What a splendid concert we heard in Ely Cathedral on Saturday. It was obvious the conductor, Andrew Parnell, had thought deeply about getting the best out of this wonderful choir.
There were many moments of great glory when this large number of voices gave their best.
Supporting them were some fine soloists: Rebecca Duckworth (soprano), Lynette Alcantara (mezzo soprano), Sam Madden (tenor) and John Midgley (bass). The organist was Christopher Strange.
Christopher proved to be an amazing organist. He had stepped in to play these, not-so-easy- pieces in the whole evening’s programme at the last minute when the original organist was unable to come.
Somehow, he managed to convince us all that it made little difference, just as most brilliant musicians can, he stepped in and supported the choir magnificently. He played as if he knew the organ inside out.
His solo piece, March Dignity and Impudence by Percy Whitlock was both skilful and entertaining.
The other works in the programme were ‘Gloria’ by Vivaldi, ‘Etheldreda’ from ‘Fenland Images’ by the conductor, Andrew Parnell, and ‘Mass in D’ by Dvorak.
‘The Gloria’ was a bright, rhythmical introduction to the programme. When the choir first sang, they exhibited a magnificent potency that never left them and that filled the cathedral.
In addition, Andrew Parnell moulded these singers to give impressive attention to detail from the start.
The soprano and the mezzo soprano sang beautifully, as expected, with the soprano giving a lightness and brightness to her sounds, and the mezzo giving the words deep meaning with the richness of her voice.
In fact, all the soloists were all of a very high standard and were at their best when the music encouraged them to sing soft sustained lines while blending together as one.
The music followed the meaning to the words constantly in Fenland Images: Etheldreda. It built to a wonderful climax when Etheldreda founded a double monastery. The immediate sudden change to softness with words that spoke of ‘smitten with holy love’ were very effective and well executed by the choir.
Dvorak is known for his charming melodies, and it was a delight to hear him apply his talent to his Mass in D. The Kyrie Eleison was beautiful and sustained.
One of the most effective movements was the Creed and the words ‘and was made flesh’ were given noticeable emotional depth by the mezzo soprano. A powerful contrast followed with the mention of the crucifixion by the choir.
The Benedictus sung by the choir was most prayerful and serene, and the splendid singing produced a beautiful texture. Soloists and choir brought this impressive work to an exquisite peaceful end with the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God).
Ely Choral Society’s next concert: ‘Carols for all’ is on Saturday 16th December 2023 in Ely Cathedral Presbytery.
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