The English Arts Chorale gave an exciting concert in Chichester Cathedral on 7th May, offering a programme of choral classics from the 20th century.
The 60 strong choir is currently very busy, having just sung a Messiah, and they are now planning for a Verdi Requiem in June with Sir Willard White.
The choir made a lovely warm sound collectively, which was suited to Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium perfectly.
There was excellently controlled soft singing in the Lauridsen, which has become the party piece of many choirs. The tempo was well judged and the choir created a homogenous sound totally in sympathy with the acoustic of the cathedral.
It was a excellent start to the concert, as the choir were given no starting notes and just began to sing.
The choir’s sopranos could afford to be louder at times, and perhaps positioned better for balance with the other parts, particularly as the men of the choir are so strong.
Maurice Durufle’s Quatre Motets are well known to cathedral choirs and it is pleasing to see choral societies performing these gems. They are challenging works for choirs of this size, and they were mostly managed very well.
Some of the speeds were on the slightly slow side, but a choir of this size can manage a slower tempo with greater ease. In the Ubi Caritas a stand out point was the ‘Amen’ with its well judged tempi seamlessly moving from time signature to time signature with relative ease and control. Tu es Petrus was on the slow side and therefore did lose a little of it’s usual impact. Tantum Ergo with its overlapping long phrases was sung beautifully. Occasionally there were minor tuning issues in these motets, but they are demanding pieces to sing.
The choir seemed to be very comfortable with Morton Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna.
The majority of movements have a very strong harmonic link to O Magnum Mysterium, and perhaps just one of these works would be enough for one programme.
There was a very unified sense of soft singing, with perfect tuning amongst all the close intervals. In the Agnus Dei, some lovely whispered singing on the word ‘sempiternam’ was a highlight.
The soprano soloist Jay Britton in Maurice Durufle’s ethereal Requiem was young and showed promise, with a pleasant upper register.
The strength of English Art’s Chorale’s tenors and basses came to the fore in this work, beautifully controlled, especially in the Domine Jesu Christe. The organ playing, with well judged registrations, was perfectly balanced through this opening movement and the Sanctus and Benedictus.
Just occasionally, the individual upper parts has a less refined sense of blend than in the first half of the programme.
The accompaniment from Ian le Grice was always sensitive, and Leslie Olive’s conducting was excellently understated. He managed to extract every bit of expression needed out of the choir without falling into a common conductors trap of making far too much movement.
It was good to see and hear the English Arts Chorale in Chichester again.
The programme brought these contemporary compositions to a wider audience and their performances are always worth looking out for.