ICSE started the concert boldly with Holst?s St Paul?s Suite. A particularly rich sound from the double bass section in the first movement was contrasted well in the Ostinato, although at times the theme played by the second violins was a little hard to hear. The Intermezzo featured some accomplished solo playing by Jon Silver, followed by the beautiful intertwining of the folksongs Dargason and Greensleeves in the Finale. The ensemble kept together well throughout the piece, led by the assured and expansive conducting of Chris Braime.
Chamber Choir followed with a collection of mostly British works, ranging from the 16th to 20th century. Particularly notable was the sense of ensemble, especially the tidiness of the entries, and also some splendid solos by Ed Hughes and Paul Plant in Purcell?s Jehovah Quam Multi Sunt Hostes Mei. Tallis? Sancte Deus was pleasingly precise, and there was a good range of dynamic contrast in Stanford?s Justorum Animae. It would have been nice to hear a greater variety of pieces in this opening set, but those that were performed were well executed.
ICSE finished the first half with Eclogue by Gerald Finzi, featuring Gamal Khamis on the piano. Khamis? faultless playing and a seamless interaction between pianist and ensemble made this expressive piece all the more powerful. The orchestra did well not to overpower the piano, which was audible throughout.
Following some delicious interval refreshments (I particularly enjoyed the rocky road), Chamber Choir started the second half with Shenandoah and Elgar?s The Snow. The sopranos shone particularly in the former, while the latter saw a strong performance from the whole choir. The accompaniment from piano and violins complemented the vocal parts well, and the overall balance was spot on. At times the words were hard to make out, but this was more than made up by (and due in no small part to) the excellent acoustic in the church.
ICSE finished the concert with Tchaikowsky?s Serenade for Strings. The ensemble again attacked the first movement confidently, and with a palpable energy. Despite some technical flaws in the quieter sections, and at the beginning of the Finale, the obvious enthusiasm of the players for the piece allowed the audience to overlook this, and appreciate the expressive interpretation of the piece.
Altogether then, a very enjoyable concert. ICSE gave a powerful and emotive performance that was a fitting send off for Chris Braime in his last ICSE concert. Conversely, this was the first performance for Jess Gillingwater as director of Chamber Choir, which performed some challenging repertoire with confidence. It was particularly pleasing to see the two societies working together, and I very much hope that future collaborations will be forthcoming.