By the seaside; enjoying an almost unbroken evening of sunny music

John Hancorn SUS-170619-131449001
John Hancorn SUS-170619-131449001

Eastbourne Choral Society’s skilfully chosen programme for their concert at All Saints’ Church had about it the scent of the sea. It proved to be an almost unbroken evening of tuneful song.

The opening work showed the singers and conductor John Hancorn in fine fettle. Eleven English folksongs had been collected by John Rutter into a cycle entitled The Sprig of Thyme. The title song and I Know Where I’m Going introduced the evening’s star soprano, Yvonne Patrick. She knew precisely how to bring an audience into her musical world, never needing to use a score, and throughout giving the words her full attention. Some settings were for female choir only (Can Ye Sew Cushions?); others for men only (The Miller Of Dee). All enjoyed the superb piano accompaniment of Nick Houghton. The choir relished the chance to show off their balanced singing. If I had to find one teeny reservation it would be that the final song (Afton Water) might have gained from a more lingering tempo.

Yvonne then sang three Shakespeare songs. From Measure For Measure we heard music by Roger Quilter, one of England’s finest songwriters, who was born in Brighton. In this, as in the songs from Hamlet by Elisabeth Maconchy and The Tempest by Arthur Sullivan, pianist Nick Houghton again provided brilliant support.

Conductor John Hancorn changed roles in order to sing Butterworth’s heartbreaking song Is My Team Ploughing? This sets a poem by AE Housman which was published in 1896, and demands two distinct voices, and a real understanding not only of the words, but of their implications. John’s performance was perfect. He then changed his hat again, to accompany one of his baritone pupils, Lars, who sang three of Vaughan Williams’s settings of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Songs of Travel. Undoubtedly Lars has a promising voice, but did he really need the printed score, the handling of which tended to separate him from his audience?

We were certainly near the sea in Sussex for the rest of the first half. Yvonne sang impeccably The Singer, by Michael Head, who was born in Eastbourne in 1900, and then Parry’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s My Heart Is Like A Singing Bird. Parry died in Rustington.

Part Two was devoted to the musical stage. From Gondoliers by G&S, the choir gave a rousing Cachucha, every word audible. Then we were in the world of the stage musical. Yvonne’s performance of Bill from Show Boat worked wonderfully, not only because she really “performed” the brilliant words by PG Wodehouse, but because Kern was a master of subtle melody. The choir’s appropriation of some solo songs by Rodgers, Loewe and even Bernstein also functioned perfectly because the melodies are so strong that one doesn’t miss the glorious sound of (for example) Ezio Pinza in South Pacific or the star quality of Julie Andrews in My Fair Lady. Les Miserables fared less well, shorn of an enormous stage-setting. By Robin Gregory.