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Despite icy weather, the Barbican was pretty full last night for an inspired programme of choral music from the Crouch End Festival Chorus. All the works were united by the theme of glory – in faith and in battle.

The first part of the evening included the uplifting and beautiful Gloria by Vivaldi from three hundred years ago. The Chorus was led through this at a pretty fast lick by David Temple but, from the shouted Gloria of the first section, it was clear they were going to turn in a sensitive and thoughtful performance.

Next up was the less well known Hymn of Jesus by Holst. Written in 1917 and based on ancient Greek and Latin texts (that apparently impelled Holst to learn ancient Greek so he could translate personally!) the Prelude begins with a solitary trombone that introduces the ethereal quality of the music to come. The effect is intensified as flutes and strings are added.

The semi-chorus of eight male voices reflected the plain chant origins of the work. Finchley Children’s Music Group and City of London School for Girls choir added further to the mystical mood that the Chorus and the large London Orchestra da Camera were creating.

The Hymn proper was an assertion of faith – part atonal, part jazzy but a monumental ecclesiastical triumph in ambition and execution.

I don’t think anyone was prepared for what was about to happen after the interval. 

The Choir comprised over one hundred voices strong and the already substantial orchestra was supplemented by porters who scuttled onto the stage with chairs and music stands for more strings, brass and, above all, percussion.

Prokofiev worked closely with Eisenstein in creating the music for the 1938 film Alexander Nevsky. It deals with national identity, sacrifice, salvation.. and glory.

His cantata is infused with elements of folk as well as martial and funereal themes.  After the orchestral introduction, the Choir sang the Song About Alexander Nevsky – almost as they were sitting round a campfire and telling a tale from the old country.

By the third part (The Crusaders in Pskov) David Temple was in full flow – committed to pulling out every morsel of emotion and drama that this rich work has to offer. He continued like this all the way through the piece, contorting his face and body as he demanded more from his willing and compliant performers. By the end he was clearly physically drained.

Nevsky is the kind of music that all percussionists dream of – tubular bells, snare drums, giant symbols. They threw themselves into this monumental cacophony and the Choir rose to their challenge. As they sang Arise ye Russian People they were all bouncing as one!

The Battle on the Ice will live in the memory of everyone who was there:  full blooded, passionate, thrilling.

A superb evening.


Next concert : http://www.cefc.org.uk/concertcalendar.aspx

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