Chichester Chorale will celebrate its tenth anniversary with a performance of Handel’s Messiah in Arundel Cathedral on Saturday, May 3 at 7.30pm.
They will be joined by the University of Chichester Chamber Choir and Festival Orchestra for one of the great challenges of the choral repertoire.
“It’s the longevity of the piece,” says Chichester Chorale co-founder Arthur Robson, who is also director of choral studies at the University of Chichester. “You can’t go anywhere in this country without hearing a performance of Handel’s Messiah. It can be at Christmas. It can be at Easter. Or it can be at any time of the year. Messiah tells the story of the Christian religion right from the birth, his life, his crucifixion and the hope of the Resurrection.
“Handel had the most amazing ability to write for singers in the most extraordinarily-complex way and yet the lines are straightforward for each section. Put them together, and they have a very complex texture, which is very challenging but also very attractive to listen to.
“We are not going to be doing all the Messiah. There are going to be some judicious cuts, some of the sections that are not so well-known. Don’t expect to sit there for three hours, the normal length. It will be about two hours 15 minutes with interval.”
Arthur recalls: “I started the choir because I thought there was a need for another choir in Chichester, particularly one that rehearsed quality music.”
His university connections were important from the start: “We had our first concert at Yapton. We did a Haydn mass, I seem to remember, and I approached the then assistant organist at Chichester Cathedral, Mark Wardell, as co-director. He was with us until about five years ago.
“We invite any students from the university to take part if they want to join in, but ostensibly it is a community choir, though for this concert, we are putting them together with the university choir.”
There are around 40 in the Chorale: “It’s a balance. You always have to think about the balance of the parts. You might think it would be difficult to get men, but it isn’t. We do have a preponderance of women, though. I would guess it is about 15 sopranos, maybe ten altos, and the rest men, tenors and basses.”
Arthur is delighted with the way the Chorale has developed over the years: “They have progressed from year to year, and we are now able to do quite challenging repertoire. In the beginning, we did fairly small chamber singing, some a capella pieces, maybe a little Haydn short mass with organ, but now we can tackle the bigger works. It’s a question of confidence and ability, but also the need to stretch the singers. I think it has been a smooth transition from the simple to the more complex.”
The tenth anniversary concert will be in Arundel Cathedral, the base for the Chorale for the past few years. Previously it had been in Chichester Cathedral where it does still occasionally perform.
Arthur recognises that Arundel Cathedral brings its own particular challenges in terms of its acoustic, which he describes as very vibrant – and therefore ‘mushy’ if you are sitting too far back.
“Normally it favours slow-moving polyphonic music. Orchestral music, for instance the Handel, is going to be challenging for the acoustic. It will affect tempi, but you can adjust, and we will adjust.”