Superb music-making at All Saint’s church

The Aanna Colls Singers made a triumphant come-back at All Saints in Carlisle Road on October 31. The programme was a blend of familiar and virtually unknown music. Twenty-two singers, a small orchestra, piano and organ were conducted by Aanna herself. The evening was dedicated to the memory of Berwick Smith, Joy Dowling and John Gibbs, and supported the work of the Alzheimer’s Society. The printed programme was, as ever, a work of art by Rosemary Morris.

Fauré’s Requiem has become a favourite work, but this performance made one realize again what a magical composition it is. The relatively small forces carried no passengers. Every singer and every instrumentalist displayed an involved commitment which was balanced perfectly by the conductor. The solo baritone part was divided between two mellifluous choir-members; and the solo soprano’s melting Pié Jesu was sensitively sung by tenor Paul Doling in memory of his mother.

Orchestra-leader Eloise Prowse was able to sit motionless for much of the Requiem, because Fauré favoured the lower strings. When she did play, she soared effortlessly into the stratosphere, like an angel hovering over a heavenly sound-world. So it was no surprise that her performance of the second item in the programme, Delius’s Légende, was finely executed. The work was written in 1895, so is virtually contemporaneous with the Fauré Requiem. Eloise and pianist Bernard King made a strong case for it being in every violinist’s repertoire. They brought-out to perfection that special Delius skill of seeming to “go nowhere, but beautifully.”

After the interval it was music by 37 year-old Ola Gjeilo (pronounced Yay-Lo), a Norwegian composer resident in the U.S.A. His “Sunrise Mass” had been performed in 2014 at the Carnegie Hall, but was quite new to me and most of the audience. It’s a choral work lasting about as long as the Fauré, and in the event proved to be immensely listenable. Although it is a setting of the Latin Mass, it carries four subtitles: ‘The Spheres’, ‘Sunrise’ (which gives the work its title), ‘The City’, and ‘Identity and the Ground’. I could not find any link between these inner titles and the words of the Mass, but the music was ravishing and did reflect the four English headings. And very difficult! No problem for the Aanna Colls Singers, nor for the augmented orchestra. (I noticed Colin Hughes, whose work on the magnificent All Saints organ had been a feature in the Fauré, playing his violin as to the manner born.) Other choirs should try this fascinating work, assuming they are up to it. It’s a winner, in my book.

Summing up? Simply, an evening to remember, and a mighty round of applause. By Robin Gregory.