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Great cathedral anthems triumph at Douai Abbey

Newbury Choral Society: Great Cathedral Anthems at Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, on Saturday, June 29

Review by ANNE WARE

Newbury Choral Society
Newbury Choral Society

For any choir, the opportunity to sing at Douai Abbey is always a highlight of the musical calendar. This was the NCS annual visit but the first led by Joe Tobin, who took over as musical director last year. I was interested to see Joe in action; he has recently been shortlisted for the prestigious Eric Ericson prize for young choral conductors.

Given the concert title, I had expected the choir to open with one of the more declamatory works; instead Bairstow’s setting of Let all mortal flesh keep silence opened the programme. It’s a really unusual and dramatic setting - very dark in tone to begin with and even in the warm balmy evening, it gave me goosebumps.

Joe explained that this was a programme which has personal resonance; these were many of the anthems he sang in his Parish church growing up in Leicester.

Sumsion’s “They that go down to the sea in ships” is another dramatic setting and a masterclass in word painting. The choir were extremely responsive to Joe’s direction.

Contemporary composers were represented by Jonathan Dove’s Seek him that maketh the seven stars and was a particular highlight of the evening. To Steve Bowey’s organ accompaniment, representing the twinkling stars, the choir confidently tackled this challenging piece.

The second half included anthems from Parry and Samuel Wesley which would challenge any choir; Ascribe to the Lord is a bold and proclamatory piece, containing a tricky fugue (“as for the gods of the heathen, they are but idols”) and finishing in a triumphant chorus. The ensemble kept up the energy throughout.

The last featured composer was the American Amy Beech whose work, Joe explained has been adopted into the English Cathedral repertoire.

Appropriately, the choir ended on her Peace I leave with you.

The choir seems light on numbers this year but this meant they were able to be very nimble, particularly in the Dove and Sumsion.

In my preparation for the concert, I was reading comments from a music publisher who said of the Sumsion piece, “It requires a good organist”. Well, NCS certainly had that. Steve Bowey was on terrific form and with Joe, they made a great team.

Congratulation to NCS who performed a challenging and varied programme with style and sensitivity.

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