Up Close and Personal

14 June 2018 Philip Andrews, Sheffield Telegraph

Sheffield Philharmonic Chorus, Sheffield City Hall

We usually hear the Phil alongside an orchestra in the wide open spaces of the Oval Hall, but they have recently begun performing in the more intimate surroundings of the City Hall ballroom with minimal instrumental accompaniment, and it works very well.

This rousing performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonnelle was their most enjoyable for a long time, for both performers and audience.

The setting of the Latin Mass comes as a pleasant surprise for those who have not heard it before. It is neither small nor solemn, but instead an almost jaunty extension of the opera composer’s day job – dramatic, joyful, strident and tuneful.

And the relatively small ballroom, deep in the bowels of the City Hall, brought the audience up close and personal with the choir, their outstanding quartet of soloists, and the accompanists Nigel Gyte (piano) and acclaimed organist Jonathan Scott, on this occasion playing the harmonium.

As ever, the chorus was admirably clear, sharp, balanced and dynamically controlled under conductor Darius Battiwalla, and the soloists – three of them near the start of their careers – were impressive individually and as a quartet. Charlotte La Thrope (soprano), Richard Rowe (tenor) and Charles Murray (bass) made confident and focused contributions, and the more experienced contralto Margaret McDonald brought the evening to a moving and heartfelt conclusion in the closing Agnus Dei.