Report on The English Arts Chorale concert at Arundel Cathedral on Saturday 10th November 2007 by Rupert Street

How wrong can you be? In my experience it is the first five bars of music which tell you what the concert is going to be like. In the Chichester Psalms, Bernstein starts with a wake-up call ‘I will rouse the dawn’. When some 5 seconds later came the reply from somewhere up in the roof, “Hi, Lennie and the same to you”, I thought we were in for a symphonie cacophonique or even catastrophique. The notes were right, the Hebrew correct (as far as I could tell) but somehow the choir had to find the skill and energy to swamp the echo, reverberations and long decay time of Arundel Cathedral. This they did and the last movement was sublime with the final notes fading like a summer day into the velvet of dusk.Liam McHugh was just what Bernstein required of a boy soprano. No other voice can achieve the purity and simplicity. I was very appreciative of Deian Rowlands (harp) and Chris Woodham (percussion) who reinforced the anger and the calm which Bernstein wanted.

Rutter's Gloria? Well, so distinctively Rutter. The second movement gave both the tenors and basses an opportunity to shine as the 'men's section' and they certainly did. The tiny bit of soprano solo was beautifully and powerfully sung; simple, pure, and clear as a bell. The sound rose above the choir as though she had been miked-up!

The highlight of the evening for me was the Brahms' Requiem. The choir obviously knew their notes – which is a good starting point. The Requiem is a very 'Big Sing', not only in the sheer length (1 hour and 10 minutes in this instance) but also in the voice compass required, the ability to sing strong forte andwJay Britton soprano200pix pianissimo, the agility to meet sudden changes in dynamics, the ear to hear harmonies which no other composer would use (until Wagner, some time later) and the experience to come in with off-beat entries. Leslie Olive, the conductor, had all of the ingredients which he could wish for in a choir. They were all there, waiting to be formed into music. This he did brilliantly. The choir avoided the usual Requiem traps and responded in a manner which transcended time signatures, keys and notation. 

There were some moving pauses between sections which conveyed the drama and pathos of the work. By now you will have gathered that I enjoyed it. The soloists were first class. Fresh, natural and above all, still themselves. They had not been squeezed to fit into a mould pre-determined by a voice coach. Alexander Learmonth (baritone) looked and sounded wonderful in German. Jay Britton, pictured left, (soprano) still has that clean and transparent sound which you find in a young singer. My only criticism is that she was not really allowed her moment. The solo was her big opportunity to stand high so it would have been appropriate for the choir to have been seated. It would also have been a welcome opportunity for the choir to rest their legs. It was an excellent decision to ask Ian le Grice to play the Brahms’ accompaniment on the piano. The instrument has a percussive effect which is absent from the organ. In addition to that, the organ is very remote from the choir; a 5 second time lag is reported. It also gave Ian the opportunity to have the ‘King of Instruments’ to himself and show how accomplished he is at both instruments. It was a pleasure to hear a choir making music; not just singing the notes.

Regarding the choir per se, there was a welcome new sound in the sopranos: the tinkle of ice and zest of lemon in a gin and tonic but let them enhance rather than replace the basic ingredients! The basses were particularly sonorous and secure. Altos were the best I've heard for a long while. The tenors sang very well, with good articulation and enunciation and the sound was very pleasant. Unfortunately they were out-numbered and the choir needs more than seven in order to overcome the imbalance of voices.

The amount of extra energy applied by the choir to overcome the cathedral acoustic would have illuminated the whole of Arundel What a pity it is that most of it was wasted on filling the Cathedral void rather than benefiting the choir or the audience. I was seated next to an Arundel Choral Society singer who told me that they have found the solution by singing beneath a canopy but EAC chose the hard way! The choir could spend a bit more time perfecting their Mexican Wave. Alternatively they could decide upon simple
co-ordinated stands and sits.

It was a wonderful evening. Of the thirty or more choral concerts which I have attended over the last two years, The English Arts Chorale is the best amateur choir of them all.