November 2014: Music for the Abbey

Buckfast Abbey, Saturday 1 November 2014

Source: Angela Blackwell

A POIGNANT PROMENADE

This evening's concert was a sheer delight in so many ways and how nice to see that such imaginative programming was rewarded with a full house. Under the assured direction of Nigel Perrin, the choir performed an a cappella programme to celebrate Buckfast Abbey's fine acoustic. Whilst all the music was composed in the last 150 years, the influence of earlier composers - through the use of Gregorian chant and cori spezzati - was evident and ensured that the building's acoustic was fully on display. Careful stage managing had also taken place, with the choir promenading to different parts of the Abbey, inviting the audience to hear music afresh from a new physical angle.

The evening began with the choir behind us, performing Messiaen's contemplative and colourful 'O Sacrum Convivium' before moving to face the audience for Duruflé's 'Quatre Motets sur des thèmes grégoriens'. Here there were many highlights - excellent altos to the fore, fine chant soloists, a delicate and inviting ‘Tota Pulchra Es’ and a glorious contrapuntal ‘Tu Es Petrus’.  The Duruflé was followed by Rheinberger's extraordinary double choir ‘Mass in E-flat’ which was performed in the choir stalls. A brisk tempo was set throughout and the choir's excellent ensemble skill was clearly on display. The programme ended with a selection of 'Music for Vespers' by Tchaikovsky. The distinctive Russian choral writing, performed near the altar, provided an effective contrast with which to end the concert. With the language posing no difficulty to the choir and the basses continuing to utilise their very lowest register, this was reverent and uplifting choral music sung with heart.

This was a challenging programme that only the most experienced choirs could perform successfully (the ensemble skill needed for so much homophonic writing, maintaining intonation, with no physical break from singing). The Exeter Festival Chorus performed it not only with ease but treated us all to an evening that was profoundly moving, both spiritually and musically, and in a glorious acoustic.