REVIEW: The Chichester Singers, Chichester Cathedral

At the start of the second week of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced their concert, which had been prepared so as to suit the Festival.

Jonathan Willcocks
Jonathan Willcocks

For those who have been attending the Singers’ concerts for some years, the programme was full of surprises. There was no major work by a famous classical composer, but rather a number of pieces by contemporary musicians, the men of the choir had taken off their black dinner jackets and appeared in shirt sleeves, there was only one soloist and there was no orchestra. But, reliably as ever, the music making was good.

The first item on the programme was a group of three unaccompanied motets by the American composer Eric Whitacre. Two of the motets are famous for being the first works for a “virtual choir”, where the conductor and individual singers are separated in time and space, and are eventually joined up through the internet. However, the Chichester Singers presented the motets in the conventional fashion and overcame the challenge of singing some complex works without accompaniment, and they produced rich harmonies and some moving effects. The charming little piece Sleep, which ends with the large choir singing ever more quietly, was particularly effective.

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A piano, bass and drums were added for the choir’s other works. Bob Chilcott’s Little Jazz Mass is a lively work made up of several short sections, and the choir seemed to be enjoying interpreting each section in a different style with different rhythms and conveyed their enjoyment to the audience. Some sections, and the work itself, deserved to be longer: the music was just developing in an interesting fashion when it stopped.

The one soloist for the concert, Carolyn Holt, is still studying but already has a most impressive voice and vocal technique. Her singing of the lovely aria from Samson and Delilah was simply gorgeous, with a resonant mezzo-soprano voice that would sound good in any opera house. She followed it with a lively interpretation of Rosina’s aria from The Barber of Seville, in which she showed not only that she could play some tricks on Doctor Bartolo, but also that she had some very fine vocal tricks of her own. Her singing of the various spirituals after the interval was more subdued but always showed her good musicianship. She was joined by the choir and the three instrumentalists as conductor Jonathan Willcocks led them through the final item, John Rutter’s Feel the Spirit, seven settings of well known spirituals. The Singers attacked the songs with spirit and accuracy and it was a joyful ending to the concert, with many in the audience wishing they could sing along with the chorus. After a noisy rendition of Oh, when the Saints, the Cathedral doors opened and we went marching out, feeling that the Chichester Singers had put together a good programme of attractive modern music that suited the Festivities, and they had sung it well.

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