An evening of choral works opened with Finzi’s beautiful Romance for Strings.
Almost unknown in comparison to similar works by Elgar or Vaughan Williams, it is a masterpiece of quiet tact and understated joy. We could almost have done with hearing it twice to impress upon us just how lovely it is.
However, we were then straight in to Britten Saint Nicolas, with Jonathan Cooke the eponymous saint. His heroic and forceful tones, so different from Peter Pears for whom it was written, gave the whole a cutting edge and urgency, which was impressive and seemed to galvanise all the other singers.
The men’s chorus were particularly strong in the journey to Palestine with the higher ladies voices adding the waves and the angels. The work may have been written with amateurs in mind but there is nothing simplistic about the writing, which is highly demanding throughout. None more so than the parts for younger voices, and here they were very young voices! Antonio Ulucan da Silva sang Nicolas as a boy with authority and passion. He was joined by his younger sister Lara, and Lucy and Matthew Rayner to make up the pickled boys’ chorus. Once again the clarity and purity of sound was exactly what Britten requires.
The percussion came into their own in the final sections, with some bombastic tam-tam playing to bring the whole to a glorious conclusion. Britten includes two hymns for congregational use. In Noye this is normally taken up enthusiastically. On this occasion the audience may have loved the performance but seemed less than willing to sing when asked to do so.
After the interval we heard Mozart’s 1780 Vesperae Solennes de Confessore K339. The short movements do not dwell on the text and the final Magnificat – so often lovingly enhanced by other composers – is here over almost before it starts. Before that comes the only popular section, the Laudate Dominum for which soprano Sophie Levi provided radiant tone.
On a very blustery night it was encouraging to see a large audience in Christ Church and we can hope this will continue for the next event on 1 December in St Clements, which brings works by Bach, Telemann, Schutz and Buxtehude.
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