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Each year, the transition of summer into autumn is marked by the Last Night of the Proms, the eccentrically patriotic concert in the Royal Albert Hall that traditionally brings the BBC Proms classical music festival to a close.
In recent times, the Last Night at the RAH has been accompanied in neighbouring Hyde Park by an open air concert of rock, pop and light classical music: Proms in the Park. And when our patron Sir Ray Davies was invited to headline this televised extravaganza on 9 September this year, who else would he invite as his backing singers than Crouch End Festival Chorus?
The CEFC singers were thrilled to be performing Sir Ray’s Kinks hits – including Waterloo Sunset (video below). It was also good to catch up with another performer who is one of the choir’s patrons: renowned tenor Sir Bryn Terfel. And when the time came for the Albert Hall audience to join in with traditional Last Night songs such as Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory, the Hyde Park performers and crowd were linked in for the rousing singalong too.
The Hyde Park concert required only a fairly small group of singers from the Crouch End Festival Chorus pool, but the choir had been out in force at this summer’s other fantastic Prom experience: BBC Prom 17 on 27 July.
Performing with the BBC Philharmonic Orchestra under the baton of Juanjo Mena, our singers added large choir power to the London premiere of The Immortal – Mark Simpson’s epic oratorio based on Victorian séances.
The spooky 2015 work was well-received in a packed Royal Albert Hall, and was enjoyed at home by listeners to BBC Radio 3. And two months on, our massive shout of “Thanatos!” (death) is still ringing in the ears of all who heard it...
July 2017: The world premiere of Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man was a highlight of 2015 for Crouch End Festival Chorus, so we were delighted to join composer Roland Perrin and The Blue Planet Orchestra for a reprise at London’s Cadogan Hall this summer. The work charts the eventful life of New York mobster Meyer Lansky, using jazz, klezmer and Latin American music to tell the story.
The CEFC commission was taken up a gear for this performance, with acted scenes and visual projections. And as the UK’s most versatile large choir, the singers were in their element, getting into the groove with the virtuoso jazz instrumentalists. It was also pleasing to welcome back charismatic jazz singer Rachel Sutton (pictured) and renowned actor Allan Corduner, whose rich speaking voice provided the links between the scenes.
Roland Perrin has called his composition a choral jazz concert drama" but on 1 July an impressed audience member said afterwards: "You should have called it an opera – it really was an opera!" Whatever you call it, Lansky: The Mob’s Money Man is a great night out that deserves many more performances.
Back to our roots
June 2017: Crouch End Festival Chorus travelled back to the 1980s this month with an enjoyable community event in the church where the choir first rehearsed. Sing Creation! saw CEFC singers team up with locals at Holy Innocents Church in Tottenham Lane N8 for a one-day workshop as part of the Crouch End Festival.
The piece to be tackled on Saturday 10 June was, of course, Haydn's Creation. Conductor David Temple chose the English language version, following the success of the CEFC recording of Bach's St John Passion sung in English. As he pointed out, The Creation was inspired by the composer's visits to England, and has long been published with English and German texts side by side.
During the workshop, the group rehearsed favourites such as The Heavens are Telling the Glory of God, supported by CEFC principal accompanist Peter Jaekel. David Temple reminisced about the early days of the choir he founded, and said how impressed he was at the high standard of the non-auditioned guest singers at the workshop. The event finished with an informal concert appreciated by family, friends and passers-by, and a collection in aid of the church's winter night shelter for homeless people raised an impressive £386.35.
Super summer for Crouch End Festival Chorus
June 2017: There's a great selection of music coming up in the next few months, with four opportunities to hear us live at top London venues.
Next is our 1 July concert at Cadogan Hall - Lansky: The Mob's Money Man, composed specially for Crouch End Festival Chorus by Roland Perrin. It's going to be an exhilarating evening of jazz, high drama and breathtaking choral singing, as the piece takes the audience through the shady life of real-world mafioso Meyer Lansky.
We can't wait to get started, so here's a taster of our "choral jazz concert drama"Lansky: the Mob's Money Man, introduced by composer Roland Perrin...
Further accolades for St John Passion recording
April 2017: Following the warm words in Gramophone magazine (see article below), the praise keeps coming for Crouch End Festival Chorus's recording of Bach's St John Passion. It was released by Chandos records on 31 March and since then has been reviewed by the great and the good of British classical music. Not only this, but the CD made the top 10 of the official UK classical charts and remained in the top 30 throughout the month of April.
And pleasing as it is to see the interest from the critics, it is especially heartening to see enthusiastic online reviews from members of the public who bought the CD - both in the UK and the US. Here is a selection of the comments:
"...there's plenty to recommend a recording ... with a hefty100-plus chorus mustering venom aplenty. The solo line-up is without a weak link" BBC Music Magazine (**** four stars)
"Temple's version with the Crouch End Festival Chorus ... has fine voices" The Times
"If you need a new recording of St John Passion in English, this is the one to get" Record Review, BBC Radio 3
"This is a beautifully crafted recording which, as a native English speaker, brought a new focus to my enjoyment of this emotional masterpiece." Roger Weston on Amazon.co.uk(***** five stars)
"It is both moving and exhilarating with the commanding performances of the soloists and the outstanding response from Crouch End Festival Chorus. In my opinion it is not one to miss." Smusic on Amazon.co.uk(***** five stars)
"An outstanding recording of Bach’s St. John Passion in English performed to an exquisite standard by Crouch End Festival Chorus, soloists, orchestra and conductor. The reputable Chandos Records have once again produced a recording where the mixture of detail and the feeling of being ‘in the space’ is perfect. I found myself totally immersed in the drama; the ability to follow the exact meaning of the story in English resulting from the clear diction and unrelenting energy being crucial in drawing me fully into the events surrounding the crucifixion." Helen Claire on Amazon.co.uk (***** five stars)
"This is an outstanding recording in every way. Perfect sonic clarity, soloists with beautiful tone and crystal clear voices and choral work that puts most other recordings to shame. The Crouch End Festival Chorus, 100 strong in this recording, sings as one with a clarity of diction that is barely obtained by choruses a fraction of that size! - Buy this now, for yourselves, for your friends and for strangers!" A. Roth on Amazon.com USA(***** five stars)
St John at St John's
April 2017: There was no fooling around for Crouch End Festival Chorus on 1 April as the choir celebrated the release of its acclaimed new St John Passion CD with a live performance of Bach's masterwork. In front of a packed house at St John's Smith Square in Westminster, the CEFC singers welcomed back the Bach Camerata several of the soloists from the Chandos recording. Tenor Robert Murray was arguably the star of the recording with his thoughtful and anguished storytelling as the Evangelist, so it was a particular pleasure to hear him reprise the role.
Like Murray, the choir also sought to convey Bach's powerful message of suffering and sacrifice through their clear diction and expressive vocal style. Performed in English, using Neil Jenkins's sensitive translation from the original German, the work gained vitality and immediacy through the use of language familiar to singers and audience.
It certainly seemed to do the trick, given the thunderous applause at the end of the performance and the comments from audience members afterwards:
"I was totally immersed in the drama of the performance, it was really good hearing it in English – the clarity and endings of words were exceptional. An outstanding performance which I didn't want to end, you should be justifiably proud of everyone involved."
"The choir sounded wonderful, the music and words conveyed with such clarity – very moving. I always thought my favourite part was ‘Sleep well’ but then you sang the final chorus! It brought tears to my eyes."
"I came with my friend who was overwhelmed by it all and he said ‘When it came to the end I sat there thinking what a privilege it had been to hear this magnificent choir’."
"I just wanted to congratulate you on a stunning performance last night. It was energetic, emotional and everything it should be. I loved Robert Murray. He told the story with such passion! I even bought a CD."
High praise for St John Passion recording
March-April 2017: Crouch End Festival Chorus has teamed up with Chandos Records - one of the world's premier classical record companies - to release a new CD of Bach's St John Passion. It's the first time the work has been recorded in English for over 40 years, opening up exciting possibilities for expressiveness and clarity of storytelling.
Crouch End Festival Chorus is on top form throughout, says reviewer Malcolm Riley, who praises the choir's "committed, well-balanced, agile and crisp singing".
Pronouncing himself completely hooked on the English translation by Neil Jenkins, Riley adds: "Under David Temple’s inspired direction [the singers] can switch in an instant from a focused fervour (in their chorales) to the most vengeful scornfulness imaginable."
The new St John Passion was released on 31 March - buy your copy now at the CEFC Music Shop!
From Heaven to Hell at the Movies
March 2017: On 19 March, the singers of Crouch End Festival Chorus joined the BBC Concert Orchestra for a dramatic programme of film music at the Royal Festival Hall. From Heaven to Hell at the Movies was recorded "as live" and then broadcast on 24 March for Radio 3 in Concert.
The evening kicked off with O Fortuna, Carl Orff’s ever-popular and stirring opening to Carmina Burana, and the hall erupted with enthusiastic applause. Works by John Barry followed, including his evocative ‘medieval’ suite for The Lion in Winter – the 1968 epic starring Peter O’Toole as Henry II and Katharine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine.
Some of the works in this varied concert were already within the choir's repertoire, such as Sergey Prokofiev’s music for Eisenstein’s film Alexander Nevsky, which CEFC performed in concert earlier this year. So, thankfully, the tricky Russian pronunciation was still fresh in our minds as we celebrated Nevsky’s saving of mother Russia at the close of the first half. In the second half of the concert, after our chilling rendition of Jerry’s Goldsmith’s music for The Omen, our amiable conductor Keith Lockhart turned to acknowledge the applause of the audience, turned back towards us, grinned, and crossed himself. We laughed. Nervously.
At times, we enjoyed a short rest and the privilege of listening to the BBC Concert Orchestra performing instrumental works including Ennio Morricone’s soulful Gabriel’s Oboe from The Mission and John Williams’s heart-rending main theme from Schindler’s List, with solo violin by leader Charles Mutter. Princess Leia's Theme from Star Wars Episode IV – A New Hope was of course made more poignant by the untimely death of Carrie Fisher just a few months ago, and some in the audience and the choir were visibly moved.
The night ended with the epilogue from William Walton’s Henry V – A Shakespeare Scenario, with narration by our presenter, Radio 3’s Matthew Sweet. This was a concert of familiar, immensely popular music, but performing the programme was nonetheless challenging, and also emotionally engaging – just as film music should be. The audience loved it.
February 2017: Hollywood has come calling again for Crouch End Festival Chorus... We're on the soundtrack of the new "macabre conspiracy horror"A Cure for Wellness. Find out more in this video of our Abbey Road recording session with composer Benjamin Wallfisch.
A glorious programme
February 2017: It's not often we can say that a concert offers something for everyone, but that was the aim on 12 February at the Barbican. On that evening, the chameleon singers of Crouch End Festival Chorus started as a chamber group from the Italian Baroque, then turned into an English cathedral choir and ended up as a Russian opera chorus.
The works were united by the theme of glory – in faith and in battle – and first on the bill was Vivaldi's Gloria. The singing was lively, lithe and clear, with fine solos by sopranos Jessica Cale and Kitty Whately, and critic David Winskill said the choir had turned in a sensitive and thoughtful performance.
The second work was Holst's Hymn of Jesus, for which the chorus was joined by the ethereal voices of Finchley Children's Music Group and the City of London School for Girls Choir. Their song floated down from the gallery as the main choir took the work from its plainchant beginnings through mystical dances and stately processions. The offstage semi-chorus of monks taken from the CEFC tenors and basses also deserve a mention for the beauty and precision of their chant. Overall, David Winskill said the piece had been a monumental ecclesiastical triumph in ambition and execution.
Between the first two works, the instrumentalists accompanying the choir had expanded from a small string group to a fair-sized orchestra (the London Orchestra da Camera). And by the time the audience returned from the interval, the stage was heaving with enough brass and percussion to indicate that something truly rousing was on its way.
Prokofiev's Alexander Nevsky suite contains some of the finest film music of the 20th century, with wild, bloodthirsty battle cries and rich folk-inspired choruses. Inspired by a powerful solo from Kitty Whately, the singers gave their all, imbuing their notes with a dark Slavonic timbre and rendering the Russian words with clarity and emotion. As Alexander Nevsky's massive climactic chord brought the concert to an end, audience members jumped to their feet cheering. The varied programme had been a wonderful success, and all present came away with their ears ringing and smiles on their faces.
Crouch End Festival Chorus patrons knighted in New Year's Honours
January 2017: Our warmest congratulations to Sir Ray Davies and Sir Bryn Terfel, who have been recognised in the 2017 New Year's Honours for their services to the arts and music.
We enjoyed performing with Bryn Terfel when he was making his name as a young bass-baritone, and were delighted when he agreed to be a patron of the choir. His career has since risen to great heights, and his knighthood is richly deserved.
Muswell Hill-born Ray Davies has been a local friend to Crouch End Festival Chorus for many years. We have performed with him at the Glastonbury Festival and in the Royal Festival Hall, and we made the best-selling album Kinks Choral Collection together. His outstanding lifetime contribution to the cultural life of the nation is rightly honoured with his knighthood.