Froxfield Choir, Summer Concert at Privett, 13 June 2015.
An unpromisingly grey day had by the evening turned quite pleasantly sunny if a little cool, as a large gathering of music lovers crowded into lovely Holy Trinity Church at Privett to hear the Froxfield Choir give their annual summer concert. The thoughtfully balanced programme began and ended with a shout of praise “Gloria in Excelsis Deo!” from the Latin Mass. The first item, from Vivaldi’s popular Gloria (1715) set the scene as the choir opened the concert with confidence and élan, while meticulously observing the changes in dynamics. This well-known chorus perfectly complemented and contrasted with the last, John Rutter’s powerful Gloria (1974). Both were sung with the verve we have come to expect from this choir under their conductor Richard McVeigh. The programme of music in between was as varied and challenging as one could hope to hear, and the soloists (Jessica Smith, Freya Jacklin, Sheridan Edward, Toby Armstrong and Thomas Flint) all seemed in particularly fine voice with accurate phrasing and convincing delivery.
Two settings of biblical texts by Purcell for alto/tenor/bass with occasional chorus followed. The first ‘Thy word is a lantern under my feet’ from Psalm 119 was well sung by all; the choir watching intently as their entries came upon them suddenly each time, but they came in right on cue! The second Purcell piece was an expressive setting of a text taken from the Song of Solomon, and is one of his earliest surviving compositions. The soloists and choir did full justice to the freshness of the writing, smiling as they sang of spring.
Then there came a wonderful song by C.V. Stanford for soprano solo and organ, ‘A Song of Wisdom’ from Ecclesiasticus. Here Jessica Smith’s beautiful voice was heard to full effect, soaring up into the highest arches of the church. This young woman who graduated only in 2013 surely has a great career ahead of her. Stanford’s well-known song ‘The Bluebird’ followed, gentle, pensive, the choir singing piano below Jessica soaring up into the blue. Then Samuel Wesley’s popular anthem ‘Blessed be the God and Father’, sung with good attention to contrast brought the first half of the concert to a close.
After the interval, conductor Richard joked ‘I’m glad to see you’ve all come back!’ We were all pleased we did, for the second half was even better than the first. George Shearing’s suite of seven Shakespeare songs was first performed in 1999, with his friend John Rutter conducting. Froxfield entered into the spirit beautifully, cheeky, jazzy, thoughtful, roistering by turns. The men’s diction was wonderfully clear in their unison lines ‘When that I was a little tiny boy’; and after the lovely four-part harmony song ‘Who is Silvia’ there was an audible ripple of appreciation from the audience. Pianist Chris Gardner deserves a special mention here.
Then we heard two pieces by John Rutter who celebrates his seventieth birthday this year. First came ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ – a popular easy anthem, suitable for all occasions, and finally, his tumultuous setting of the Gloria. What a finale this proved to be! Accompanied by brass octet, organ and timpani, the choir gave it all they had. As the joyous music crashed around the church, the singers’ enjoyment was evident to see, as was their attention to their conductor. A memorable concert in every respect.