December 2013: Winter Gala

Exeter Cathedral, Saturday 7 December 2013

Source: David Batty

A CORNUCOPIA OF CONTRASTS!

A cornucopia of contrasts might be an apt alliterative description of the gala concert given by the Exeter Festival Chorus under their conductor Nigel Perrin and the Band of Her Majesty's Royal Marines, Lympstone under Huw Williams at Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 7 December, with music ranging from military band music through jazz song settings, grand opera to a modern setting of the Mass.

The concert opened with two rousing pieces played by the Band which included an amazing piece of synchronised playing by four side-drummers; the Band members' attire only added to the splendid effect!  Later in the evening, the Band demonstrated its virtuosity and sense of style in an effective suite from Leonard Bernstein's West Side Story.

Extracts from Karl Jenkins' popular The Armed Man formed the centrepiece of the Festival Chorus's contribution to the concert.  This was well-trodden territory for members of the Chorus who have performed the work on previous occasions and they responded strongly to the insistent rhythms of the 'Agnus Dei' and 'Sanctus' and the vigour of 'Better is Peace'.  Praise too should go to the accompanying Band who cannot have been so familiar with the work, with a particularly affecting alto sax solo in the lyrical and beautifully sung 'Benedictus'.

Principal guest artists, singer Jacqui Dankworth and pianist and arranger (and husband) Charlie Wood, entertained us with two sets of songs from stage and screen.  Their repertoire ranged from the singer showing off her silky voice in Pure Imagination, through the jazz ballad setting of On My Own (effective strings from the Band here)to the show-stopping If I were a Bell.  In contrast, we were in the romantic world of the waltz for I took Your Hand, while instrumental solos from pianist and Band added to the extended arrangement of Oh, Lady be Good!  It was disappointing, though, that the resonant acoustic of the Cathedral almost totally masked the words (about quantum physics!) that the singer had written for her father's title music for It's Tomorrow's World.  Band members contributed various wind solos in support of the songs and, throughout, Jacqui Dankworth demonstrated why she was making such a popular reappearance with the Festival Chorus.

Band and Chorus came together for two other big numbers.  The first, the 'Triumphal March' from Verdi's Aida was resplendent if somewhat stately, while the second, a medley of Christmas carols and songs that ended the concert, matched the festive atmosphere of the Christmas market to be found outside on the Cathedral Green.

This enjoyable concert was given in aid of the Royal Marines Charitable Trust Fund.