Take two capable choirs, each with its own keen following, an attractive programme, a warm summer’s
evening, a beautiful venue and a first-rate cause to support, and all looks set for an event with a buzz to it.
So it was at Saturday’s concert of ‘Music for a Summer Evening’ at Privett, given by the combined forces of
Froxfield Choir and The Petersfield Choir under Froxfield’s conductor Richard McVeigh, making his final
appearance with the choir. Their programme exploited the possibilities of combining two choirs in
interesting ways, and was not without technical risks – including as it did several works written for a small
group of professional singers.
The concert opened with a seventeenth century Magnificat attributed to Buxtehude. Designed as part of a
Protestant church service, this was a pleasing work in a restrained style, with short alternating sections. The
small group of accomplished string players impressed from the outset with their sense of style. The chorus
relished the more robust moments in which the ‘mighty were put down from their seats’; among the short
solo sections, Jessica Smith and Freya Jacklin achieved outstanding ensemble in some quick-fire
ornamentation. The audience, to their embarrassment, failed to recognise the end, and sat in doubtful
silence until it was too late to start clapping.
Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir is anything but restrained, and calls for extrovert treatment and tremendous
rhythmic energy. The choir is often divided between three upper and three lower voices in alternation,
calling for equal clarity and dexterity in all parts. The sopranos sailed into their opening phrase with
splendid gusto, and the vibrant textures of upper voices and violins rang out clearly. Tenors and basses,
with their equally glamorous role, could have benefited from a position nearer the front and a showier
sense of projection. United for the final section, the singers brought a splendid sonority to the closing bars.
This time, the moment to clap (loudly) was very clear.
Each choir had one item to itself. Froxfield Choir chose Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditsye Dyevo, a version of
the ‘Ave Maria’, which they sang unaccompanied with good intonation and rich and blended tone, the
phrases carefully shaped by the conductor. The Petersfield Choir followed with Britten’s Hymn to Saint
Cecilia. Their conductor, Steve Sargent (it was explained) was obliged to be elsewhere, and the choir were
left to their own devices in this extremely hazardous piece, helped by a member of the group who valiantly
signalled the bars from the side while at the same time holding a part. Despite their best efforts – and
concentration was written on every face – they were not able to maintain their encouraging start, and
pitching and ensemble were lost during the complexities of the final section.
Bach’s Komm, Jesu, Komm is written for double chorus, and here the combination of two choirs came into
its own. The antiphonal exchanges were strongly characterised, and the complex counterpoint confidently
handled. Conductor Richard McVeigh explained the meaning of the German text (somewhat doom-laden
for a ‘Summer Evening’) since the words – as with Latin and Russian in other items – were printed without
translation in the otherwise informative and smartly-produced programme.
Purcell’s Hail! Bright Cecilia formed the second part of the concert. Of all Purcell’s works, this is best suited
to performance by a big chorus, and the addition of oboes, flutes, trumpets and drums to the orchestra
added an enlivening brilliance to the texture. The opening choral shouts of ‘Hail’, finishing as precisely as
they began, resounded round the church, and the chorus ‘Soul of the world’ was magnificently uplifting.
Much depended on the soloists, who take eight of the thirteen movements. Alto Freya Jacklin, singing a
role that would originally have been taken by a star counter-tenor from the Chapel Royal, was outstanding
in the recitative ‘Tis Nature’s voice’, giving an intense colouring to the words. Soprano Jessica Smith
showed a nimble and flexible voice, enjoying the opportunity to exploit her upper register in ‘Thou tun’st
this world’ and, in the duet ‘Hark each tree’, drawing the best from bass Ben Cooper, who otherwise
seemed under-powered and a little too careful. Tenor Andrew Hayman had only a small part here, but had
already demonstrated his clear and focussed tone in Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir.
Enthusiastic applause at the end showed how much the audience had enjoyed the evening, given in aid of
Naomi House and Jack’s Place. A retiring collection was made on behalf of the Churches Conservation Trust,
which maintains Privett Church.’
Review by Philip Young.