Life-affirming and the joy of making music

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The concert given last night by Eastbourne’s Phoenix Choir, under the genial leadership of conductor Michael Fields, captured the essence of an English Summer.

We were treated to a most enjoyable and entertaining mixture of music, ranging from modern sacred classics to Victorian part-songs, stirring Edwardian anthems and contemporary foot-tappers. The concert neatly divided into two sections, the first showcasing works by living English composers and the second offering pieces in a more relaxed style.

Bob Chilcott’s A Little Jazz Mass and John Rutter’s Gloria were happily paired in the opening half of the programme. Hugely supportive accompaniment from Gavin Stevens (piano), Eleanor Drinkall (double bass) and John Rockliffe (drums) underpinned lovely ensemble singing from the choir in the Chilcott, with a beautiful tone particularly noticeable in the ‘Osanna’ section of the Sanctus and commendable cantabile singing from the tenors in the Benedictus. The choir clearly loved the catchy rhythms of Rutter’s Gloria, performing with conviction and enthusiasm throughout and ably accompanied by Nick Houghton on the restored All Saints’ organ.

The Phoenix Choir has a laudable tradition of supporting young musicians and it was a privilege to hear young violinist Heledd Evans premiering Gavin Stevens’ Sonatina for Violin and Piano with such poise and maturity. The work sustained the ‘Englishness’ of the concert, its arching melodies and interweaving harmonies redolent of Frank Bridge or Gerald Finzi. For me, the fifth and final movement of the work captured the essence of the whole piece, which deserves to be better-known. Heledd is to be congratulated on her fine playing and interpretation.

The second soloist of the evening was Eileen Godier (recorder), accompanied on the guitar by Michael Fields. Alan Bullard’s growing reputation as a composer was confirmed by this wittily charming trio of pieces, Recipes. The recorder’s piping clarity was well-matched by the mellow guitar and the audience clearly loved spotting the embedded musical references.

As well as encouraging the audience to join them in singing Edwardian favourites Sussex by the Sea and Eastbourne, the Phoenix Choir treated us to Pearsall’s Victorian madrigal Adieu, my native shore as part of their second half ‘mixed bag’. They addressed the challenges of this tricky piece with real musicality and continued to display their stylistic range in an entertaining arrangement of Tea for Two, in Feelin’ Groovy and in the rousing finale of The Rhythm of Life. This was a most life-affirming concert, completely enjoyable and proof of the joy of making music. What a lovely way to spend a summer’s evening! By Jane Pendry