Phoenix Choir brings “a wonderful night of music” to Eastbourne

Phoenix Choir -  photo by Michael Kay
Phoenix Choir - photo by Michael Kay

On the coldest night of the year so far, people turned out in their dozens to attend All Saints church for a Mozart feast.

I had thought that I had turned up in plenty of time, but still could only find a place at the back of the church, which paid testament to the increasing popularity of the Phoenix Choir.

Phoenix Choir -  photo by Michael Kay

Phoenix Choir - photo by Michael Kay

My view was thus confined to the upper tiers of the choir and the Conductor of the invisible orchestra (excepting the double bass player, who played with considerable enthusiasm and aplomb).

We were treated to a fine taster of Mozart works before the main course: two orchestral pieces: the ever popular Allegro from Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, with effervescent playing from the Phoenix Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Masonic Funeral Music (previously unknown to me, but definitely worth a second hearing).

The choir sang Veni Sancte Spiritus, showcasing Mozarts’s prodigious talent, as he composed it at the tender age of 12.

There were then two pieces from Vesperae Solennes de Confessore: the much loved Laudate Dominum, featuring soloist Ansy Boothroyd, and the Magnificat, before the first half finished with Ave Verum Corpus, a favourite motet composed barely six months before Mozart’s death.

Now to the main menu: the Requiem was Mozart’s last work, and although he had sketched out most of the composition, he died before it could be completed. His widow, Constanze, asked Mozart’s assistant, Franz Xaver Süssmayr to complete the work, which had stopped at the eighth bar of the Lacrimosa. Nonetheless, the Requiem works wonderfully as a whole and complete work.

There are five sections, each concluded by a fugue; the work is driven by the chorus throughout, supported by the orchestra, which is vivid and evocative. There are some echoes of the Masonic compositions and even operatic overtones.

The soloists, Ansy Boothroyd (soprano), Lindsay Richardson (alto), Mark Curtis (tenor) and Sebastian Charlesworth (bass) worked well as an ensemble: the quartets were especially stirring, and we enjoyed the soaring soprano, the creamy alto, the rich operatic tenor and the warm middle register of the baritone in their individual solos.

Mozart’s Requiem has now become standard repertoire for local choirs, but it remains a difficult piece and the Phoenix choir more than rose to the occasion.

The attention to dynamics and diction were perfectly realised, the swell of sound augmented by the inclusion of the Phoenix choir from Maastricht, all flourishing beautifully under the crisp and precise ( and sometimes almost balletic) baton of Michael Fields.

At times we did lose the alto line and the acoustic was not very good in my part of the seating, but these were small disappointments and the overall sound was rich and full. A simply wonderful evening of music - this choir goes from strength to strength! By Carol Mounter.

The Phoenix Choir will perform John Rutter’s Feel The Spirit on June 15.

read more: Workshops with artist Ben Dawson in Eastbourne