Event review: Croydon Bach Choir sings Haydn’s Harmonie Mass and other works, Saturday 21st November 2015

By - Monday 14th December, 2015

There wasn’t any Bach. This confused Tom Black, but he was too happy to mind

Photo by Croydon Bach Choir, used with permission.

I don’t know much about choral music. I don’t even know if that’s what it’s called. Hymns and that. All I know is that the Croydon Bach Choir is very good at it.

In the grand environment of St John the Evangelist Church in Shirley, the choir soothed me and my mum through a well-chosen and perfectly-ordered collection of pieces, including some short lieder by Schubert and Mozart. These were sung with expert charm by soprano Belinda Evans and are one of the only pieces of art about which I can say that they almost put me to sleep and mean it as a compliment.

The main event was Haydn’s Harmonie Messebacked by some other Haydn pieces including his Te Deum for the Empress Marie Therese, (In what I assume was an attempt to confuse the audience, the choir didn’t sing any Bach.)

We are here to celebrate the Lord, but this is an entirely serious matter

The mass had something of an effect on me. As the Agnus Dei was performed (if that’s the word), I found myself transported back more than a decade. My years in the choir of St Andrew’s Church, Coulsdon were suddenly with me again, ruff and all. The Sanctus and Gloria were familiar too, and all delivered with the joy and sincerity Haydn’s lively arrangement requires. “We are here to celebrate the Lord”, the hymns seemed to say, “but this remains an entirely serious matter”.

It was not a piece that I was familiar with from my own ruff-neck days (geddit?). Four professional leads (I had to ask for help with the lingo; I spent most of my time at St Andrew’s playing Pokémon Gold) – soprano Belinda Evans, mezzo soprano Rebekah Jones, tenor David Roy and bass baritone Peter Brooke – arrived to bolster our fine amateurs and the group worked flawlessly together to convey the power and resilient sadness behind Haydn’s music. The hairs on the back of my neck stood up on numerous occasions, and praise must go to the sopranos for their role in making those sublime harmonies work so well.

But no harmony works without everyone pulling their weight, and goodness, the Croydon Bach Choir knows how to do that. Conductor and director Tim Horton clearly runs a tight ship, and I for one will be back for the carol service this Christmas.

The hairs on the back of my neck stood up

This is not to say that any of the evening was inappropriately sombre. On the contrary, there were no dirges to be heard here. The seriousness mentioned above was one of commitment, not of sadness or stiffness. To this lapsed Anglican, the evening was a robust rejoinder to the idea that only Gospel churches can produce uplifting and exciting music these days. These were great standards brought to life by an obviously engaged and hard-working group, all performing for love. Love of the music, that is – the choir is not religious, and welcomes all comers. I’ve no doubt that some were putting real religious conviction behind their Latin praise for our Father above, mind.

At a time when Croydon’s cultural offering is under the spotlight, and not always in a good way, we should be grateful to have in our borough a musical institution that is not only so talented and rooted in quality, but also fundamentally pluralistic. All are welcome – to sing, and of course to listen. Amen to that.

You can catch the Croydon Bach Choir at its Christmas concert, ‘This Wondrous Night’, on Wednesday 16th December, 8:00pm at St Matthew’s Church in Chichester Road. Tickets cost £10 on the door (with concessions available), refreshments will be served and best of all, the audience can join in the carols.

Tom Black

Tom Black

Tom is the Citizen's General Manager, and spent his whole life in Croydon until moving to Balham in 2017. He also writes plays that are occasionally performed and books that are occasionally enjoyed. He's been a Labour Party member since 2007, and in his spare time runs an online publishing house for alternate history books, Sea Lion Press. He is fluent in Danish, but speaks no useful languages. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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