April 2017: Heaven on Earth

“Beautiful”, “stunning phrasing” and “amazing” were just some of the comments that my fellow audience members uttered at the end of this memorable concert. There were many reasons why the evening was such a success, apart from the obvious fact that this is a choir and musical director at the very top of their game. The programme included well established, popular repertoire such as Allegri’s Miserere (complete with soaring, crystal clear high Cs) and Lloyd Webber’s Pie Jesu. This was staged with the two excellent soprano soloists centre stage whilst the choir enveloped and surrounded the audience. This magical effect meant the audience was immersed in the sound and was used to even better effect in Whitacre’s hope, faith, life, love. I cannot speak highly enough of the ensemble skill of the choir in this piece; perfectly balanced, expert pitching, clarity of individual entries and breathing and singing as one.

Alongside these popular choral works we were also introduced to Pizzetti’s Requiem. This continued an underlying link between many of the pieces, the use of Gregorian chant. The moments of stillness and angelic opening of the Sanctus made this a piece worth discovering. However, the dramatic punch of the evening was delivered in MacMillan’s Chorales from St John Passion. I was not fortunate enough to hear the choir give this work its South West première in 2013 but I was bowled over by the dramatic intensity and raw emotion of this performance. This is not a pretty story and MacMillan’s re-telling brought the story to us afresh, with the final poignancy of “My Son, My Boy” suddenly making the work more personal. The choir created a fabulous range of colours (matched by Peter Adcock at the organ) with impressive forte singing and attack balanced by beautifully controlled decrescendi, warm low bass notes contrasting with the wailing at the cross of the altos and tenors and expectant silences following the powerful cries of “Judas”.

One final strand of the evening was the element of dedication: Lloyd Webber’s work dedicated to his father, Whitacre’s to his wife and MacMillan’s to Sir Colin Davis. This concert was dedicated to Norman Babbedge, a founding member of the choir, who had recently passed away. To end with his favourite piece, Bruckner’s Locus Iste, was a wonderful tribute and a fitting end to a superb evening of choral singing.

Angela Blackwell