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Review of Sanctus! November 2017

Froxfield Choir shocks and delights
by Hugo Deadman
To my surprise, I recently had a significant birthday, hitting my half century. It didn’t seem to make sense since at heart I still think I’m about ten. The occasion did provoke a degree of anxiety, not least the realisation that, as an overweight, bald, indeed physically inept old man, I might not now play for Pompey. But with that anxiety also came relief. You calm down the older you get. So too does life. Less and less ruffles your feathers. Nothing seems to shock you. Or so I thought until I went to Froxfield Choir’s excellent concert at St Peter’s, High Cross on Saturday 18th November. There I learned that JS Bach might not have written the Toccata and Fugue for which he is famous – and which was given an expert rendition by visiting organist, Matthew Cooke.
That was not the only shock I was given, but the others were shocks of the very best sort. The choir’s imaginative programme was anchored by various settings of the Sanctus, one of the most important moments of the Eucharist in a church, when the bread and wine are consecrated. Now, as it happens, I am training to be a vicar at the moment, so this is a pretty big deal for me. I thought I knew it all. But the choir showed me otherwise. Their first Sanctus was a setting by Thorne, sung in a thousand churches every Sunday, and music so familiar it perhaps has lost its resonance, as might the act it accompanies. But the fervour and intensity with which the choir invested the familiar words and tune made me feel as though I was coming to it anew. It was a shock. So too were our reintroductions to other favourites, not least from the Faure Requiem. Again, the choir invested what was familiar with colour, light and shade. It was extremely moving, especially Lucy Urquart’s solo in the Pie Jesu. This was revelatory. Lucy stroked every note. It sounded as if she’d thought about every phrase, every bar and every word – and invested it with real depth, generosity, gentleness and even love. She is only a third year music student, but the care and attention she brings to what she sings suggests she will go far.
The pleasure continued in the second half, which began with the breath-taking Northern Lights, by Ola Gjeilo, and continued with an enthusiastic excursion through Mozart’s Laudate Dominum and Haydn’s boisterous Little Organ Mass. What struck me during this was not just that the choir was well drilled and highly competent; they certainly were competent and hung on conductor Michael Servant’s every movement.  Nor was it that they had a real feeling for the shape of the music; what shone through was how much they enjoyed themselves. This was music which suited them absolutely down to the ground, and at times their sound absolutely blossomed. Their love for it shone through, and was much appreciated by a large audience. That love did not in any way lead to over-familiarity and lack of zest. This was a mass setting sung not at the altar but as a secular concert. But again, it helped me see that music, and the act it was written to accompany, in a new light. This is perhaps what art is all about; helping us, even shocking us, into seeing things differently and seeing them with a new vividness, freshness and intensity. I was struck by the small bow Michael gave to his choir during the well-merited applause. It was a small gesture of thanks, which spoke volumes of their mutual commitment. I’d like to add my own heartfelt thanks to his for a very special evening.