The Angel of Mons world premiere was a resounding success on Saturday night. A capacity crowd and standing ovation proved to me that the new work captures the spirit of the WWI centenary. The players and singers were all so gifted and showed so much goodwill - a huge thank you to everyone involved!
Sopranos: Elizabeth Adams, Harriet Astbury, Shona Astbury, Emily Wilsea
Altos: Nick Robinson, Emma Wragg, Chlöe Pardoe, Hilary Punnett
Tenor: Cameron Richardson-Eames, Martin Pickering, Mark Wilde
Bass: Johnnie Riches, Padraig Staunton, Tim Emberson, Sachin Gunga
Orchestra: Caroline Siriwardena, Clare Bhabra, Kerry-Ann Geary, Hazel Parkes, Sara Chambers, Cassandra Hodgson, Deirdre Bencsik, Glenis Malkin, Ayse Osman, Hugh Webb
Below is a review of the night written my Maxine Adams:
Standing Ovation for World Premiere Performance
The Angel of Mons by Grimsby-born composer Patrick Hawes was received with a standing ovation by a capacity audience at its world premiere performance. The concert at St Michael & All Angels Church Edenham took place on August 23rd 2014, exactly one hundred years since the episode which has inspired its creation.
Much has been documented about the evening of August 23rd 1914, when, during fierce fighting, the Lincolnshire Regiment were among many men to see an Angel-like apparition in the sky and hear a man’s voice commanding them to “Go back, go back.” This event has become known as “The Angel of Mons” and is the only recorded “supernatural” event of the war. Patrick Hawes and his brother Andrew Hawes, librettist, have worked on the assumption that there was an Angel and “understood its intervention to be evidence of God’s pity for his children…”
The Angel of Mons, which formed the second half of the concert, is scored for soprano soloist, choir, strings and harp, and tells the story in six movements, from the optimistic march to Mons, the appearance of the Angel, through to the anxious wait of those left at home. Andrew Hawes’ words capture perfectly the gradual darkening of mood as the men, led off to “fight heroically” become “broken scattered, leaderless and lost”. The Angel is set apart, singing words based on scripture.
Patrick Hawes’ music took the listener on an emotional journey at the end of which it was impossible to remain unaffected. The relentless and sinister beat of the opening march For King and Country gave way to the intimate scoring of Angel’s Charge - a delicate interplay between solo violin and soprano soloist - the Angel. The terrifying March to Mons was dramatically depicted by the full forces of choir and orchestra. There were moments of exquisite beauty in Out of the Depths as the Angel’s voice soared above the choir. Perhaps the most moving section of all was the final movement Let Them Give Thanks Whom The Lord Has Redeemed - the simultaneous singing of Psalm 107 by men’s voices, along with the well known hymn tune Glory to Thee my God, this night, sung by high voices, as the women waited anxiously at home, alone.
Specially formed for the performance, the Edenham Festival Consort was made up of singers and players from around the region, including students from Birmingham Conservatoire and Trinity College Cambridge. The choir sang with a professionalism all the more impressive as they had only come together three days before the concert. The small and extremely able string orchestra was led by Caroline Siriwardena, and special mention must go to harpist Hugh Webb who played such a pivotal role throughout. Soloists were Grace Davidson (soprano), who sang the role of the Angel with breathtaking beauty, Mark Wilde (tenor) and Martin Pickering (baritone) who gave moving performances during the first half of the concert.
In his introduction, Patrick Hawes explained to the audience that he had failed to find a larger stage for the first performance of The Angel of Mons, hence the decision to hold the concert at Edenham. As the last notes drifted away, there was a lengthy, eloquent silence. Judging by the applause and standing ovation that followed, the audience at Edenham felt themselves privileged to have been part of this world premiere performance.