This evening’s concert took on quite a religious feel in both the choice of music and venue. The programme was excellently chosen to give a well-balanced concert with just the right mix of musical styles for which the acoustic of Saint Augustine’s Church on Queen’s Gate was perfect. This allowed the choir to fill the church with their sound beautifully, it was clearly an excellent decision from the choir’s part to leave the somewhat dry acoustic of the Sherfield building’s Great Hall.
The concert opened with Song for Athene by John Tavener, a piece of music sung at the funeral service of Princess Diana. The male vocals at the beginning were excellent and gave the choir a confidence that was continued throughout the concert. The choir’s use of dynamics at the climax of the piece contributed wonderfully to the harmony and words of the music. The music hinted at a religious undertone of the Russian Orthodox Church, a style that was so that was to be repeated later in the concert.
The Chamber Choir took centre stage for the second piece, Vivaldi’s Magnificat. A piece that sounded typical of choral works written during the 18th century. Despite having fewer members than the main choir the, Chamber Choir’s dynamic range was equally as impressive. Some excellent solos by members of the choir in the Et Exsultavit, Esurientes and Sicut Locutus contributed to the music wonderfully. There was the odd moment when the intonation of the accompaniment could have been better but this by no means detracted from the performance.
The third piece, Five Mystical Songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams was superb and very well received by the audience. This was a solo work for Baritone sung by Robert Presley, who’s vocal intensity had the audience spellbound. His voice filled the church beautifully and echoed the typical Vaughan Williams style with hints of the English folk music. The choir and pianist accompanied excellently to give the music the mystical feel it’s title suggests.
The last and longest work performed during the evening was Rachmaninov’s Vespers. For this composition Rachmaninov stuck to the strict composition rules of the Russian Orthodox Church rather than his typical romantic orchestral style. This was sung in Russian, which the choir somehow managed with a surprisingly proficient articulation. There were well-projected solos in the Bless the Lord, O my soul and Serene Light, or “Blagoslovi, dushe moya” and “Svete Tikhiy” to give you an idea of how the choir must have felt! The balance was at times a little top heavy, but this is probably splitting hairs. The rousing fifteenth and final movement made an excellent end to a fine evening of music.
Overall the concert was one that the audience clearly enjoyed. Special mentions should go to the Conductor (and Musical Director) Therese Tkach Hibard for getting the best out of the choir and once again to Robert Presley who impressed me greatly. The ‘hum’ of the audience as they left suggested they would all be back for their next concert. One only hopes that the union sustains their financial support to keep the choir producing music as good as this.