenaeum Singers Warminster took part in the concert and were hosted by their Austrian choir colleagues.  The choir members were touched by the friendliness and generosity of their Austrian hosts, and the Bavarians who joined in the concert.

A report in the local Tyrol newspaper said that Mozart can overcome Brexit and bring everyone together!

The 160 strong choir was supplemented by four professional soloists and the conductor was Drummond Walker.  The choir went through a day and a half of intense rehearsal which brought the four choirs together in a single powerful and harmonious voice.  The concert took place in Erl’s Passionsspielhaus (Passion Play Theatre) which was filled to capacity with an audience of 1,500.  There was also a waiting list for tickets on the night. 

Guest reviewer Peter Schroeder said “From the opening “Introitus Requiem aeternam done eis…” and an almost spine chilling rendering of the “Kyrie eleison” the choir sang with a great emotion and homogeneity. That the singers knew the work well and could concentrate on their conductor shone through, though the Sopranos didn’t respond totally to his call for some diminuendo in the otherwise superbly sung “Lacrimosa”!

The “Sanctus” and the “Agnus dei” again demonstrated the choir’s passion and commitment.

The four Soloists played their part admirably with all four voices coming together well in the “Tuba mirum”. Occasionally the Soprano and mezzo soprano could not be clearly heard against the choir and orchestra in what was a very large concert hall.

The orchestra, made up of a strings section associated with the German choir and brass and woodwind players from around the area, played their part well, but the evening belonged, above all, to the four choirs and their very gifted conductor Drummond Walker.

                                                                      

                                                                                Video of the concert

Personal view from Chris Lewis

WORSHIP AND CHORAL SINGING IN AUSTRIA

Singers from Frome and Corsley recently spent a few days joining with German and Austrian choirs singing in the small Tyrolean village of Erl. The highlight of the visit was a performance of Mozart’s Requiem with 160 singers and 40 instrumentalists before an audience of 1500 people.

Most of the Corsley Choir attended Sunday mass at the village church. Erl has 1400 inhabitants and shares its parish priest with the next village.  St Andrew’s church was rebuilt at the end of the 19th century after a massive fire, and nestles under the Kranzhorn mountain in the valley of the River Inn. It is about a quarter the size of St John’s and has plain windows on the South and North sides: its East end is extremely ornate. Paintings of religious scenes jostle with statues of saints and biblical events, mostly heavily gilded in gold leaf. The West End has a double gallery, with the choir sitting in the lower and the organ in the upper. The church yard is immaculately kept, with all graves superbly maintained and planted with enormous geraniums and similar flowers. The church clock strikes the quarters and hours and can be heard for miles.

The Sunday we were there was a Tyrolean national day and all wore their national dress (Lederhosen for men and embroidered dresses for the ladies). After the altar party entered (a giant of a priest with 6 young acolytes) six teenage couples started the service with a stately Sarabande type dance in the aisles, accompanied by a teenager playing a button accordion. Once the mass had finished they came back to dance a Laendler -  a precursor of the waltz – to loud applause.

The mass itself, in German, was exactly parallel to the St John’s Frome Communion, but a choir of 20 and a congregation of 120 filled the church and made much more noise than in St John’s. The priest did what an Engish vicar does: everything else (readings, prayers, assisting distribute the bread) was the work of a lay lady, one of the school teachers in the village. Singing was mainly by the choir and filled the church. The service was rushed through, so the priest could get away to the next village. Coffee and cakes were served in the church hall. The priest, who, is, of course, single, has a flat above the church hall.

 

St Andrews, Erl with the Kranzhorn                      

The main purpose of the visit was to combine with three other local choirs to practice and perform Mozart’s Requiem in the Passion Play House, a large 1500-seater building whose main purpose is to stage the 6 –yearly Passion Play. This celebrated its 400th anniversary a few years ago and is much older than the better known Ober Ammergau passion play. All the choirs knew the work beforehand but 10-12 hours of rehearsing was needed to iron out the differences in performance, including Latin pronunciation, and weld us together. The choirs were completely mingled together so that no two people from the same choir sat next to one another.

An orchestra from Rosenheim in Bavaria arrived on the Saturday, together with an international cast of soloists. A couple more rehearsals saw us able to perform to 1500 people on Sunday evening: 300+ more people had applied for tickets after they were sold out.

The performance went extremely well: no entries were missed, which is rare in the performance of the Mozart. The audience was very appreciative and called the conductor and soloists back time and time again. The write up in the local papers confirmed the success, particularly in the Kyrie and the Lacrymosa. This was particularly appropriate because history has it that Mozart died as he was writing the Lacrymosa, leaving sketches of the remainder behind for his students to finish. We sang the Sussmeyer version, which is the most commonly performed.

The choir was left drained but elated and confirmed that different groups can work together if there is the will to do so. Although each choir has its own character and its own priorities on this occasion we all combined towards a common aim:

We were all left with amazement that this came out of a village little larger than Beckington. The ability of a small village community to put on the passion play from within its own community for a period of over 400 years, together with sell-out performances of Mozart, Wagner and Beethoven is something that can only be imagined in England.

(This is part of an occasional series which deals, inter alia, with worship in different communities)

Was it a perfect performance? Not quite. Was it totally memorable? Absolutely!”

The participant from Corsley Festival Choir and the Athenaeum Singers were hugely impressed by the amazing talents of Drummond Walker in coaching the four choirs in two languages, and to his instruction in singing techniques and how to bring real passion and feeling into the performance.

Passion Play Theatre

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