Singers enhance fine reputation

THE EASTBOURNE area has several fine choral societies.

The Aanna Colls Singers are unusual in being relatively few, but since they are essentially the cream of the former Counterpoint Choir they more than make up for their smaller numbers.

Their close ties to their trainer and conductor Aanna Colls (a distinguished mezzo soprano with whom many of them study the singing art) enable them to undertake works which might over-tax many a choir. On April 9 in All Saints Church they showed precisely what this tight musical organisation can achieve.

The opening work Blest Pair of Sirens by late-Victorian Parry is a good, old-fashioned “sing” in which the choir showed its ability to attack the music as required, here powerful, there sensitive, always in tune, and with words as audible as the composer allowed.

David Force at the organ lived up to his name and reputation. The contrasting Ave Verum by Byrd (born 1543) enabled eight choir members to project this exquisite early English music perfectly, the two sopranos so much better than the usual choirboys we hear in this motet.

Britten’s fiendishly difficult unaccompanied Hymn to St Cecilia sent everyone out for the interval either marvelling that they had heard so rare a performance, or revising their prejudice that Britten is “too modern for me”.

Even some of Auden’s strange words were audible. So it was no surprise that the second half, which was mainly Elgar, was a connoisseur’s delight.

Song for Athene by Tavener (our modern musical knight) and Finzi’s Lo the full, final sacrifice framed the three Elgar items.

Tavener was unaccompanied; Finzi had David Force again in fine form. Gerald Finzi (unlike Britten) seldom pulled the natural rhythm of the language about in his settings; and as a result we heard most of Crashaw’s words.

The choral sound here was as good as in the three Elgar works. One hesitates to pick out individuals in a choir which is so much a unit, but sopranos Lindsey Kirkbright Bish and Gabrielle Manoukian cannot escape a brief spotlight.

A stroke of genius was to give pianist Francis Rayner four solos, which were delivered with delicate artistry.

John Field’s Fifth Nocturne made us realize how much Chopin owed to this Dubliner.

Our local composer Bridge was represented by Rosemary. Elgar’s Salut d’amour and Bantock’s Song to the Seals (forever associated with John McCormack) made a delicious confection, impeccably served.

As usual with this choir, we had “firm but friendly” direction by a conductor who really knows what she wants, and how to get it.

The programme-notes (put together by Rosemary Morris) were, as ever, a model of information and presentation.

I am delighted to see this choir will be taking part in the coming first Meads Music Festival, where they will be performing in All Saints Chapel (handsomely renovated in Meads) on Sunday May 29. Don’t miss them !