Brighton Festival 2012
For forty years the English Chanber Choir have been performing in many major concert venues. For Brighton Festival this year they offer two pieces: Sub tuum praesidium by Ivan Moody, a contemporary composition set to a 3rd Century text in three languages; and Portuguese Teixeira’s Te Deum first performed persumably on the last day of 1734, today accompanied by the English Players.
Entering the vast space that is the inside of the 19th Century built St Bartholomew’s Church creates a great sense of suspense,excitement and tradition. It’s just so big, and the promise that one is about to hear a performance that will fill it is delightful. After the usual entrances and applause for choir and conductor Guy Protheroe the choir settles in ready to sing Ivan Moody’s Sub tuum praesidium commissioned by the English Chamber Choir. Instantly there is a gorgeous ring in the acoustics as the choir, split into three smaller choirs, tackle the tricky intervals and haunting melody of this new music and ancient text. The piece is just over ten minutes, and takes us through the text first in Latin, Slavonic then Greek.
Moody’s composition has set the scene for the main event that will continue throughout the evening: Teixeira’s Te Deum – ‘We praise Thee. The performance gains a new dimension as the English Players take their place to accompany the action. The work is an extensive study into flowing, poignant musical ideas that ebb and flow around the text. Not all the text is set musically, but we are offered instead, a plain chant from the Tenors at the end of each section, as if a comment on the previous action. The choir itself is large, comprising eight soloists, five four-part choirs and an extended orchestra. This provides the opportunity to present a range of ensemble groups within the work ranging from intimate solo moments to vast final chords.
Impressively the near 500 capacity seater was practically full with a predictably mature audience. The programming choice of the two pieces were indeed complimentary, and one did prepare for the other, however starting with Moody’s Sub tuum was clearly a challenge. Initially the choir seemed not quire ready. There were some clumsy moments where the audience recieved a lot of ‘tops of heads’ effect as the choir desperately tried to follow the scores in their folders. With concentration firmly on the notes, the ensemble weren’t always being guided by Protheroe and thus weren’t always together resulting in a general lack of pace and direction. However despite this there was a gorgeous ring from the choir’s sound which communicated well the haunting, hypnotising music, and around half way in we were given the full effect of both the ensemble and the score.
The Te Deum was a much more solid performance, both musically and performatively. The instruments provided a new life and support for the choir and the soloists gave some gorgeous, stylisticly appropriate performances. Of particular note was Soprano Julia Doyle, who undertook some long passages with an agile flexibility, light tone and great freedom of shape and sense of musicality. At the end of each section the full choir would often end on a beautiful harmonious chord which made full use of the venue’s space and acoustics. In contrast to this the Tenor group’s chants (conducted by Richard Moore the organist) provided delicate, reflective moments with a good sense of direction. Throughout the piece it seemed that nearly each choir member had a solo, or part solo, at one point or another. Most were acheieved smoothly, despite the inevitable stand-up sit down necessity of this tradition. The biggest problem with this performance could unfortunately have been solved so easily – the staging. With the players raised in line with, and in front of the singers we often couldn’t hear the soloists. A very easily fixable faux pas which was frustrating to listen to.
Despite the programme content being carefully selected bizarrely the timings were somewhat odd. An interval was placed half way through the second piece (noted in a different place in the programme). A few audience members had perhaps not understood the situation as there were a number of empty seats on our return. This was a shame for them though as the second act was sublime. Having relaxed into the music, and acoustic the second half was an exemplary performance of a fine work, enabling the audience to fully relax and immerse themselves in this gorgeous work. I didn’t want it to end.