Review: Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, Bradford Cathedral, Saturday 4th March 2023

Two of the three composers in this bold Leeds Philharmonic Chorus programme, conducted by Joseph Judge, are happily still with us.

The evening opened with music by Leonard Bernstein whose iconic legacy as conductor, composer and humanitarian lives on. Bernstein’s exuberant Chichester Psalms is his most overtly Jewish work. The psalms were sung in Hebrew and articulated with relish by ‘the Phil’ under the masterly baton of their chorus master Joseph Judge. Beautifully nuanced accompaniment was supplied by harpist Georgina Wells, percussionist Mark Concar and Neil Taylor on the organ of Bradford Cathedral. Cathedral Choir member Rhys Smouse was the plaintive boy treble in the ‘Song of David’.

Next came Eric Whitacre’s Cloudburst, composed in 1991 - the year after Bernstein’s death. This work is scored for eight-part choir with piano and percussion accompaniment. The text was adapted from the Octavio Praz poem El cantaro roto (the Broken Water Jar) and inspired by the composer’s experience of a desert cloudburst. Roger Lazenby’s handbells team contribute to the sonic effects as the choir builds to a crescendo and imitates the sound of rain. The timpani produce the effect of a thunder storm which gradually fades away. Joseph Judge and the Phil surmounted the technical demands with seeming ease to deliver a fluid and vital performance.

Russell Pascoe’s Secular Requiem was premiered in its orchestral version at Truro Cathedral in March 2013. The Catholic Latin Requiem Mass is replaced by texts from Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, Dylan Thomas, Thomas Moore and Walt Whitman among others. The work is intended to be inclusive and accessible to those with or without a religious faith. Stephen Anderton’s humorous poem Cats and Cakes, sung by the mezzo soprano soloist, contains the plea: “Oh God! I should have said - they’re in the oven. The cakes, the cakes! And don’t forget to feed the cat”. The fifty-minute-long Secular Requiem is powerfully expressive and easy to relate to. It is an inspiring work which brings solace and hope.

Mezzo Julianne Coates and baritone Graham McCusker were the eloquent soloists with Leeds Philharmonic Chorus, conducted by Joseph Judge.

The composer himself basked in the applause at the end of this illuminating Bradford performance, the first to be given in his reduced orchestration for organ and percussion.