Review: African Sanctus; St Mary’s Church; Bury St Edmunds Festival – Saturday May 26 2012

The youthful singers of the Voice Squad processed to the stage from all corners of St Mary’s Church to the sound of Siyhamba, a traditional South African song, setting the scene, and the standard, for this excellent concert.

Bigitta Kenyon has been running this group of singers for almost 21 years, having built it up from just ten girls to over a hundred members. The singers, and their exceptional director, have a great track record of success at the highest levels, and in this demanding concert they certainly demonstrated the reasons why that is the case.

Amongst the many African-themed pieces in the first half a great arrangement of Shadowland from The Lion King, and the protest song Weeping both showed the singers’ dynamic range and impressive sound. Homeless, the Paul Simon song, performed ‘a capella’ also impressed, and the final piece in the first half, Khutso, was movingly sung.

The main event of the evening , African Sanctus by David Fanshaw still sounds fresh and exciting some forty years after it was composed, using many musical elements including music and background sound recorded on the composer’s African travels.

The Voice Squad gave a gloriously vibrant and committed performance from start to finish, enhanced by their disciplined and fuss-free changes and movements as different groups of singers came to the fore. The powerful soprano voices impressed in numerous places, and the full-bodied whole-choir sound filled the church with ease.

The intense mood created by the singers was, unfortunately, challenged by a persistent (no doubt well-meaning ) minority of the audience who insisted on clapping between sections, but despite this the Voice Squad gave a magnificent, coherent and convincing performance of which they should be extremely proud.

Wynn Rees

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