Prom 16, Royal Albert Hall - review: Vaughan Williams's Sancta civitas gets a brilliant revival

Tritschler/Paterson/Trinity Choir/Halle orchestra and choirs/ Elder

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The Independent Culture

Vaughan Williams was fonder of his Sancta civitas than of any of his other choral works, perhaps – as Malcolm Hayes suggests in a felicitous programme-note – because of its problematic unveiling, and the rarity of its performances.

The premiere coincided with – and was occluded by - the 1926 General Strike, and the line-up it requires is huge: a big main chorus with a semi-chorus seated behind it, a distant boys’ choir, a large orchestra including an organ, and tenor and baritone soloists – all for thirty minutes of music.

But these forces were all there at the Royal Albert Hall: I’ve never seen so many singers massed above the stage. And from the moment these singers plus the Halle orchestra under its conductor Mark Elder came gently in, we were transported to the mystical realm evoked in a Biblical text telling of the advent of a holy city where neither sun nor moon were required for light, because all the light came from God.

With Ian Paterson as the baritone, this performance was punctuated by majestically dramatic surprises, as the focus moved between vast blocks of sound coming from all sides of the auditorium including the gallery; in the shortest solo part ever written, tenor Robin Tritschler had precisely thirty seconds in which to display the beauty of his voice, but he rose magnificently to the challenge. 

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