Noteworthy Voices sing so joyfully

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When Musical Director Ansy Boothroyd had the programme printed for her choir’s recital on Sunday May 7 in St John’s Church, Meads, she stressed the word “Note” in their title: Noteworthy Voices.

She had certainly chosen a selection of pieces which contained many, many notes. And the programme-notes were finely printed and most helpfully presented. The choir also gave a noteworthy performance throughout.

St John’s Church was destroyed by German bombs in the 1939-45 war, and has been rebuilt in a light and beautiful, but traditional, style. Its acoustic, perhaps by chance, is perfect for unaccompanied singing.

The choir on this occasion numbered about twenty, of whom a quarter were men. The concert was in two very distinct halves; the first devoted to composers of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries; the second to composers from the late nineteenth century to today. All the composers in both halves were English.

From the Renaissance and Baroque periods we heard Tallis, Tye, Mudd, Byrd, Morley, Bennet, Lawes and Wilbye. The discipline of the choir and the amount of time which had clearly been spent on rehearsal ensured that the large audience was transported to those elegant days. Particularly ravishing were the two madrigals by Wilbye.

Part Two began with four contrasting items by Frank Bridge, who is buried in Friston churchyard. Especially moving was his setting of Oh Weary Hearts, to words by Longfellow.

Equally well sung was The Shower, words by Henry Vaughan, music by Elgar.

Holst’s setting of the Cornish folksong I Love My Love was followed by two works by a composer 103 years his junior, Philip Stopford. It was a revelation to hear, in the choir’s convincing performance of his Ave Verum, that the Church of England’s tradition of vocal music-making is alive and well.

The official programme came to an end with Bob Chilcott’s setting of the American spiritual Steal Away, and an extraordinary piece by Grayston Ives, intriguingly titled Name That Tune, in which could be heard ghostly echoes of the Toreador Song from Carmen, the 1812 Overture, the Dance Of The Sugar-Plum Fairy, Strauss’s Blue Danube, and maybe other tunes I failed to spot.

Prolonged applause brought forth an encore, in which James, the youngest male member of the choir, was the fine soloist. My guess is that the composer was Ralph Vaughan Williams. By Robin Gregory.

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