Guildford Chamber Choir

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Reviews of recent concerts
11th March 2017
Small choir with a big following attracts a full house for concert

CHOEUR et Orgue - a daunting title for a concert by one of Guildford's best small choirs, the Guildford Chamber Choir. It drew a good house at St Nicolas' Church, Guildford. The music dated from the early 20th century and the choral items were interspersed by organ items from Louis Vierne's Pièces de Fantaisie, performed brilliantly by the choir's musical director, Stephen Grahl. The most successful pieces were those drawing on the 'will o'the wisp' moods, with delicate figurations darting all over the keyboard and a fluency worthy of Olivier Messiaen. The more familiar Carillon de Westminster also received a welcome airing.
Francis Poulenc underwent something of a religious reawakening after the tragic death of his friend and one of the products of this was his Mass in G. This was performed with great skill by the choir, with delightful contribution of soprano soloist Katie Offord. Even more notable was the wonderful cantata Un soir de niege, composed shortly after the liberation of Paris in 1944 when things were still very bleak. The performance was incredibly moving.
Claude Debussy, Maurice Ravel and Jean Françaix wrote very little choral music but this does not belie the sheer quality of the choral music that they did compose. The intense atmosphere of Debussy's settings of the charmingly archaic poetry of Charles d'Orléans, with its tender love poetry, its depiction of the tambourin and its denunciation of winter, was well conveyed by the choir. Françaix's Trois Po
èmes de Paul Valéry has only received a couple of performances and that given by the Guildford Chamber Choir was masterful indeed, tricky passages being well articulated.
Ravel's setting of his own words, written while waiting to be enlisted in the army at the beginning of the First World War, have a sense of melancholy about them. The cautionary Nicolette was full of character, Helen Pritchard and others produced lovely solos in Trois beaux oiseaux and the Ronde, with its depiction of 'myrmodones, hamadryades', was a tour de force of virtuosity.
The beneficiary charity was the Rainbow Trust, which supports families of seriously-ill children.

Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser
19th November 2016
Choir's memorable concert of music by the Baroque Masters

If you wanted an authentic, brilliantly executed and joyful concert on Saturday, Holy Trinity in Guildford was the place to go. To a packed house the Guildford Chamber Choir and a new Oxford-based ensemble, Instruments of Time and Truth, presented music by Bach and Handel in aid of the Halow Trust, a local organisation that supports young people with learning disabilities.

A performance of one of the more reflective of Handel’s anthems, written for the coronation of King George II, My heart is inditing, opened the proceedings. The gentler central movements were particularly effective and in the final Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, agile choral singing was partnered by the magnificent trumpet playing. It is such a joy to hear baroque trumpets at all, let alone when they are played as brilliantly as they were by Stephen Cutting, Neil Brough, and Adrian Woodward. They excelled also in Bach’s third orchestral suite, which contains the famous air, beautifully played by the orchestra’s leader Bojan Cicic.

Bach’s motet Fürchte dich nicht is a complex piece, full of intricate counterpoint: it plays on a descending chromatic theme underneath a soaring soprano chorale. To listen to it is a fascinating experience and the choir’s performance under Stephen Grahl was truly inspired. The composer’s setting of the Magnificat is a mixture of the triumphant (superb trumpets again), the reflective, the imposing, the gentle, and the fearful. Of the soloists, soprano Elizabeth Rauch gave an exultant rendering of Et exultavit. Alto Jeremy Jepson and tenor Jonathan Hanley, both lay clerks at Peterborough Cathedral, blended beautifully in Et misericordia eius and gave incredibly moving performances of Deposuit and Esurientes, the latter accompanied by flute playing of the first order. Bass Robert Haylett gave a workmanlike performance of Quia fecit mihi magna. But for all the virtuosity from the choir, singing their hearts out in the rapid notes of Omnes, omnes and Fecit potentiam, the true kernel was Suscepit Israel where women’s voices are partnered by a solo oboe playing an ancient plainchant.

Truly a memorable occasion, one of those concerts that you did not wish to end.

Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 25 November 2016)
18th June 2016
Wonderful evening of poetry and music at St Peter's

The Song of Songs, attributed to King Solomon, is a collection of evocative poetry about love. It is a wonderful vehicle for musical settings, several of which were performed by Guildford Chamber Choir at St Peter's Church in Old Woking on Saturday June 18. Conductor Steven Grahl devised the programme in an imaginative way. The love poems were interspersed with movements from two settings of the Latin Mass, beginning with Victoria's incomparable, contrapuntal Missa Vidi speciosam, which found the choir in fine form, even if some voices stuck out a bit in the dry acoustic. This was soon solved by my moving to a seat further back, when the pure blend and excellence of the choir became apparent.

Two settings of words from the Song of Songs by Palestrina were striking for their emotional fulsomeness, while Anima mea, liquefacta est by Flemish composer Orlande de Lassus was a gloriously descriptive account of the words. The choir's fluency increased as the programme progressed, through Jacob Praetorius's Surge, propera amica mea and more movements of the Victoria Mass, while organist Matthew Pickard introduced two emotionally intense Bach chorale preludes - wonderful on the church's late 19th century organ.

After the interval the choir launched into a Spanish export to Mexico, the lively Missa Ego flos campi by Juan Gutiérrez de Padilla, in which the more chordal textures than we had heard in the first half were backed up sensitively by the organ. Twentieth-century settings of the Song of Songs followed - Bairstow's 'Victorian' harmonies were contrasted with Walton's harmonically acerbic Set me as a seal, in which two members of the choir gave excellent solos. More acerbic still, but extremely effective, was Sebastian Forbes's My promised bride, which was performed with great skill. More conservative in style was David Bednall's Charity for solo organ, while contributions from Toronto-based Healey Willan and Cambridge-based Patrick Hadley, followed by the final movements of Padilla's Mass, concluded a wonderful evening of music.

The concert was in support of the Samson Centre for MS sufferers, and was followed by a party to mark Steven Grahl's 10 years as conductor of the choir.

Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 1 July 2016)
5th March 2016
The pure joy of Vespers

Rachmaninoff wrote his Vespers, a musical setting of liturgy from four succeeding services, in 1915. Its derivation from Russian Orthodox chant is more apparent than real, as many of the melodies are the composer's own. They are strikingly different, however, from the soaring romantic big tunes of the orchestral works. The way Rachmaninoff uses the melodies in this work for an unaccompanied choir is impressive and makes considerable demands on the singers.

The crowds flocking to St Nicolas' Church last Saturday (March 5) were in for a treat. The Guildford Chamber Choir performed the entire work with movements interspersed with seven of Rachmaninoff's piano preludes in appropriate keys. This was an original and effective idea. Gavin Roberts performed these difficult pieces with aplomb but was somewhat hampered by the inadequate instrument.

The All Night Vigil, to give it its more accurate title, contains tremendous textural variety. Sometimes soloists sing against or above the choir, sometimes the sonority of bells is invoked, sometimes there are cries of despair, sometimes there are exultant shouts of pure joy, sometimes there is extreme simplicity and sometimes there are multi-layered textures verging on the orchestral. Although there is nothing, apart from the sheer scale and difficulty of the work, to prevent it from being performed liturgically, this was a concert performance in a very appropriate venue, with the church's iconic crucifix displayed above the singers. That said, there was a supreme spirituality about this performance.

Well rehearsed and accurate, the choir sang convincingly and the words could be heard even at the back of the church. I am told on good authority that the Russian pronunciation was excellent. There were no really deep-voiced Russian-style basses in the choir, but no lack of good bass notes notwithstanding. Well shaped by conductor Steven Grahl, the performance contained plenty of dynamic variety. Perhaps in places the soloists could have been more prominent above the choral texture, but the overall effect was stunning.

Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 11 March 2016)

14th March 2015
Guildford Chamber Choir present imaginative contribution to Guildford Festival

In view of the devastating news from Vanuatu, the Guildford Chamber Choir’s contribution to the Guildford International Music Festival had an appropriate title: Cloudburst. It was an imaginative collection of unfamiliar twentieth-century music. It began with William Mathias’s colourful settings of Songs by Shakespeare which invoked the Celtic sensitivities of the composer, as much in the evocative piano accompaniment as in the vocal lines. Particularly attractive was the movement ‘Sigh no more, ladies’, in which the men whistled expertly, helped along by a descant recorder, while the women sang.

The subsequent applause merged unintentionally with the next item, Steve Reich’s Clapping Music, a clever piece of rhythmic interaction performed by Oliver Cox and Owen Gunnell, who make up the percussion ensemble O Duo. The next piece was even more fascinating: John Cage’s Living Room Music was performed on a combination of enamel and china dishes (the acoustics of one being modified by the presence of a lemon), magazines, and newspapers set in what passed for a ‘living room’. In this O Duo were joined by the choir’s conductor Steven Grahl and pianist Gavin Roberts. O Duo’s skills as a percussion ensemble came to the fore in Searching, based on their own improvisations and played on a combination of tuned percussion instruments.

Eric Whitacre’s Three Flower Songs presented a challenge easily met by the choir, singing unaccompanied throughout and giving much attention to the intense words of Emily Dickinson, Edmund Waller, and Lorca. The choir was joined by O Duo and Gavin Roberts on the piano in William Mathias’s setting of Dylan Thomas’s extremely dark poem Ceremony after a Fire Raid. This chilling piece received a rendering of great depth.

Cloudburst is a setting by Eric Whitacre of a poem by Octavio Paz. The words talk of drought and wilderness, sung unaccompanied by the choir, and then just when you think it is going to finish, the cloudburst comes, a wonderful depiction by percussion, piano, hand bells, and finger-clicking, which had the audience spellbound.

Shelagh Godwin 
18th October 2014
Vespers eases through the gears

When Monteverdi published his Vespro della Beata Vergine in Venice in 1610, having written the pieces probably during his years in Mantua, he may never have envisaged a complete performance. More likely it was a compilation of music from which choirmasters could choose. Nevertheless, from John Eliot Gardiner’s historic 1964 performance in Cambridge onwards, it has been popularly regarded as a single composition.

It was written at a time when music was essentially fluid, with mediaeval modes giving way to modern tonalities, and counterpoint, where each part is equally important, was giving way to melody and bass. Monteverdi’s ‘Vespers’ contains all these elements, and that is what makes it so exciting to perform and to listen to. Intensely dramatic and abounding in flourishes, it presented a worthy challenge to the Guildford Chamber Choir who performed it in Holy Trinity Church on Saturday.

The flourishes were sung by a range of excellent soloists drawn from the ranks of the choir, including conductor Stephen Grahl who stepped off the rostrum to give a thrilling account of words from the Song of Solomon. The 30-strong choir sang fluently, with a lovely if restrained tone, even if in some places in the wordy psalm settings the singers were not quite together.
However, the second half of the concert was a revelation. It began with the sopranos cutting through an instrumental sonata with the words ‘Sancta Maria, ora pro nobis’ (Holy Mary, pray for us), followed by the ancient hymn ‘Ave Maris Stella’ (Hail, star of the sea), and concluded with a wonderful Magnificat based on an old plainsong chant. The choir sang superbly and the accompaniment was masterful with Gavin Roberts providing sterling support on the chamber organ.
The concert was in aid of the Guildford-based mental health charity Canterbury Care
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 24 October 2014)
7th June 2014
Summer concert not interrupted by Nonsense

The title, Nonsense, proved to be an appropriate one for the concert presented by the Guildford Chamber Choir in the superb auditorium at St Catherine’s School, Bramley, last Saturday.

The 25-strong choir under their conductor Steven Grahl opened their programme with Bob Chilcott’s evocative settings of songs and cries of London. The more rapid numbers, the anonymous Come buy and London bells (perhaps an older, more authentic version of the famous nursery rhyme), received slick performances although clearer diction would have been an advantage. But Chilcott’s apt settings of William Dunbar’s The Flower of Cities and Wordsworth’s immortal lines composed upon Westminster Bridge showed the choir at its best, while the concluding Good Morrow was simply tremendous fun.

John Gardner’s Seven Songs are in every way a tougher nut to crack. These effective but busy settings of Shakespeare and his contemporaries require more clarity of diction, and a livelier approach to soft passages, than was heard at this concert. Given that, these songs received an accurate and committed performance, expertly accompanied by pianists Simon Phillips and Stephen Ridge. Phillips and Ridge contributed a fine performance of Constant Lambert’s Trois Pieces Nègres, finely-wrought miniatures employing only the white keys on the piano, and a delightful suite written by Richard Rodney Bennett for his two cats Skip and Sadie: this was charming but somewhat derivative.

The final item in this summer concert was the most entertaining, Rodney Bennett’s seven songs entitled Nonsense. These were deliciously descriptive, and received performances to match. Aunts and Uncles had a quirky humour, O Here It Is! had a soulful tinge and the concluding Dwarf of Battersea had a melancholy humour that brought the evening to an appropriate close. Again Phillips and Ridge provided expert accompaniment.

The Guildford Chamber Choir looks forward to its next concert on Saturday October 18 in Holy Trinity Church, when it will perform Monteverdi’s Vespers.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 13 June 2014)
8th March 2014
A stirring reception for the Messiah

The years of vast performances of Handel’s Messiah may be behind us. This month's performance in St Nicolas Church by the Guildford Chamber Choir and Guildford Baroque reproduced the kind of performance that Handel would have been accustomed to.

Messiah is a monumental work frequently performed with omissions, as was this performance. The dramatic choruses were superbly sung by the 30-strong choir who produced a much greater volume of sound than one might associate with that number. Their agility and accuracy in the Christmas choruses in part I was impressive. But particularly telling was the series of choruses depicting Christ’s Passion: ‘Surely’ with its intense dotted rhythms, ‘And with His stripes’ with its methodical fugal writing, and ‘All we like sheep’ taken at a racing tempo right up to the searing dissonance of the final climactic line. The 'Hallelujah', complete with vibrant baroque trumpets (earlier heard from the back of the church in ‘Glory to God’) had everyone on their feet. It was King George II who began that practice. ‘Since by man came death’, sung unaccompanied, was magnificently phrased by conductor Steven Grahl, and the final Amen sent a thrill through everybody. The ten players of Guildford Baroque, supported by Gavin Roberts, who leapt effortlessly from harpsichord to organ and back again, provided expert accompaniment once they had overcome the slight problem with balance in the overture.
Soprano soloist Robyn Allegra Parton had rather more to sing than in many performances: she performed the roulades in ‘But who may abide the day of His coming’ splendidly, and gave a telling performance of the little aria which turns the mood round from despair to hope: ‘But thou didst not leave His soul in hell’. Countertenor Tom Hammond-Davies added subtle, effective ornamentation to his moving performance of ‘He was despised’. Tenor Guy Cutting gave a beautiful tone to the opening ‘Comfort ye’ but in the harmonically bold recitative ‘Thy rebuke has broken His heart’, his expressive qualities came to the fore. Bass Patrick Edmond was virtuosic in ‘Why do the nations’ and met the challenge of ‘The trumpet shall sound’, partnered expertly by Neil Brough.

This concert was a worthy tribute to the memory of Bryan Yendole, a devoted choir member who died in August
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 28 March 2014)
23rd November 2013
Orchestra and choir come together to perform a great Mozart final composition

Listening to Mozart's Requiem, the very last music he wrote, one is compelled to ask what else he would have written had he not died when he did. Even in its unfinished state it contains music of the highest inspiration, enhanced by the composer's discovery of contrapuntal music by Bach and Handel. 

In completing it, Franz Süssmayr enabled the work to be performed and blending the work of the two composers has to be one of the challenges presented to anyone performing it. It was a challenge supremely met by the charismatic Kenneth Woods and his Surrey Mozart Players and the Guildford Chamber Choir at Holy Trinity Church, Guildford, on November 23.

The performance was imbued with courageously fast tempi and a forward momentum even between movements (no respect here for the liturgical context of the work), coupled with an intense enjoyment of Mozart's complex orchestral and choral writing. The strings and darkly coloured winds chosen by Mozart sounded great in the resonant acoustic. The choir was alert, responsive and accurate, with excellent attention to dynamic contrasts,and the performance graced by some fine soloists. Soprano Sofia Larsson shone in the plainsong Te decet hymnnus, blending nicely with contralto Elizabeth Sikora, tenor Andrew Wicks, and bass Michael Druiett in the glorious Recordare and S
üssmayr's Benedictus, but the Tuba mirum was almost too operatic (perhaps what Mozart intended).

When members of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra baulked at playing more music by 'an unknown Czech composer', they may have had in mind the difficulties presented by Dvorak's Sixth Symphony. With its wealth of good tunes, scurrying string passages, remarkable modulations, moments of fugato and quirky exuberance, it did not faze the Surrey Mozart Players, some rough edges notwithstanding. There was an innate excitement to Kenneth Woods' interpretation, contrasted by a glorious intensity in the slow movement, enhanced by some fine woodwind playing.

We look forward to John McCabe's Trumpet Concerto and Copland's Appalachian Spring in the same venue on Saturday February 1.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 13 December 2013)
12th October 2013
Chamber choir launches season

A good house greeted the Guildford Chamber Choir as they began their 2013-14 season with an enterprising programme including a couple of unfamiliar works by British composers.

The more substantial of these was Magnificat cum Angelis, a setting first performed in 2012 of the Latin Magnificat and words from mediaeval mystery plays. The composer Janet Wheeler has had much experience of training and conducting choirs and this certainly showed in her writing. This expansive setting of the words is immediately attractive to listener and performer alike. Above all it conveys the joy of the text as well as the bewilderment of a Middle Eastern girl who has just been told she is going to have a miraculous baby. Lively irregular rhythms and percussion sounds tending towards the exotic contrast with solo and choral melodies and long flowing lines intended to suggest the double helix of DNA.

Robyn Allegra Parton’s solo soprano voice rang through the church in a lovely manner, and the choir conducted by Steven Grahl got to the very heart of the work, from its evocative bell-like opening to its radiant conclusion, and were expertly accompanied by the Chameleon Arts Orchestra.

Cecilia McDowell’s Ave Maris Stella, written in the wake of the 9/11 atrocity, intersperses another ancient Latin text with words from Psalm 106/7. The work begins and ends with a gentle radiance. The contrasting stormy central section, crisply executed by choir and orchestra, was surrounded by some breathtaking solo chanting by the soprano soloist.

Between these two works, which certainly merit further performances, was Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms. Written nearly fifty years ago, these settings of the Hebrew texts from the composer of the score of West Side Story have immediate appeal for their dramatic contrasts and skilful word setting.
The choir’s contribution was alert and accurate, New College Oxford chorister Inigo Jones sang the setting of The Lord is my Shepherd quite beautifully, and it was good to hear the original accompaniment of organ, percussion and harp, even if the distance between them led to the occasional lack of co-ordination.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 25 October 2013)

2nd March 2013
Choir give Haydn their all

The Guildford Chamber Choir presented a wonderful concert in aid of that deserving cause Carers Support which provides support for carers within the Guildford area. The concert opened in an unusual way, the members processing to the front to a striking march for trumpets and drums, written by CPE Bach for the city of Halle in 1763. Installed in their seats, the 30-strong choir launched into Haydn’s anthem Insanae et vanae curae. Originally forming part of an oratorio, this piece is full of drama and surprising modulations and contrasts, and received a remarkable performance from the choir, under Steven Grahl, and Guildford Baroque, performing at slightly below modern concert pitch.

The adoption of this pitch added a relaxed note to the evening, particularly in the following work, Schubert’s Mass in G. This was written when the eighteen-year-old Schubert was embarking on a teaching career, and won the approval of his teacher Salieri. It is full of good moments, in particular an Agnus Dei which foreshadows the Schubert of later years in its wonderful harmonies, and a stirring Credo in which a treading – one might say ‘faith-full’ - bass never stops. The choir’s approach in this was appropriately restrained, right up to the calm of the final notes, and there were some lovely solos too.

The solo soprano played a key role in the final work, Haydn’s remarkable Nelson Mass, first performed, probably in the admiral’s presence, in 1798, a good seventeen years before Schubert’s Mass was written.  In the soprano role Robyn Allegra Parton was quite brilliant, her voice ringing through the resonant acoustic of St Nicolas Church in a wonderful way. The other soloists, Carris Jones, tenor Mark Chaundy, and bass Oliver Hunt, blended beautifully in the ensemble passages and made some lovely solo contributions too. The choir gave this wonderful work their all, losing all the restraint they had adopted during the Schubert, and matched Guildford Baroque and the skilful organist Gavin Roberts in a memorable performance
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 5 April 2013)
12th May 2012
Change of direction from chamber choir lights up school's new centre

I was unaware before last weekend of the wonderful new arts centre at St Catherine’s School, Bramley. This state of the art venue, the Anniversary Halls Auditorium, flanked by practice rooms and a drama studio which must be the envy of many, was the scene for an exciting venture into the world of jazz by the Guildford Chamber Choir.

When it comes to jazz there can be few better present-day exponents than Will Todd, whose Mass in Blue formed the centrepiece of the programme. This is forceful, direct music, strongly rhythmic, and a very sincere setting of the Latin Mass but with no sense of sentimentality. It received a stirring performance from the choir under Stephen Grahl and what must be an essential ingredient of any performance of this piece, the Will Todd trio with the composer himself at the piano, and complemented by the superb jazz soprano Bethany Halliday.

But this was not the only jazz in the programme. The popular choral composer Bob Chilcott had his own stab at the idiom with his Jazz Folk Songs, including Scarborough Fair, a laconic Tell My Ma and admittedly a rather better setting of The House of the Rising Sun than the version immortalised by The Animals in the 1960s, and concluding with a hilariously syncopated setting of Waltzing Matilda. These were all elegantly phrased by the choir, and there were some lovely solo interjections from choir members. In these, again, Will Todd’s trio provided the apt accompaniment.

However, the choir was on its own for the other Chilcott piece, his development of Purcell’s lovely fragment Hear my Prayer. Soulful, and with some amorphous harmonies, this piece evoked some lovely sounds from the choir, who then went on to perform Morten Lauridsen’s Nocturnes, set to words in French, Spanish and English. None of the foreign languages presented any problems for the singers, and to the able accompaniment of Stephen Ridge they conveyed this mellifluous music beautifully
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 18 May 2012)
11th February 2012
Wonderful way to warm an evening

There could be few better ways of warming up a winter's evening than to listen to the concert given by the Guildford Chamber Choir in a none-too-warm St Nicolas Church last Saturday.
Under the welcoming title of Abendlied (Evening Song) and conducted by their regular conductor Steven Grahl, the choir, accompanied by skilled organist Gavin Roberts, presented a programme of music by Mendelssohn, Brahms, and a composer best known for his organ music, Josef Rheinberger.

The first half of the concert in particular flowed beautifully, beginning with Mendelssohn's lyrical motet Verleih uns Frieden, before launching into Rheinberger's Mass in E flat. This is a remarkable piece for its melodiousness, its arresting harmonies, its wonderful word-painting, and a gloriously peaceful, almost instrumental ending: and yet it is for unaccompanied choir.

The Chamber Choir sang excellently, with only a minute drop in pitch. It is intense music, and the movements were sensitively interspersed with a Mendelssohn organ sonata in a related key, evocatively played by Gavin Roberts. That each movement flowed one into the other, without leaving space for the interruption that applause would have given, made the programme even more effective. The first half ended with the strictly canonic Geistliches Lied by the young Johannes Brahms, a piece in which contrapuntal skill is always servant to musical ecstasy.

The second half contained two intense motets in the key of D minor: Mendelssohn's setting of Psalm 43 and Brahms's questioning setting of words from, among others, Job - Warum ist das Licht gegeben. This is romantic music of the highest order, and the Chamber Choir, sometimes divided into eight parts, sang superbly.

Between them Gavin Roberts played one of Brahms's mysterious late chorale preludes, O Gott, du frommer Gott, and his performance of a peaceful Andante from Rheinberger's Organ Sonata in C preceded three wonderful unaccompanied choral songs by the same composer. These evoked the nightingale's song and the glory of God, and concluded with the beautiful Abendlied, performed in memory of choir member and pianist Sheila Blow, who passed away last year. Guildford Citizens' Advice Bureau was the beneficiary charity.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser (Friday 17 Feb 2012)
29th October 2011
King James Bible texts set to glorious music

As the year of celebrations of the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible draws to a close, a concert of music set to its texts was entirely fitting. Appropriately, the setting was Holy Trinity Church, the burial place of Archbishop George Abbot, one of the translators. It is situated just opposite the ‘hospital’ founded by him, the beneficiary charity of the concert presented by the Guildford Chamber Choir under guest conductor Graham Ross.

Perhaps thanks to the half term holiday, this concert had an intimate feel which suited the music ideally, even though the programme was framed by two of Handel’s weighty Chandos anthems. The first of these, O sing unto the Lord, has a distinctly Purcellian quality, and was performed with passion by the twenty-strong choir accompanied by the truly superb Guildford Baroque (four strings, baroque oboe, and chamber organ). The other, Let God arise, contains many of the hallmarks of the superb Italianate psalm-setting Dixit Dominus and received a crisp, excellently articulated, and convincing performance. Purcell’s own setting of O sing unto the Lord, the centrepiece of the programme, contains some amazingly expressive moments as well as much virtuosity. The many solos in these three pieces were shared between members of the choir, and their performances were truly inspired.

A remarkable piece by the teenage Purcell, My beloved spake, contains some striking harmonies and received a most moving performance. It was interesting to compare his coronation anthem I was glad with a setting by William Boyce, much more rococo in style and deftly performed from the side aisles of the church – creating a very effective sound.

Guildford Baroque had an opportunity to shine on their own, not only in the lovely opening symphonies to the Handel anthems, but in Purcell’s incomparable Chacony in G minor, where so much that is incredible takes place over a recurring bass.

This concert was a worthy tribute to ‘the book that changed the world’.  
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser
2nd May 2011
A celebration of biblical proportions

May 2 2011 was the 400th anniversary of the publication of the King James Bible, and a day of celebration at the almshouses in Guilford established by one of the translators, no less a figure than George Abbot, Archbishop of Canterbury. The celebration was a concert by the Guildford Chamber Choir in the lovely Chapel at Abbot’s Hospital.

The sun shone through the stained-glass windows depicting the life of Jacob, and created a wonderful atmosphere as the choir under Steven Grahl launched into Byrd’s Sing joyfully, followed by more sacred music dating from the time of the translation
. Absolutely outstanding were settings by Tomkins and Weelkes of When David heard that Absolon was slain, and between them Alice Phillips’s reading of the gruesome tale as recounted in the King James Bible.  

Settings by Gibbons and Weelkes of the Palm Sunday antiphon Hosanna to the Son of David were interspersed with a reading of St Matthew’s account of Jesus’s triumphal entry into Jerusalem, preceded by Zechariah’s prophecy, again read by Alice Phillips
. Tallis’s contemplative If ye love me and Gibbons’s joyful psalm setting O clap your hands rounded off this beautifully presented sacred half of the evening

The rest of the concert took place in the elegant surroundings of the Guesten Hall upstairs, overlooking the courtyard. Food and champagne were served, and the choir entertained those present with madrigals by the same composers.

Not that these were all jolly: some of the ‘fa-la-las’ were distinctly melancholy, and Gibbons’s What is our life? and Weelkes’s O Care, thou wilt despatch me quite serious in tone, even if the evening ended on a lively note with Weelkes’s Hark, all ye lovely saints. It was an historic evening.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser
5th February 2011
Full marks for choir's concert performance

Music from our nearest neighbours, France and Belgium, was the focus of the Guildford Chamber Choir's concert in St Nicolas last Saturday.

It began with Maurice Duruflé's Messe Cum Jubilo written towards the end of the composer's life but still carrying echoes of his better-known
Requiem. The Mass is set for male chorus and organ: the virtuoso writing complements the flexible simplicity of the unison vocal line, based as it is on plainsong, resulting in a very satisfying whole. The stunning organ part was superbly played by Gavin Roberts and the chorus part was beautifully shaped by conductor Steven Grahl.

The women excelled themselves in Francis Poulenc's Litanies à la Vierge Noire, which marked the composer's return to religious fervour, inspired as it was by a visit to Rocamadour just two days after the tragic death of a close friend. The intense mysticism of the piece came over well in this performance, partnered brilliantly by the organ: you could almost smell the incense! This performance was framed by two Poulenc motets for the full choir:
Salve Regina and Exultate Deo. Both received excellent performances.  

The main work was Joseph Jongen's Mass. The music carries all the hallmarks of French music of this period (although Jongen was in fact Belgian): shimmering harmonies, flowing lines, dramatic interjections, and subtle word painting. The two solo quartets, drawn from the choir, sang with mellifluous beauty in the
Benedictus and long-lined melodies of the Agnus Dei were a joy to listen to. 

The movement has a lovely serene ending, which would have made an excellent conclusion to the concert, but it had been decided (perhaps in defference to the
Book of Common Prayer since the composer spent some time in England) to end with the lively and triumphant Gloria

Full marks for producing a programme of such original and interesting, and unfamiliar, music.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser
20th November 2010
New work marks choir's anniversary celebration

Guildford Chamber Choir's concert in Holy Trinity Church, Guildford, last Saturday, marked three anniversaries: the choir's 30th, St Catherine's School's 125th, and the beneficiary charity Cherry Trees' 30th.

The choir and the school had jointly commissioned a work from Philip Moore, formerly director of music at Guildford Cathedral and York Minster. Appropriately, given the date of the concert (St Cecilia's Day falls on November 22), Mr Moore had chosen an Ode on St Cecilia's Day written by Alexander Pope. The text, eulogising the power of music, gave ample opportunity for word painting.

The work, some 20 minutes long, abounds in it, from its striking opening theme based on a minor ninth, through gloriously pastoral movements and a stirring call to arms, to a radiant finale with more than a hint of fugue. The performance was nothing short of inspired: conductor Steven Grahl paced it beautifully, and it was a wonderful spectacle, the choir in front the Guildford Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra and its amazing leader Martin Smith, St Catherine's Middle Chamber Choir, directed by Geoffrey Field, on one side, and on the other the brilliant piano duo of Simon Phillips and Gavin Roberts, and a dramatic and effective percussion section.

The work is sensibly scored for the same forces as Britten's Saint Nicolas, which opened the programme. As in the Moore, this intensely dramatic piece was enhanced by the superb and powerful tenor voice of Daniel Norman, the lovely young sopranos (from the school choir) of Isara Segal, Helen Steel, and Pip Courage, and, in Saint Nicolas, the treble of Guildford Cathedral chorister Alistair Baumann. Both choirs were on top form, and the Chamber Orchestra provided sensitive and effective accompaniments.

The Chamber Choir gave a sturdy performance of Howells's Hymn for St Cecilia, and the School Choir gave scintillating performances of songs from Britten's Friday Afternoons, written for his brother's preparatory school.

It was a truly remarkable evening.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

22nd May 2010
Music for a summer's evening

A week before this concert no one would have believed that summer was going to arrive so quickly. In fact, as the audience poured into Guildford’s attractively modern United Reformed Church last Saturday the sun was blazing and the temperature hot. And the programme put together by Guildford Chamber Choir under their enterprising conductor Steven Grahl was eminently suitable.  

The evening was in aid of Skillway, a Godalming-based charity which provides training in manual skills for teenagers who have difficulty with the academic curriculum at their schools, and some of their work was on display in the foyer.  The concert, attended among others by Skillway director Humphrey Davis and the Mayor of Godalming, began with two folksong settings by the ever inventive Australian Percy Grainger, imaginatively presented by conductor and choir.

John Rutter wrote his charming ‘musical’ The Wind in the Willows for The King’s Singers. The Guildford Chamber Choir did the work much credit: it contains some stunning passages, and the animal characters were superbly portrayed by soloists from within the choir, one of whom (Linda Shepley) mounted to the pulpit for a wonderful depiction of the magistrate. The choir’s depiction of Toad cranking up his car was amazing!

Grayston Ives, former Guildford Cathedral lay-clerk and then director of Magdalen College Choir, Oxford, has written some very arresting music. Such are his Shakespeare settings, Songs for Ariel, haunting and descriptive: one could hear the bees buzzing and the waters rolling. Gavin Roberts was the imaginative piano accompanist.

Moeran’s Songs of Springtime contain more than a hint of his older contemporary Delius: a selection of them was expertly performed by a smaller group from the choir. The singers caught the contrasting moods and produced a focused, full tone and immaculate intonation. They were joined by Gavin Roberts at the piano and bassist George Parry for the very effective final item: George Shearing’s Songs and Sonnets from Shakespeare. These seven songs were delightfully performed, with excellent articulation and attention to rhythm.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

6th February 2010
St Nicolas hosts superb concert of baroque and classical music  

The church was cold and there were no refreshments after the concert. But it did not matter. The Guildford Chamber Choir’s visit to St Nicolas Church (temporarily minus its central heating system) was a roaring success. In aid of the Parkinson’s Disease Society Guildford, the concert consisted of music by those masters of the baroque and the classical, Mozart and Monteverdi. Conductor Steven Grahl had devised the programme so that the purely instrumental music were interspersed nicely with movements of a Mozart Mass and then with music by Monteverdi. 

The Mozart was an early work, written when the composer was just eighteen, and in the employment of the reformist Archbishop Colloredo who insisted on short, uncomplicated settings of the Mass. After a supremely confident opening from the band, the choir entered with the verve that marked their performance throughout the evening. We were transported into a fresh, early spring. They sang competently throughout, with many contributions, some better than others, from several soloists drawn from its ranks. Particularly lovely was the charming Osanna, a complete fugue fitted into just a few bars, and the touching Agnus Dei, in which solo passages were interspersed with fine choral singing.  The two Epistle Sonatas, programmed between the choral movements, were beautifully played by members of Guildford Baroque.

A lively and virtuosic performance of Monteverdi’s well-known Beatus Vir opened the second half. The Nisi Dominus and Lauda Jerusalem that followed was remarkable for its elaborate melodic lines, again beautifully executed. The purely instrumental Canzon by Cavalli was a thing of beauty on its own, as was the solo motet Pulchra Es, strikingly descriptive, and full of bold melodic twists, superbly captured by the blending voices of sopranos Georgia Black and Helen Pritchard. But the real tour de force was the final Gloria. Glorious indeed in its virtuosity, its harmonic excitement, and its descriptive bravura, this piece abounds in contrasts between virtuosic solo passages and solid blocks of choral sound. It received a brilliant performance, and, above all, every performer was enjoying it hugely.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

7th November 2009
A lovely degree of light and shade 

An unusual and varied programme of choral music to mark the season of remembrance drew a sizeable audience to Holy Trinity Church on Saturday evening. They were not disappointed. 

Guildford Chamber Choir’s programme, given in aid of Guildford Samaritans, began with Jonathan Dove’s striking motet Ecce beatam lucem in which the bold confident lines of the voices were offset by splendidly rippling arpeggios from the organist Gavin Roberts.

He in turn played two evocative pieces by Herbert Howells. His Master Tallis’s Testament abounds with modal inflexions from an earlier age and sounded most attractive: in contrast the Paean was exuberant and joyful. Both pieces received splendid performances.

While he was organist at Guildford Cathedral Philip Moore composed his Three Prayers of Dietrich Bonhoeffer for a locally-based vocal quartet, but this work has transferred well to the choral medium, even if the very opening cries out for the timbre of a counter tenor voice. This is not to denigrate the excellent contributions made by the soloists Georgia Black, Tessa Forbes, Michael Clark, and Simon Phillips. Conductor Steven Grahl steered the choir expertly through the many unusual harmonies in the three movements, and interpreted Bonhoeffer’s poignant words with a lovely degree of light and shade.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

21st February 2009
Musical skills combined in superb St John Passion

It was a treat to hear Bach’s great St John Passion, composed near the beginning of his Leipzig years, with forces substantially similar to those which Bach would have used. The performers were the 30-year-old Guildford Chamber Choir and the venue Guildford’s acoustically magnificent Holy Trinity Church.

The opening choral outburst ‘Herr, unser Herrscher’ was direct, confident, and forceful. But the thirty singers were just as excellent in the complex fugal passages that make up several of the short interjectory choruses. For this is a dramatic work, with the chorus frequently acting as the crowd participants, and whether defiantly negotiating with Pilate or screaming for the death of Jesus they were strong on accuracy, description, and excitement. Every so often in Bach’s Passions the familiar (to the first audiences) chorales punctuate the drama: these were imbued with a lovely rise and fall.

The soloists were top class. Tenor Simon Wall, standing in at short notice for the indisposed Nathan Vale, was vocally careful initially, but soon got into his stride with some expressive singing: his big role was not only to narrate the Gospel story but also to sing the substantial tenor arias, which he did to perfection. Particularly effective was ‘Erwäge’, accompanied superbly by two muted violins, an effective substitute for Bach’s stipulated viole d’amore. Thomas Guthrie gave a fine account of the Christus role, mostly recitatives and ariosos. Soprano Charlotte Mobbs lent a clear, pure timbre to her solo arias, and James Laing’s countertenor voice was simply thrilling. Bass Ben Davies produced some lovely phrasing in his arias, and also played a dramatic Pilate. From within the choir Georgia Black, Michael Clarke, and Peter Terry provided sensitive singing in supporting roles.

Many demands are made by Bach on the instrumentalists, and Guildford Baroque acquitted themselves magnificently: the flautists Guy Williams and Andrew Crawford were particularly impressive as was cellist Gabriel Amherst and viola da gamba player Imogen Seth-Smith. This wonderful performance was held together marvelously by conductor Stephen Grahl, accompanying on the organ during the recitatives, and by the harpsichordist Stephen Bullamore.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

29th November 2008

The Guildford Chamber Choir concert last Saturday, Gloria! included a mixture of choral music, mostly for double choir, the Wren Brass Ensemble and Organ. The choir was skilfully conducted by Steven Grahl.

From the very start the performance promised to be highly exciting with the Missa Bell' Amfitrit' altera by Orlando de Lassus, an eight-voice polyphonic work, setting the bar for the whole breath-taking concert. I particularly enjoyed the imitative entry for the words “Crucifixus etiam ...” though the organ could have been slightly louder, the timbre chosen being masked by both the choir and brass.

The mass was interluded by Sonata Pian' e Forte for brass by Giovanni Gabrieli where contrasting dynamics created a freshness, combined with impeccable co-ordination. The second interlude was La Padovana by Lodovico Grossi da Viadana. A slight glitch was skilfully turned into a demonstration of utter control of the situation which did not mar the performance but actually heightened it.

The second half was entirely dedicated to music by John Rutter, startaing with the Hymn to the Creator of Light, which is harmonically atypical for Rutter. This effective piece was rendered very well, the performance making one feel in awe as it so accurately portrayed the subject of the Hymn, God, especially in the wonderful echoing acoustics of Holy Trinity Church, Guildford.

Next came the exciting and technically demanding Rutter organ duo, Variations on an Easter theme, for which Gavin Roberts was joined on the organ by Steven Grahl in an exuberant rendition, providing a showcase, not only for the performers, but also for the instrument itself in all its glory.

The concert ended with an excellent performance of Rutter's Gloria! The exciting loud brass punches were well balanced by a powerful choir. Some percussion touches and the high register of the organ added a shimmer to the piece. It was thrillingly performed and an excellent finale to a wonderful evening.
Anthony Bonello
for the Surrey Advertiser

17th May 2008
The English Pastoral Tradition

Music by two of the principal composers of the English Pastoral Tradition, Ralph Vaughan Willliams and Herbert Howells, formed the mainstay of the Guildford Chamber Choir’s concert in Godalming Parish Church last Saturday.

Vaughan Williams's Mass in G minor is a demanding piece in that it is written for two choirs and a solo quartet. But the thirty-strong Guildford Chamber Choir managed it capably, with sensitive treatment of the plainsong-like themes, a good control of dynamics and some wonderful tonal qualities, not to mention some splendid singing from the solo quartet, drawn from the Choir's ranks. This piece, written by an agnostic composer, sounded entirely convincing.

Its movements were interspersed by pieces written by Vaughan Williams's younger contemporary Herbert Howells. The psalm setting Like as the Hart received an exceptionally moving performance in which the yearning phrases were beautifully shaped by the choir under conductor Stephen Grahl, while Gavin Roberts provided a very sensitive accompaniment on the church's fine pipe organ. Roberts excelled again in Howells's charming backward glance to the Elizabethan age, Master Tallis's Testament. All forces joined together in a splendid unison Hymn to St Cecilia set to words by the late Ursula Vaughan Williams.

The more astringent style of Benjamin Britten’s music provided a wonderful foil for the visionary words of the eighteenth-century poet and mystic Christopher Smart, who wrote Jubilate Agno (Rejoice in the Lamb) while he was in an asylum. Britten’s setting reflects the words wonderfully, with a veil of mysticism over the whole. This was well reflected in the choir’s performance, with great sensitivity and an excellent response to the work’s very varying moods. Four different soloists made splendid contributions, describing in great detail the antics of, for instance, Smart’s cat and mouse. Gavin Roberts played the complex organ part brilliantly.

Three attractive songs by Vaughan Williams, including the incomparable Linden Lea, received a very skilful performance from a group of 12 singers drawn from the choir, and this delightful evening, held in aid of the Meath Epilepsy Trust, ended with a radiant performance of the Vaughan Williams’s O clap your hands.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

23rd February 2008
Programme of French Music

Holy Trinity Church with its splendid acoustic was an apt venue for the Guildford Chamber Choir's latest offering under their conductor Steven Grahl.

The concert was presented in aid of the local charity Equipment for Disabled Children (EDC) whose chairman Christine Ward gave a brief talk about their work. The programme, devoted entirely to French music, opened with Gabriel Fauré's enchanting Cantique de Jean Racine which evoked lovely warm tones from the 30-strong chorus and sensitive accompaniment from Gavin Roberts on the organ.

Less avant-garde than some of his contemporaries, Pierre Villette excelled in his music for choirs: his Hymne à la Vierge contains some stunning chords that were well focussed by the choir, and included a lovely soprano solo sung by Sarah Armstrong. Maurice Duruflé's music is shot through with plainsong. His Quatre Motets are all quite different, and the choir caught these differences admirably, from the respectful praise of Ubi caritas to the mystic reverence of Tantum ergo. Gavin Roberts' performance of the same composer's Prélude from Suite caught the mood of this haunting piece aptly with appropriate choice of registrations. Olivier Messiaen's Diptyque is an early work, but it still displays the wonderful modal quality of much of his later music, and it received a convincing performance from Mr Roberts. The choir excelled themselves in the same composer's best known motet O sacrum convivium.

Restrained and beautiful, Fauré's Requiem was the main item in this concert. This was a performance of exceptional quality from its bold chordal opening to the ethereal sound of perfectly tuned sopranos in the closing of In Paradisum. There were convincing solo contributions from choir members in the Pie Jesu (Helen Pritchard), the Offertoire and Libera Me (Peter Terry), and a thrilling choral sound in the Sanctus. Each movement was skillfully shaped by the conductor Steven Grahl, and, in an accompaniment later arranged for full orchestra, organist Gavin Roberts contributed an admirable range of colours.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

10th November 2007
Exploring what influenced Bach

There is nothing like a good solid Lutheran chorale to put a concert on to a sound footing. There were plenty of these in the Guildford Chamber Choir’s concert at St Nicolas’ Church in Guildford on Saturday November 10 in aid of CHASE. Entitled "Bach and Before", the concert set out to explore the influences on the music of the great Leipzig Cantor.

The programme began, appropriately enough, with one of these splendid chorales, Jesu, meine Freude. This lovely motet develops the theme in many
different and striking ways, interspersed with more dramatic settings of the Biblical text (Paul’s letter to the Romans). The sense of drama and conviction came over strongly in the choir’s performance under their conductor Steven Grahl, and nicely underpinned by the cello playing of Jennifer Janse and the organ playing of Stephen Bullamore.

Bullamore then gave a strong and colourful performance of Dietrich Buxtehude’s Mit Fried und Freud which gives the melody all kinds of twists and
turns, and concludes in a key far away from where it began. Bach’s Cello Suites must count among the most sublime of his pieces, and Jennifer Janse gave a fluent and moving performance of the Suite in G major.

The influence of his Italian training came through clearly in Heinrich Schütz’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis.
The German text is subjected to much imitation and interplay between the two choirs. But most striking of all was the intense homophony of the Nunc Dimittis, which found the choir producing the lovely blended textures for which it has become famous. Jennifer Janse added life and sparkle to her performance of the Sonata in D major by Telemann. But it was back to Bach for the final item: a scintillating performance of the motet Lobet den Herrn.
Shelagh Godwin 
for the Surrey Advertiser

                                                                                                        10th February 2007
Guildford Chamber Choir excels in American programme

The Guildford Chamber Choir, under its conductor Steven Grahl, continues to go from strength to strength. Last Saturday at Holy Trinity Church they excelled in a programme of entirely unaccompanied music by American composers and composers influenced by that country. The opening item, the Negro Spirituals from Tippett’s A Child of our Time were particularly apt in view of this year’s commemoration of the abolition of the slave trade two hundred years ago. They received a sensitive and very moving performance, enhanced by solo contributions from within the choir.

Unusually attractive solo songs were performed by Amanda Pitt, a singer of great talent and astonishing vocal quality. Especially memorable was Rebecca Clarke’s stunning setting of Masefield’s The Seal Man in which Steven Grahl provided sensitive support at the piano. She also performed striking songs by Samuel Barber and the quirky Charles Ives. Steven Grahl moved to the organ, only briefly frustrated by a cipher, for a virtuoso performance of one of Ives’s earliest pieces, his somewhat long winded Variations on ‘America’.
Aaron Copland’s Four Motets clearly carry the influence of his teacher Nadia Boulanger: they are experimental, attractive, and for the most part effective. The choir excelled themselves in these, maintaining perfect intonation. The cantata In the Beginning is a robust setting of the Creation story, and was skilfully performed, the choir providing an appropriate contrast to Amanda Pitt’s glorious voice.

During the interval Pete Brayne, Chief Executive of the YMCA, spoke persuasively about the beneficiary charity the Life Change Fund, which helps provide hope for desperate or destitute young people.

Shelagh Godwin
for the Surrey Advertiser

25th November 2006
Guildford Chamber Choir Mozart Anniversary Concert

Every composer’s anniversary brings an opportunity to bring unknown music out of the woodwork. The Guildford Chamber Choir’s Mozart anniversary concert given in St Nicolas Church, Guildford, last Saturday under their new conductor Steven Grahl was no exception. That such remarkable music by the master should have been kept under wraps for so long is inexplicable.

I refer to the Vesperae solennes de Dominica of 1779, which for many years have lived under the shadow of the often-performed Vesperae solennes de Confessore, written shortly afterwards for Mozart’s demanding and irascible employer Salzburg’s Archbishop Colloredo. The later work contains many marvels, such as the incomparable Laudate Dominum which had earlier in the evening received an immaculate performance from Brazilian soprano Celeste Gattai. But the Dominican Vespers are far more adventurous, in tone colour, in key schemes, and in choral writing, even if they lack some of the polish of the later version. The Laudate Dominum requires the soprano soloist to attain a top D, vibrantly executed by Miss Gattai. The choir gave a vigorous and expressive performance of this little known score, accompanied skilfully by the Guildford Chamber Orchestra, a newly formed band of which we hope to hear much more.

Celeste Gattai was at her exuberant best in Mozart’s Exultate Jubilate, in which her interpretation of the central recitative was particularly fine. Here, too, there was wonderful ensemble from the accompanying band. Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai, appropriate for the venue, is another rarely performed work. No routine setting this: it bursts into a stirring Crucifixus and a wonderfully emotive Agnus Dei. Here, and elsewhere, the choir excelled themselves and the team of soloists served the work well. Mezzo soprano Carris Jones blended well with tenor James Edwards, who despite being unwell performed very creditably, and bass Andrew Kidd.

The concert was in aid of the charity Age Concern and deservedly drew a full house. It was sponsored by Hart Brown Solicitors, as a tribute to the late Kenneth Brown.

Shelagh Godwin
for the Surrey Advertiser

   19th November 2005
Israel in Egypt
Guildford Chamber Choir's 25th Anniversary Concert

Since its formation in 1980 the Guildford Chamber Choir has delighted audiences with authoritative performances of music both familiar and unfamiliar. For their 25th anniversary gala concert in Holy Trinity Church, given in aid of the Phyllis Tuckwell Hospice, they chose one of Handel’s more unusual works, Israel in Egypt. The work is unusual in that it begins with a long succession of admirably descriptive choruses, and the second half, an exuberant song of praise, is a commentary on what has gone before, rather than a continuation of the plot.

In the dramatic choruses describing the plagues with which the Lord punished Egypt, the chorus, which included many founder members, caught every mood. They drew the utmost from every unexpected chromatic turn and twisting melody, revelled in remarkable harmonies, and uttered the dramatic words with great clarity. Conductor Jeremy Summerly had drilled them thoroughly, and directed with great sensitivity and a nice sense of pacing. The great final chorus Sing ye to the Lord, with its rallying soprano solo and its lively twists and turns, was particularly impressive. But the earlier chorus The people shall hear, with its remarkable descriptions and amazing harmonies, also received a stunning performance.

The work requires six soloists (this is perhaps one reason why it is not more frequently performed). In this performance sopranos Julie Cooper and Rebecca Outram provided an excellent foil for one another in their duet The Lord is my strength and song. Countertenor David Bates sang with verve and finesse, and tenor Andrew Tortise with a wonderfully rich voice got the work off to a rousing start. In the celebrated duet The Lord is a man of war the two bass soloists George von Bergen and George Humphries excelled themselves in virtuoso and beautiful singing.

The 25-strong Royal Academy Consort provided excellent support and it was particularly gratifying to hear the trombones racing around the lower choral parts. As well as a good flexible string sound, there were fine contributions from oboes, bassoons, and trumpets.

This was an uplifting concert, performed to a full house. We can say confidently, here’s to the next twenty-five years!

Shelagh Godwin
for the Surrey Advertiser