REVIEW: Martin Dreyer’s verdict on York Musical Society, Requiem Aeternam, York Minster, March 11

Brittany King: Soprano soloist

TWO Requiems, one familiar, one rarely heard, were combined for this Lenten concert which, despite the biting cold both inside and out, attracted a considerable audience.

This was the ninth time that York Musical Society had given Fauré’s Requiem, dating back to its York premiere in 1949. By contrast, Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor had never been heard here before.

Haydn was a prolific composer, but never quite emerged from the shadow of Joseph, his elder brother by five years. His style was more conservative and thus also more predictable, rarely straying far from convention.

He was a good craftsman, however, and everything in his Requiem, written in December 1771 after the death of Archbishop Sigismund Schrattenbach – and in the wake of his infant daughter’s death – is neatly tailored and politely ordered. Just what the doctor ordered, in fact, for a decent funeral.

It found the choir in good voice, if at first more cautious than inspired. The Introit eerily heralded what Mozart was to produce fully two decades later. Haydn’s Dies Irae, although not as terrifying as Mozart’s, was strong, with the four soloists well led by Brittany King’s vibrant soprano; she was ably partnered by the contralto-toned mezzo of Marie Elliott.

Robert Anthony Gardiner’s tenor lacked heft in the latter stages of the Dies Irae, but he negotiated the opening of the Offertorium smoothly. Felix Kemp’s baritone offered a firm underpinning to the solo quartet, which was at its best in the Benedictus.

The choir really warmed to their task in the fugal passages at the end of the Offertorium, and although the Agnus Dei moves at a stately plod, it had a certain majesty here. The orchestra, with four seemingly omnipresent trumpets in fine voice, responded keenly to David Pipe’s authoritative beat, despite a bass line that barely pauses for breath.

Fauré’s justifiably well-loved Requiem was on a different plane. Faces were out of copies and engagement throughout the choir ranks was total. As a result, we had a lively Sanctus, much enhanced by the harp of Georgina Wells. We needed a touch more bite from the tenor line in the Agnus Dei, but there was plenty of fire in all voices for the ‘Dies illa, dies irae’ section of the Libera Me. The sopranos were truly angelic for the In Paradisum.

The two soloists were first-class. Felix Kemp found excellent legato for the ‘Hostias’ section of the Offertory and forthright resonance for the start of the Libera Me. Brittany King adopted a much straighter tone for the Pie Jesu and sustained it beautifully, making it sound much easier than it really is.

The violas, mellow and dusky, really came into their own in the orchestra – which only lacked flutes – and Pipe’s baton cajoled the choir as needed. Alhough he is now based in Leeds, we must hope that he maintains this valuable connection with York.

Review by Martin Dreyer

Robert Hollingworth appointed musical director of University of York Choir

Robert Hollingworth: New musical director for University of York Choir. PIcture: Frances Marshall

ROBERT Hollingworth is the new musical director for University of York Choir, taking over from the long-standing Peter Seymour.

Peter has retired from the post after directing the choir through much of the large-scale choral repertoire for many years but will continue to direct the Yorkshire Bach Choir.

Hollingworth, who moved to York in 2012, is a member of the university’s music department and a vocal specialist, and he has a professional performing career too, leading the vocal ensemble I Fagiolini and directing the annual Stour Music Festival. 

He is keen to promote female conductors and composers, hence this term’s repertoire will include Pie Jesu by French composer Lili Boulanger, alongside Faure’s Requiem and other French music.

Peter Seymour: Retiring from director’s post for University of York Choir

For a flavour of Robert’s work, his entertaining and informative Sing The Score videos, produced during lockdown, are well worth exploring at

Membership of University of York Choir is open to students and staff, as well as by audition to those outside the university. Rehearsals are held on Mondays in term time from 7.30pm to 9.30pm in the Sir Jack Lyons Concert Hall, Heslington, York.

Registration and auditions will be held on September 27, followed by the first rehearsal on October 4. The Faure concert is in the diary for December 1 at St Lawrence’s Church, Lawrence Street, York. For more details, contact membership secretary Catherine Duncan via

University of York Choir performing at York Minster under Peter Seymour’s direction. Picture: Alexandru Ichim

York Musical Society to perform Faure’s Requiem at York Minster on March 28

Soprano Anna Prosser

SOPRANO Anna Prosser and tenor Robert Anthony Gardiner will sing with York Musical Society for the first time in March 28’s performance of Gabriel Fauré’s Requiem in York Minster.

This luminous work will be complemented by Michael Haydn’s Requiem in C minor. “You might think that having two requiems in one concert isn’t an imaginative programming choice,” says conductor David Pipe.

Tenor Robert Anthony Gardiner

“Even in rehearsals, though, it’s fascinating to hear how these two works, using much of the same liturgical text but separated by over 100 years, are so very different in style and musical content. This is an unusual opportunity to savour the contrasting responses of two fine composers.”

Fauré’s Requiem, first performed in 1890, uses a shortened version of the funeral mass and is serene, peaceful and full of haunting melodies. Michael Haydn is the lesser-known younger brother of Josef Haydn. “His less frequently performed but exquisite Requiem (1772) is said to have inspired Mozart’s own final work,” says Pipe, York Musical Society’s principal conductorsince April 2012.  

Mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy

Anna Prosser, a choral scholar and vocal coach at Leeds Cathedral, and Robert Anthony Gardiner, who lives in Leeds, will be joined on solo duty by mezzo-soprano  Kate Symonds-Joy  and bass Alex Ashworth.

Both have sung previously with York Musical Society, Symonds-Joy performing Verdi’s Requiem in November 2014 and Bach’s St Matthew Passion in March 2018; Ashworth, the title role in Mendelssohn’s Elijah in May 2015 and in Bach’s St Matthew Passion in March 2018.

Bass Alex Ashworth

Both sing with Solomon’s Knot Collective, who performed at last summer’s Ryedale Festival and enjoyed a sold-out performance at last December’s York Early Music Christmas Festival at the National Centre for Early Music, York.

Tickets for this 7.30pm concert are on sale at York Minster box office, on 01904 557256, at or on the door. Prices are £25/£20 in the nave; £12 in the side aisles; £6, age 13 to 17; under-12s, free, but a ticket is required and they must be accompanied by an adult.