July 2016: Wind in the Willows

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Sunday 3 July, 2016.
Dartington Great Hall

How exciting and refreshing to hear rarely performed music sung with panache and assurance by the fine voices of the Exeter Festival Chorus, under the direction of Nigel Perrin. We were treated to a “pot pourri” of pieces which gave the choir a chance to shine, show off their lighter side and work with an array of instrumental colours.

Stanford’s anthemic ‘Songs of the Fleet’ called us to attention. Sung with bright conviction, the choir were joined by baritone Julian Rippon whose warm tone and commanding presence perfectly suited this Imperialist piece. This was followed by Chilcott’s ‘The Making of the Drum’, celebrating how the living spirit of the drum is brought alive. The choir’s rhythmic precision and drive invited us to listen to their story and the percussion accompaniment and vocal sound effects further added to the atmosphere. How nice too to hear a piece where the altos were given a chance to shine!

The stillness and calm of ‘God is dumb until the drum speaks’ led perfectly in to Tučapsky’s setting of the Ted Hughes poem The Seven Sorrows. Having moved, to integrate and blend the voices further, the choir were joined by the sumptuous playing of internationally acclaimed violinist, Madeleine Mitchell. This elegiac work fused Czech and English music to create an emotive pastorale and the performance was of the very highest calibre.

Rutter’s ‘Wind in the Willows’ was introduced as “an entertainment” and it certainly made the audience smile with its remarkably convincing car noises, saucy gaoler’s daughter, debonair Toad and carol-singing field-mice (the sopranos exploiting their character to the full). The choir’s diction was to be applauded in the very rapid patter songs and the finale, ‘Home is a special kind of feeling’, was like a warm embrace. A final treat came in the form of an arrangement of Gershwin’s ‘I got rhythm’, with accents giving the syncopation added punch. This also gave an opportunity for an unsung hero of the evening, Peter Adcock, a chance to shine with some truly dazzling piano playing.

The programme may have been billed as ‘Wind in the Willows’ but it was an evening of respite from the dreary British summer weather with an entertaining and original programme in the beautiful setting of Dartington’s Great Hall.


Angela Blackwell