Review: Voces 8, Ipswich School

Ipswich School Festival, Voces 8, Great School, Ipswich, October 2nd

Voces8 was founded in 2003 by ex-choristers of Westminster Abbey and is now one of the leading groups of British ‘a cappella’. Combining the highest musical standards and expertise with an engaging, easy-going charm, they are a natural box-office draw. In this well-attended concert they covered many styles and eras ranging from Renaissance to the Olympics of 2012 including some contributions from the school’s choirs.

Sing Joyfully, by William Byrd opened the concert and might well have served as an apt summary of the evening overall, as well as the group’s strapline. Hieronymus Praetorius in his Magnificat Quinti Toni is clearly influenced by the contemporary Venetian composers and it is a strikingly brilliant and ornate work, particularly when performed with such elan. More recent, but still ‘classical’ music was represented by Rachmaninov – a restrained, evocative performance of a setting of Ave Maria and an exquisite rendering of John Taverner’s modal, almost minimalist, The Lamb.

The jazz and pop eras were well represented with many pertinent and amusing introductory comments shared between the performers. The quality of solo and ensemble singing, as well as the mood and colour, was remarkable. Particularly memorable pieces included the smooth and silky Me and My Shadow, the rapid, cheeky Il est bel et bon and Slap that Bass which was crisp and amusing.

Voces8 are actively developing their education work in schools. During the day they had conducted workshops with pupils from the Prep and Senior School, with excellent results. The Ipswich Prep School Super Singers gave a fine performance of an arrangement of The Beatles’ Hey Jude, all eleven pupils singing with confidence and character. Embracing effective improvisation, Prep pupils and Senior School students joined Voces8 in a striking arrangement of Old Abram Brown based on Britten’s Friday Afternoon Songs. The same forces joined together for a moving performance of Ben Parry’s The Flame in which the closely interweaving voices represented the flickering flame, gradually increasing in intensity as its light and hope spread to others. Certainly Voces 8 and the other performers sent the audience away exhilarated by what they had heard and seen.

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Gareth Jones

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