|Musical Director & Host:|
On Friday evening the Exodus choir filled the nave with their beautiful a capella singing. Fourteen singers were there, with tenor Michael Graham and baritone Matt Cann taking turns to conduct. The singers, dressed in black, faced the audience in a loose semi-circle. Without accompaniment of any kind they combined their voices in every conceivable ingenious harmony.
Then came a series of 'spirituals' very relevant to this week of remembrance. Michael Tippett's 'A Child of our Time' is an oratorio written when he was 35 following the atrocities of Kristallnacht in Nazi Germany. The text relates the experience of oppressed minorities everywhere, and includes five traditional spiritual songs relating the suffering of African Americans as a direct or indirect result of the slave trade.
|Sir Michael Tippett|
Ed Woodhouse took on those mighty opening words, while the men savoured each one in turn, in bass, then tenor then countenor, before moving on to the next. Elle Williams finished with "in saeculorum saecula" before a delightfully balanced Amen. Matt has made a fabulous arrangement of this latin prayer, using his experience of these brilliant singers to bring out the best of their abilities.
Equally beautiful was Frank Martin's "Mass for Unaccompanied Double Choir". Martin was the only non-English composer to feature. He lived the last twenty eight years of his life in Holland where he developed the ideas of Schoenburg and completed most of his major compositions, starting with the Passiontide oratorio "Golgotha" immediately after the Second World War.
Matt conducted again, and Laurence Blyth began the beautifully high Kyrie, followed by fellow countertenor Anselm Carr-Jones - and finally soprano Josie Walledge. The Gloria, like Matt's Veni Creator involved rhythmic repetition of the key words in different registers before the final, "in excelsis deo". During the Qui Tollis, a sonorous continuo was introduced - not instrumental. A gentle hum from some of the voices provided all the accompaniment needed.
From opposite ends of the two choirs Julian Rippon and Philip Arkwright combined their bass voices for the Sanctus. The Credo was longer and the interactions of voice more complicated. The left hand choir opened, followed by the right. An interesting stereo effect. Josie Walledge's voice continued, "Et in unum Dominum Iesum Christum". In 'choir 2', Jason Bomford and Philip Arkwright were followed by Ed Woodhouse and Anselm Carr-Jones in "genitum, non factum". Ed and Julian pronounced, "Crucifixus etiam" and the coda, "et resurrexit tertia die" went to the sopranos and altos.
Josie Walledge sang beautifully in the Sanctus and both choirs joined in the final line taking the word "hosanna" stepwise up the scale before the final climactic, "in excelsis", the sweetest top note going to soprano Elle Williams. The Benedictus and Agnus Dei were equally magical and ended with the the reassuring words, "Dona nobis pacem" (Give us peace).
The whole concert created a comforting sense of peace, alloyed with delightful exhilaration. Even the darkest lyrics of the Tippet oratorio were imbued with the sense of settled determination and hope. To take on such a varied programme of music is ambitious. To achieve such an inspired balance of reassuring precision and disconcerting wonder, on a two hour journey that went in so many fascinating directions, is a magnificent achievement indeed - and all attained using the human voice alone.
After the concert Michael Graham returned to the nave to reassure everyone that there will be more opportunities to hear the Exodus Choir in the future. Watch this space for details.