Musical delights in a wonderful setting

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MAY had five Sundays - each enriched by the musical delights in a setting which most similar festivals could only envy.

Festival directors, David Irvine and Ian Julier, devised a programme which began with a great international baritone, then presented in order : a young pianist of infinite promise; a soprano who will certainly be a name on everyone’s lips before long; a string quartet whose members sound as good as they look; and (on May 29) a small choir in which even the tenors are first-rate.

The Aanna Colls Singers’ well-chosen programme demonstrated that 19 artists who know their craft and have an insightful conductor can out-sing most vast choral societies, especially in the magical atmosphere of Eastbourne’s precious Victorian former-chapel, All Saints in Meads.

Acompaniments were in the hands of pianist Francis Rayner, whose support and musicality never failed. Unaccompanied items stayed unerringly in tune, with the balance between sections of the choir unfailingly right. Almost every item was in English, and a goodly proportion of the words heard, though in the resonant building crib-sheets would have been helpful.

Of Moeran’s seven unaccompanied Songs of Springtime from 1934 we heard three, with words by Fletcher, Herrick and Shakespeare.

Ideal performances made one long to hear the entire group. Elgar died the year Moeran’s Songs were published, and his genius as a songwriter was aptly demonstrated in The Snow and Fly, singing bird with words by Alice, his wife.

The tricky piano-parts were expertly despatched by Francis Rayner, and a delightful violin obbligato was provided by Anna Liza Rogers, a music scholar at Eastbourne College.

The Five Negro Spirituals of Tippett really displayed the choir’s brilliance, as they emerged as soloists from the body of singers. Tenors and sopranos soared heavenward with alternate power and delicacy: perhaps the highspot of a remarkably varied programme which even included Andrew Carter’s arrangement of I do like to be beside the Aeaside.

An evening for all lovers of fine singing, hearty congratulations to all involved in Meads. You have set the barrier high indeed.