Perfectly pitched for a summer evening

Eye Bach Choir: Music for a Summer Evening, conductor Leslie Olive, Saturday June 6, Eye Church

Eye Bach Choir: Music for a Summer Evening, conductor Leslie Olive, Saturday June 6, Eye Church

The Eye Bach Choir got their Music for a Summer Evening exactly right, selecting works that were not too heavy, nicely varied but not often heard.

Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms are notoriously difficult to sing and not always easy to listen to, but they certainly repay the effort. This modern (1965) work plunged the choir immediately into an animated 7/8 section which they sung with evident relish.

The second movement begins with a declamation attributed to King David, and counter-tenor Tim Garrard gave a well-rounded and beautiful account of this solo.


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Despite the difficulty of this work the choir made few obvious errors. In the third movement it took the tenors and basses some time to get into their stride, and one sometimes wished the sopranos realised just how small a semitone is, but in general the singing was strong, well-balanced and accurate. Particularly impressive towards the end were the parts that dovetailed seamlessly together, the melody passing imperceptibly from one to another.

The accompaniment on organ, harp and percussion was always efficient with impeccable ensemble, and contributed to a performance that was confident yet somehow very intimate.

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The Choir's accompanist William Fergusson is an unusually good pianist, hence the surprising inclusion of Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker Suite arranged for piano solo. It seems strange to arrange a work so familiar to all music-lovers, and one so beautifully orchestrated that any alteration is immediately incongruous, but it was nice to hear less popular movements like the Tarantella and Intermezzo which lend themselves well to the piano. Other movements were less successful when passagework was so rapid that detail and accuracy suffered.

This was a display of astonishing virtuosity and it is to the choir's credit that they saw and seized the opportunity to celebrate their association with a remarkable musician.

The second half began with Janacek's Ot?e n� (Our Father). This very beautiful work is scored for harp and organ, a combination rare in this country but not unknown in continental music. Harpist Rhian Hanson was always strong and always in exactly the right place, while Ian Le Grice struggled, mostly successfully, with a slightly unsuitable electric organ.

Soprano soloist Jay Britton suited the work perfectly. It is nice to hear a soprano soloist not afraid to give it a bit of “welly”, and the choir's performance was also gutsy and strong. The tenors were few but magnificently exciting, cutting through the texture, while the altos produced a fat, middle-European sound. The carefully prepared performance revealed detail not apparent on some commercial recordings.

It was, though, a relief to get back to the English language again, and the choir clearly enjoyed their beautifully pointed, highly rhythmical performance of Constant Lambert's Rio Grande. Written in 1927 this work is very much a product of its time with a wacky blend of jazz, sultry Brazilian idioms and an oh-so-terribly-English choral sound. It requires considerable virtuosity of the two pianists, who played with such good ensemble that it was hard to tell when one stopped and the other began. Soprano Jay Britton's contribution was small but perfectly formed. A singer who can make such a significant point with just her last two notes is a rare talent.

Sadly this concert did not draw the Eye Bach Choir's usual capacity audience. Nevertheless it was an adventurous occasion and highly successful. If they don't sing more 20th Century music in future, Eye Bach Choir will be missing a trick because this is something that suits them very well.

AE Hayward

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