Review: Choir of King’s College, Blythburgh, Aldeburgh Festival, June 19

Blythburgh Church played host to the Choir of Kings College as part of the Aldeburgh Festival

Blythburgh Church played host to the Choir of Kings College as part of the Aldeburgh Festival - Credit: Sarah Lucy brown

One of music’s most reliable pleasures is to hear the choir of King’s College, Cambridge sing. Add the superb setting of Blythburgh Church to a sunny afternoon and the stage is perfectly set.

Tallis’ ‘Loquebantur variis linguis’ is a strong and sombre motet, rich in polyphony, and it immediately set the standard; clear, balanced and authoritative. Byrd’s ‘Laudibus in sanctis’ motet is much more extrovert, rather like a madrigal and it flowed easily and joyously.

There followed two works by living composers with close associations with Kings; firstly ‘Thou art there’, a setting of verses from psalms by Robin Hollway, a King’s graduate and university teacher. There was a wide variety of mood and word painting within the six minute duration and some well delivered chromatic harmonies. Richard Causton, a current Fellow of Kings and University Reader in Composition was commissioned to write the anthem ‘The Flight’ for the 2015 Nine Lessons and Carols. The text by George Szirtes was inspired by parallels between the biblical flight to Bethlehem and the ongoing European refugee crisis. The words are simple but hard-hitting and Causton’s thoughtful setting accurately captures their spirit. Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia can seem a prisoner of its sometime pretentious librettist but the choir sang it with unforced elegance and precision.

The second half again opened with Byrd and Tallis, the former’s eloquent Ave Verum and the rich and rewarding Videte Miraculum of Tallis. As ever, intonation, phrasing and balance were impeccable.

Symmetry was maintained with three further works by current British composers including two women. Sally Beamish’s ‘Be Still’ had a dynamic feel to it and Judith Bingham’s ‘I will lift up mine eyes’ had some nice touches although both were on a small scale. Julian Anderson’s Bell Mass (minus a credo) was written for the choir of Westminster Abbey and the composer speaks of the influence that listening closely to bells had on the harmony of the piece. It has some attractive sections and occasional challenging passages, especially for the organ, which Richard Gowers played with aplomb. Stephen Cleobury directed his well-trained singers with unobtrusive authority in an astutely programmed and elegantly delivered concert.

Gareth Jones