Choral Workshop and Informal Concert 2018 directed by Stephen Threlfall
St Peter's Church, Shaldon
Bridge Road
TQ14 0DB
United Kingdom
Type: Choral Workshop
Date: Saturday 23 June 2018
Start Time: Registration 10.00am
End Time: Approximately 9.30pm
Performer(s): Choral Workshop directed by Stephen Threlfall
Host Organisation: Shaldon Festival

Ticket Information: Adults £20   Students £5.  Free for children under 17 accompanied by an adult. Your fee includes hire of music and refreshments. You can book online from this website or download the 2018 Choral Workshop brochure for a postal booking. See the Choral Workshop Page of this website for full details.

Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle

Stephen Threlfall: Musical Director

Peter Adcock: Piano
Paul Morgan: Organ

Héloïse West: Soprano
Rebecca Smith: Contralto
Matthew Wilding: Tenor
James Quilligan: Bass


2018 REVIEW by Richard Lamming
In his manuscript for this extraordinary piece, the composer famously appeals for divine pardon, should the Lord consider it sacrilegious. He explains: “I was born for opera buffa, as You well know. Not much technique, a little bit of heart, that’s all.” His modesty was exemplary but his quandary remains. Rossini intended the piece to be performed in the society salons of late-nineteenth century Paris, by four soloists and a chorus of eight (he made a comparison with the twelve disciples), with a harmonium and two pianos.

Performing the “little, solemn mass” with a chorus of over one hundred and fifty singers provides opportunities not available in the salons. On Saturday night in St. Peter’s church, Shaldon, conductor Stephen Threlfall, Director of Music at Chetham’s School of Music, Manchester, made the most of them. With four fine soloists, a Shaldon Festival Chorus on top form, one piano and an organ standing in for the harmonium, the audience were treated to an enthralling and lively evening.

One benefit of having a large choir is the ability to create a more “massive” feel in the chorus items. Stephen Threlfall’s masterly direction provided brilliant dynamic agility in his huge ensemble, often changing in an instant from thunder to
. It is testament to his great talent that he made it look easy.

The Shaldon Festival Chorus rose to the occasion. At times some entrances were slightly tardy, possibly down to the need to arrange the choir longitudinally, running the entire length of the long nave with the podium at the mid-point and the piano (and organ) at one end. This did not detract from the consistent enjoyment of their performance however and Stephen Threlfall kept everything together.

The soloists had plenty of opportunities to shine. At times it was difficult not to be transported to one of Rossini’s wonderful comic operas, especially in the early Laudamus Te quartet and the tenor’s solo Domine Deus. Between these two, the trio Gratias agimus tibi, one of Rossini’s most beautiful melodies, teased the listener by suggesting a parlour song. All of this was clearly as the composer intended for his salon audiences; for example, almost all the movements are in major keys. Elsewhere, there were musical nods to Bach, Wagner and Chopin amongst others and reworkings of several of Rossini’s own previous operatic pieces.

Soprano Héloïse West delivered the textual drama with a very pure voice, both in her solos and ensemble parts. Her stunning solo, O Salutaris, was a delightful tour de force.

Héloïse’s duet Qui tollis pecata mundi with contralto Rebecca Smith was especially beautiful, being the only piece for the soloists in the first half to be written in a minor key. Rebecca’s powerful and mellow voice also provided a steadiness in the ensemble pieces and in her dramatic “duel” with the chorus in the finale.

Tenor Matthew Wilding revealed a most pleasing vocal style, his Domine Deus perfectly blending a sacred theme with operatic melody. Though sometimes not as strong in the quartet as the other soloists, his voice was a delight to listen to.

James Quilligan has a fine and robust bass voice and a wide experience of operatic and choral work. He used both to the full effect in the bass-baritone range that the piece requires.

Covering both piano roles on one instrument, the Shaldon Festival official accompanist, Peter Adcock, once again earned the admiration of the audience and the affection of the singers. He made Rossini’s stylistic demands sound fun to play, with the style ranging from plangent to humoroso. Like his conductor, he made the gargantuan task (the piece is an hour and a half long) look easy.

For a great church organ to stand in for a salon harmonium was an exercise in restraint (the role has often been taken by a piano accordion) but this was clearly not a challenge for an organist of the stature of Paul Morgan, Organist Emeritus at Exeter Cathedral. His underscoring, occasional swells, and gentle sostenuto passages were sensitively delivered. The organ solo Ritomelloin the second half gave him a most welcome opportunity to use a little more of the instrument’s richness and compass.

The finalé to the mass, Agnus Dei, brings together theatricality and sacred passion, as the music moves between major and minor keys and the contralto and chorus alternate within the text. The dynamics fluctuate between pianissimo, fortissimo and rinforzando before, for the last surge, all the parts are marked tutta forza making the request “dona nobis pacem”: “grant us peace”something of a demand. The chorus did not disappoint.

The atmosphere after the concert was one of delight and excitement, both for the performers and the audience. It was a most enjoyable evening, maintaining the very high quality that has been developed by Shaldon Festival Choral Workshop for many years.

Gioachino Antonio Rossini: Petite Messe Solennelle
Rossini was born at Pesaro and moved with his parents to Bologna at the time when Napoleon's troops entered Northern Italy. There Rossini had a musical upbringing and started composing at about the age of 12. By his late teens he was writing seriously for the theatre. He studied at the University of Bologna, becoming an enthusiast for the music of Mozart, who had died little more than two months before Rossini was born. Rossini later referred to Mozart as 'the admiration of my youth, the desperation of my mature years and the consolation of my old age'.

Rossini achieved both fame and fortune early in his career, continuing opera-writing until he was 37 years old. In this period, he held positions as Musical Director of theatres in Naples and later in Paris. However, in 1829, his Last opera William Tell was produced and he retired, having written nearly 40 operas. For the next 25 years, he wrote virtually nothing. Then, after settling in Paris in 1855, he started to compose again, mainly songs and piano pieces, and often parodying contemporary styles. A collection of about 150 pieces date from the last 13 years of his life, many of them humorous or quirky in nature – he called them the "sins of old age".

During this last period, he was in 1863 asked by a friend, Countess Louise Pillet-Will, to write a solemn mass for the consecration of a private chapel. He scored the work for intimate forces – two pianos, harmonium, four soloists and small chorus. The resulting work was first performed in Passy near Paris in March 1864. At the end of the score he rather touchingly wrote:
Good Lord, there it is, finished, this poor little mass. I do not know if this music is sacred or sacrilegious (musique sacrée or sacrée musique). I was born for comic opera as You well know. Little skill, some feeling and that's all. Therefore let me sing Your praises and grant me your paradise. G. Rossini – Passy 1863.
His description "little" has stuck to the work so that it is customarily referred to as the "Petite" Messe Solennelle, in spite of taking over 80 minutes to perform! It contains the full text of the High Mass – hence solennelle in the title – but in addition, Rossini has set O Salutaris Hostia, a text suitable for the feast of Corpus Christi. However, it is not really solemn in any emotional sense. For this was as quirky in its way as any of his other pieces written at this time. Indeed, among his annotations to the autograph, he self-depricatingly described the work as 'the last mortal sin of my old age'.

This was the last of Rossini's major compositions and was immediately received enthusiastically by Meyerbeer and other musical eminences in Paris at that time. Although it was commissioned for small forces, Rossini clearly envisaged performances on a larger scale and he orchestrated it a year or two later. The hand of the opera composer undoubtedly shows in the writing, but does not dominate. Indeed some sections could be taken as Rossini showing his mastery of form with affinities to older styles, for example the strict canon of the unaccompanied Christe eleison, early in the work. This is framed by two Kyrie sections, where the smooth vocal parts are underlain by rhythmic piano writing in quite different style. Occasionally, in such solos as Domine Deus and Quoniam, the theatre takes over, and there are times when the Rossini of 1863 comes stylistically close to Verdi. This perhaps is less to be wondered at than the contrapuntal skill and vitality of the fugal sections (Cum Sancto Spiritu and In Vitam Venturi). The instrumental Preludio Religioso certainly offers a rare glimpse of a more serious and academic Rossini than might be expected by listeners who know only the operas.
Programme notes provided by Edinburgh Royal Choral Union, May 2011 courtesy of Making Music

Stephen Threlfall’s current role as Director of Music at Chetham’s School of Music, the UK’s leading music school, is a happy culmination of many years’ experience in the professional music world.
An alumnus of the Royal Northern College of Music, Stephen’s career took him first to the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra, where he was sub-principal cellist, before becoming Director of Music at Benenden School. At the same time, his reputation as a conductor and educator was growing rapidly.
As a conductor, Stephen has earned much acclaim for his performances, recordings and broadcasts. He has conducted at many major venues and festivals in the UK and with many international solo artists. Engagements have taken him to the USA, Europe and Scandinavia, with regular visits to the Urals Philharmonic and Bach Orchestras in Yekaterinburg, the Royal Oman Symphony and Amman Symphony Orchestras. Other ensembles include Canzonetta, Leeds Festival, Chester Bach and Manchester Chamber Choirs; the Northern Ballet and Northern Chamber Orchestra, Manchester Camerata and the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra. He has conducted a number of concert broadcasts for the BBC, Classic FM and Russian national Radio and TV, and his repertoire includes many world premieres, notably High on the Slopes of Terror by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Stephen made his Royal Festival Hall debut in February 2012 in an all Rachmaninov programme.
Stephen combines a natural sense for performance with his creative vision to inspire the artistic direction and programming of concerts, festivals and educational events. He has a passion for working with young people and has enjoyed successful collaborations with many student and youth orchestras both at home and abroad, including the symphony and chamber orchestras at Trinity and the Royal Northern College of Music, Birmingham Conservatoire, Vannersborg Orchestra Sweden, the Texas Music Festival in Houston and the National Children’s Orchestra.

He has created and directed a number of arts and community projects involving an impressive number of guest musicians, artists and specialists. These have included the award-nominated Antarctica (2001) and Brundibár (2002/3) projects; A Child of Our Time (2005) and The Spirit of Norway Festival (2007) which consisted of over 50 events including many educational workshops and performances. In Autumn 2008, the Leonard Bernstein Celebration included chamber and symphonic concerts, and a special concert with the composer’s daughter Nina Bernstein-Simmons.

In Autumn 2012, Stephen directed a 4-day celebration to mark the 150th anniversary of Frederick Delius, which included concerts with the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra and cellist Raphael Wallfisch, broadcast by Classic FM. A Russian project is planned for Autumn 2017.
In 2013 Stephen devised a major project marking the centenary of Benjamin Britten. This included performances across all areas of Britten’s output with symphony concerts in Manchester, Chester, London, Lichfield and Cheltenham Festivals, and a national tour of Noye’s Fludde with performances at Manchester Cathedral, and Ryedale and Shaldon Festivals.

In July 2015 Stephen conducted two performances of Mahler’s Third Symphony with Mezzo Soprano Sarah Connolly and the Chetham’s Symphony Orchestra in both Manchester and Cheltenham.
Other performances include conducting the Transylvania State Philharmonic Orchestra and Chorus, two concerts in Melbourne, Australia and return visits to Russia, US, Oman and Ischia.
Future concerts include two works commemorating The Battle of the Somme in World War 1, with live screening of Imperial War Museum archive footage. In August 2017, Stephen will conduct the complete cycle of the Beethoven Piano Concertos with an array of international soloists as part of the Chetham’s International Piano Summer School.

Parking Map for St Peter's Church, Shaldon


St Peter’s Church, Bridge Road, Shaldon, TQ14 0DB


1. Long Stay Public Carpark ½ mile from the church, reached through the village or off the A379 coast road to Torquay, postcode TQ14 0HP – 381 spaces, “pay & display” during the day but free after 6.00pm. Allow 15 minutes for the blue walking route shown.
2. Short Stay Public Carpark, opposite the church, postcode TQ14 0BP – 48 spaces, “pay & display” subject to a short stay 4 hour limit during the day but free after 6.00pm.
3. Extra parking – limited space adjoining the recreation ground reached from Ringmore Road but with easy pedestrian access to the Church along the estuary embankment. If using this area, please park “tidily” to maximise the usable space; this area is only available for parking as a special arrangement for the Festival.


Please telephone Malcolm Watson on 01626 873492 if you need help with letting someone alight at the church and/or need seating space for a wheelchair. In addition, there are a very few parking spaces close to the church which we can reserve for those with mobility difficulties on a first come, first served, basis.