Event review: the Croydon Bach Choir summer concert, Saturday 27th June

By - Wednesday 8th July, 2015

Liz Sheppard-Jones finds musical comfort for the living at St Matthew’s church

Photo author’s own.

My watch stopped on the way to the Croydon Bach Choir‘s Summer Concert 2015, held in St Matthew’s church, Chichester Road, East Croydon, on Saturday evening 27th June. So I strolled in from the warm evening sunshine to find I was entering as the performers filed on. Sidewalk to symphony in under a minute cheated me of the build-up I really wanted: as I’ve said before, I deeply love choral and religious music. They say no tunes ever move you like the tunes of your youth because your young intensity is held within them – they are right, and this is the music of mine.

I also love and admire Croydon Bach Choir – a hard-working and ambitious ensemble unafraid to push the envelope – and it showed these qualities in abundance last Saturday. It might have been the timing of my arrival that made the launch of Beethoven’s Mass in C not quite as out-there as I’d have liked, for a choral mass is wild, beautiful stuff: the re-telling of the most compelling of all myths, of limitless love, blood-sacrifice, exaltation, the gain of eternal peace… I wanted wellie. But by the Credo they were singing it like they meant it, and my note on the Sanctus reads simply: ‘dark mystery’.

Photo by St Matthew’s Church, used with permission.

But it’s not just about abandon: discipline and control also matter, so that music of this complexity can satisfy the mind and ear. And the soloists – one in particular – needed a bit of reining in: their four voices didn’t always balance or blend, putting their marriage with the choir out of whack. My notes on one read: ‘strong and emotional’, and (staying with the relationship analogy) while these are certainly desirable qualities in a romantic partner, ‘shouty and overwhelming’ aren’t so much, and the performer in question veered towards both. I’ve heard this can lead to problems, and the choir-alone sections were where both peace and pleasure lay.

It’s about being alive and knowing it won’t last

Brahms’ German Requiem I didn’t know, and Brahms’ use of the Lutheran rather than the Roman Catholic bible, along with his choice of texts not usually incorporated into a requiem mass – omitting the Last Judgement and prayers for the dead – have called its description as a requiem into question. Brahms replied simply that this is a requiem to comfort the living.

It’s certainly a work about being alive and knowing it won’t last; night was falling by now outside the stained glass window behind the singers, giving ‘Lord, make me to know that the measure of my days is set’ an intensity that raised the hairs on my arms. The choir really shone here – the odd ragged edge not mattering in the fine achievement of an un-straightforward work.

Effort paying off and love of what they do were the hallmarks of this very physical performance. Croydon Bach Choir has stamina and ambition: its singers stretched themselves to accomplish difficult things and succeeded. They also succeeded in making their material accessible to the audience, telling a beautiful story in song. I look forward to more evenings like this one.

The Croydon Bach Choir is conducted by Tim Horton, musical director of the Guards’ Chapel London. Soloists were Belinda Evans (soprano), Vanessa Heine (alto), Andrew Friefhof (tenor), Julian Empett (bass).

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Liz Sheppard-Jones

Liz Sheppard-Jones

Writer and editor. Views personal, not representative of editorial policy.

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