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.