St John at St John's

Enlarge Image Bach's St John Passion, performed at St John's Smith Square, April 2017 | Picture: Lucy Robinson
Bach's St John Passion, performed at St John's Smith Square, April 2017 | Picture: Lucy Robinson

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 masterworkIn 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

Enlarge Image Crouch End Festival Chorus recording Bach's St John Passion in September 2016 at St Jude's Hampstead Garden Suburb | Picture: Paul Robinson
Crouch End Festival Chorus recording Bach's St John Passion in September 2016 at St Jude's Hampstead Garden Suburb | Picture: Paul Robinson

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.

Recorded in Baroque pitch with the Bach Camerata and a host of top British soloists, the CD has received a glowing review from Gramophone magazine.

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

Enlarge Image Choir and orchestra take a bow at the Royal Festival Hall on 19 March 2017
Choir and orchestra take a bow at the Royal Festival Hall on 19 March 2017

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.

>>With thanks to poster Omen II of the John Williams Fan Network for the photo

Soundtrack stars

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

Enlarge Image Jessica Cale and Kitty Whately in Vivaldi's Gloria | Picture: Paul Robinson
Jessica Cale and Kitty Whately in Vivaldi's Gloria | Picture: Paul Robinson

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.

>>Read David Winskill's review on the OpinioN8 blog

Crouch End Festival Chorus patrons knighted in New Year's Honours

Enlarge Image Ray Davies and CEFC at the Royal Festival Hall, 2011 | Picture: Matt Biddulph
Ray Davies and CEFC at the Royal Festival Hall, 2011 | Picture: Matt Biddulph

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.

>>See the full list of Crouch End Festival Chorus patrons in the About us section