Mass enjoyment of Verdi

On Saturday, 7th June 2104, almost exactly 140 years after its first ever performance, Truro Choral Society sang Giuseppe Verdi’s spectacular Requiem in Truro Cathedral. Originally conceived by Verdi to be a joint tribute by all the leading composers in Italy to Rossini after his death in 1868, the work didn’t see completion – by Verdi only – until 1873, following the death of the Italian poet and novelist Manzoni. Its premier was held in Milan on May 22, 1874. With its soaring melodies, dazzling orchestration and moments of mesmerising intensity, this spine-tingling masterpiece contains every ingredient necessary – passion, drama and redemption – for a thrilling evening of music.

It’s an extremely popular piece with singer and audience alike and many, including the celebrated Cornish composer and TCS friend Russell Pascoe, feel it should be performed as often as Handel’s Messiah. Brahms himself described it as a “work of genius”. For its 2014 Truro performance, under the inexorably deft music direction of Martin Palmer, the 160-strong choir and Truro Symphony Orchestra – which included four off-stage trumpeters up in the gallery – first enjoyed a relaxed and uplifting rehearsal during the afternoon. Joining in on the act, and with timing as perfect as the chorus and musicians themselves, was the sun, which streamed through the cathedral’s higher stained-glass windows during Et Lux Perpetua, bathing Choir 2 in a beautiful light. It augured well.

And indeed the performance before a packed cathedral was exhilarating for all involved and extremely well received. There was even cheering. Our mezzo-soprano soloist said, “The orchestra are so musically sympathetic – very, VERY rare – and the chorus were absolutely fabulous.” A few days later, the music critic Eric Dare, while talking to our chair Susanne in passing, praised the choir’s unaccompanied singing as being “completely in tune and together, finely balanced – an almost-impossible feat with so many voices involved”.

Special thanks go to our wonderful, hugely experienced soloists – Susanna Spicer, mezzo; Mark Chaundy, tenor; and Adam Marsden, bass – who exponentially enhanced the experience from the moment they stepped up on to their dais in the afternoon. We were especially grateful to Cheryl Enever who stepped in as soprano only days before concert day, after Claire Seaton sadly had to pull out due to family circumstances. Cheryl said afterwards that she was happy to have been able to do so as she would never tire of singing this work. She also confided, “I’ve never sung with a choir who performed better than this evening. It was so good.”

Thanks also to the classical musician and writer Jake Barlow for his in-depth review of the concert:

“Truro Cathedral is a top-notch place for putting on a concert, and when I found out that Verdi’s religious masterpiece would be making an appearance in that beautifully vaulted nave, it would have been foolish not to go.

“The celli opened the proceedings beautifully, setting the scene with solemn and broad strokes. The choir’s following entry was clear and rhythmically crisp, and they came into their own during the ‘te decet hymnus’ passage – the flowing Renaissance-inspired counterpoint flowed and was musically sensitive. The first appearance of the soloists was strong, but it was the entry of the Soprano and Mezzo that really stood out – beautiful, effortless singing that was an absolute delight for the ears. The first time that all of the musical forces came together, the balance of the sound was very good. It must be said that the musical balance was brilliant throughout, with no musical force needing to fight for dominance, making for a very enjoyable listening experience.

“The opening of the Dies Irae, perhaps the most famous in the classical repertoire next to that of Mozart in his own setting of the Requiem Mass (given how Verdi went about preparing to compose his score, it’s easy to see where some of his fire came from!), was violent, furious, and passionate – fantastic! Not only that, but whenever the entry material came back, it gained more life and energy, avoiding completely the danger of deflating. Among the other highlights of the Dies Irae section (one of the longest, as Verdi splits it into 10 movements) were the brass fanfare, which was sonorous yet balanced, and the Liber Scriptus, a solo movement for the Mezzo and orchestra with choral accompaniment. Mezzo soprano Susanna Spicer’s performance was nothing short of world class, and reminded me why that is one of my favourite oratorio movements both to sing and listen to.

“Throughout the rest of the work, the choir sang with energy, emotion and a high level of sophistication and musical sensitivity, supported throughout by a very strong orchestra. Conductor Martin Palmer was multi-faceted in his approach – minimalistic, allowing the music to breathe and speak for itself, as well as being active and driven enough to spur the choir and orchestra on to a brilliant performance. All of those involved should be very proud, and I look forward to the next concert.”

Read Jake’s blog and other music reviews here.

Photographs of the day

When Cornish choirs combine

On March 29th, Truro Choral Society and Three Spires Singers came together to perform Elgar’s almighty Kingdom in Truro Cathedral. It had been a huge undertaking and the organisation and preparation was shared equally between the two choirs’ committees and Music Directors, and the choir members enjoyed rehearsing together enormously. Christopher Gray, MD of Three Spires – who originally envisioned the project – said, “Though not as often heard as The Dream of Gerontius, The Kingdom is considered by some of the great Elgar conductors, Sir Adrian Boult among them, to be equal in quality if not superior.” In fact, The Kingdom already has a far-reaching history at Truro Cathedral: Martin Hall, a former MD of both choirs, conducted TCS singing it in 1984; we are told this was the first performance of this great work since Boult himself first conducted it there in 1974. In addition to the impressive combined orchestra we were joined by stellar soloists (see below), whose incredible voices reached every nook of the cathedral’s ceiling. All choir members were elated after the experience – and happily, the audience members, which included Radio 3 presenter Petroc Trelawny, seemed to be, too.

Read Judith Whitehouse’s five-star review in the West Briton here.

Read our Kingdom preview in full.

Read more about the Elgar seminar we held in preparation for our concert here and here.

Our Kingdom soloists

Tessa Spong Soprano

Tessa Spong

Louise Mott Mezzo-soprano

Louise Mott

David Stout Bass

David Stout

David Butt Phillip Tenor

David Butt Philip

Pictures of the Saturday-afternoon rehearsal before the concert

Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 13.21.52
Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 13.21.40
Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 13.22.05
Screen Shot 2014-04-05 at 13.22.19


With thanks to Camilla Comeau of Three Spires Singers for this happy image

With thanks to Camilla Comeau of Three Spires Singers for this happy image

Successful seminar

Not even the wild squalls battering Cornwall could put off Elgar lovers on Saturday, 8th February. More than 130 people put their hoods up and windscreen wipers on and headed to Truro School Chapel to attend the Kingdom seminar and singing workshop that had been organised jointly by Truro Choral Society and Three Spires Singers. “I enjoyed it and learned a lot,” said one audience member who had travelled some way across the county to get there. Huge thanks go to the engaging speakers, the excellent soloists and of course the organisers and their helpers from both choirs for making it such a success – and also to everyone who brought cake and other treats. In all, an extremely enjoyable event.

Elgar expert Nick Hawker enlightens the 130-strong audience on the composer's process

Elgar expert Nick Hawker enlightens the 130-strong audience on the composer’s process

Michael Swift shares his vast knowledge of music of Elgar's era

Michael Swift shares his vast knowledge of the music of Elgar’s era

Both speakers take questions at the end

Both speakers take questions at the end

Who’s who at The Kingdom seminar

In anticipation of our forthcoming seminar on Elgar’s The Kingdom – organised with Three Spires Singers and to be held Saturday, February 8th, 9.15am-1pm, at Truro School Chapel – we include here some information on the day’s programme and protagonists. It’s an event designed to enhance enjoyment of our joint concert of the oratorio for choir and audience members alike. All are welcome to attend, but places are limited…


Martin Palmer

Martin PalmerMartin has been Director of Music of Truro Choral Society since 2009. He studied the organ, cello, composition and conducting at the Royal Academy of Music and took the University of London degree. While at the RAM he sang with the London Philharmonic Choir, gaining invaluable experience working alongside many of the world’s top conductors, orchestras and soloists. He is also the Director of Music at Truro School, where he has built up one of the biggest and busiest music departments in the southwest.

He will lead the singing of some illustrative excerpts from The Apostles and The Kingdom.

Nicholas Hawker

Nicholas Hawker

Nicholas began his musical education as a chorister at St Alphege, Solihull. He later read music at Birmingham University, eventually winning a postgraduate scholarship to complete an MPhil thesis on the music of Edward Elgar. Since then he has edited manuscripts that have now been published by The Elgar Society. In 2003 Nicholas moved to Truro to take up a choral scholarship with Truro Cathedral Choir, with which he has toured throughout Europe, made numerous recordings on the Regent and Lammas record labels and appeared as a soloist on BBC radio and television.

He is now in demand as a soloist throughout the southwest, where recent concert appearances have included, amongst others, Mozart Requiem, Handel Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, Samson, Dixit Dominus, Durufle Requiem, Schubert Mass in E Flat, Bach Magnificat, St John Passion (Evangelist and arias), Monteverdi Vespers, Stainer Crucifixion, Haydn Paukenmesse, Beethoven Mass in C, Britten St Nicolas and David Briggs A Cornish Cantata. Recent song cycle performances include Schumann Dicterliebe and Britten Winter Words. Among his forthcoming engagements in early 2014 are Bach St Matthew Passion (Evangelist) and Vaughan Williams On Wenlock Edge.

In opera Nicholas has appeared with Birmingham Festival Opera in Shostakovich Moskva Cheremushki and with Duchy Opera in Puccini Madame Butterfly, Mozart The Magic Flute and the premiere of Paul Drayton’s The Hanging Oak. He currently studies with Annabella Waite. Nicholas is Deputy Head and Director of Music at Polwhele House School, the choir school for Truro Cathedral.

Nicholas’s talk will explore Elgar’s long-held ambition to write a work based on the New Testament and study the extent to which this was fulfilled in his oratorios The Apostles and The Kingdom. Using information from manuscripts housed at the British Library it will track Elgar’s compositional process and consider how, had the original plan for The Apostles been realised, The Kingdom may never have been composed. It will also examine the strong thematic links between the two works, consider Elgar’s use of leitmotif and reveal his use of plainsong chant.

Michael Swift

Michael Swift

Besides his day job as Stained Glass Adviser to the Diocese of Truro and Truro Cathedral, Michael has been much in demand as a lecturer throughout the southwest for over 10 years. He has been running a series of highly popular adult-education courses in Truro for the past six years on Victorian and Edwardian culture. These courses have included a strong musical component, along with reference to the literature, art and architecture of the period. He has completed postgraduate research on Victorian composers and music festivals, and is passionate about English composers of this period. He sang in choirs for over three decades.

Michael will explore the place of The Apostles and The Kingdom in Edwardian choral music. It will set the works within the context of the tradition of English Victorian and Edwardian Triennial music festivals. In comparison with selected choral works by other contemporary composers, it will suggest that, in its form and content, The Kingdom marked a glorious end to that tradition.

For downloadable versions of the application form and information leaflet for this event, please follow the below links:
Application form
Kingdom Seminar Leaflet Feb14

Helping Cornwall’s Hospices

Last December, Truro Choral Society joined forces with St Keverne Band once again to perform a Christmas concert at Falmouth Methodist Church in aid of Cornwall Hospice Care. The choir’s programme included traditional carols, as well as a performance of Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols, conducted by Martin Palmer. Along with the band’s highly entertaining choice of music, including a technically dazzling delivery of Vitae Aeternum for their finale, the concert was an excellent start to Christmas festivities – and more importantly raised the incredible amount of £1,616 for a very worthy cause.

The work of Cornwall Hospice Care is devoted to providing clinical care and support to people living with life-limiting illnesses in Cornwall. The help their hospices provide is free, but their running costs tally up to £14 a minute, and with government funding only covering 15% of these costs, every penny raised during events like these is very gratefully received and immediately put to extremely good use. For more information on this charity’s work, visit

St Keverne Band have long had links with this fundraiser and we were delighted to have been invited to take part again. Under the musical direction of Gareth Churcher, the band’s repertoire and reputation continue to grow, seeing them regularly winning awards both regionally and nationally. Last October they came first in their section of the Cornwall Brass Band Association Championships, and we wish them continued success in their forthcoming competitions in 2014.

Five-star Messiah

After the weeks of intense preparation for our cathedral concert of Handel’s Messiah at the end of last November, we were pleased to see the positive write-up that was published in the West Briton, 12th December, 2013. You can read it here.

And here is how our sell-out Messiah sounded in 2011.


Screen Shot 2014-01-14 at 08.07.49

Our superb soloists and Music Director: from left, Nick Hawker, Tim Carleston, Cheryl Rosevear, Charlie Murray and Martin Palmer

Collection for ShelterBox

The retiring collection held for the international disaster relief charity ShelterBox at the end of our performance of Messiah on Saturday, 30th November, raised £1,117. This amount is enough to pay for almost two complete boxes (average cost of a box, including delivery, is £590) or six new tents. Thanks go to our very generous audience and choir members.

ShelterBox’s response teams have been tirelessly working to help families since the very first days after the Typhoon Haiyan hit the Philippines, but figures are showing that more than 13 million people have been affected by the storm so far, and over 4 million people have been forced from their homes. In addition, donations like this will be going towards providing essential aid to families affected by continuing crises elsewhere, including in Syria and Sudan. This is especially urgent as the colder months approach, for which ShelterBox is sending out winterised shelter solutions. For more information on all the charity’s work, visit

Christmas concert at Eden

Our performance will be held in the Mediterranean biome on Sunday, 8th December, at 1pm. More details, including time for choir members to assemble, to follow. Eden is a special place to visit any time of the year, so please encourage friends and family to come and listen to what will be a lovely addition to our Christmas programme in a magical setting.

Cathedral Newsletter

Baroque of ages: Messiah

Truro Choral Society last performed Handel’s Messiah in the cathedral in 2011. Just like the oratorio’s premiere in Dublin in 1742, it was a sold-out event, and had an eager audience queuing out into the street on a suitably wintry night. Seating was extended up behind the choir and some were even prepared to listen out of sight in the cathedral choir stalls. One who attended was prompted to write to the West Briton afterwards to say, “the whole performance was delivered with perfection”.

What can the audience expect this year? Already the choir is swelling in numbers in anticipation, and as part of the society’s mission to give everyone the opportunity to sing good choral music, especially in the glorious setting of the cathedral, students from local schools have again been invited to take part. We will be accompanied by Truro Symphony Orchestra and four gifted young soloists who have firm Cornish connections. Former BBC Choirgirl of the Year and Royal College of Music alumna Cheryl Rosevear is returning as soprano, while Nicholas Hawker will perform with us again as tenor. Nicholas, formerly a scholar of Truro Cathedral Choir, fits in deputy headship and his position of Director of Music at Polwhele House School with numerous soloist engagements throughout the southwest. Tim Carleston will join us both as countertenor and natural trumpeter; another RCM graduate, Tim has sung with Windsor Castle’s Close Harmony group, Truro Cathedral’s St Mary’s Singers, Three Spires Singers and the Duchy Opera. Truro Cathedral bass Charlie Murray completes our quartet. He has been the recipient of choral scholarships from Truro Cathedral and York Minster, and is a former member of the National Youth Choir.

So, the choir’s excitement is growing, our relentlessly energetic and enthusiastic Music Director, Martin Palmer, is already repeating his mantra of “More text!”, and our stage manager is arranging seating in his every waking thought. Also in our thoughts is Cherry Sheppard, a key member of the Society and friend to many who died suddenly during the summer. This concert will be dedicated to her memory.

We’re hoping for another sell-out performance of course, but if only to be able to share the splendour and majesty of this masterpiece with as many people as possible. Two hundred and seventy years after its composition, it seems Handel’s Messiah shall reign for ever and ever. Hallelujah indeed.