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MALCOLM MILLER reports on a choice programme of English choral music in London


A choice programme of English choral music, including Finzi, Purcell, Holst and Britten, as well as two short world premières, displayed the high standards of the Camden Choir, conducted by its charismatic musical Director Julian Williamson, who founded the choir in 1971.

The concert, at a packed St Pancras Church on 2 December began with Finzi's In Terra Pax, a beautiful work, whose influences, Elgarian lyricism, the atmospheric textures of Vaughan Williams, and sometimes Coplandesque harmonies are woven into a distinctive, refined pastoral idiom, with drama at its incisive climax. Julian Williamson drew an expressively rich performance from the choir and Pro Arte Orchestra, with Hilary Cox, soprano and the baritone Jonathan Wood, who also sang the solo in O Sing unto the Lord by Purcell. That composer's Chaconne in G minor received a luscious account by the Pro Arte led by Nona Lidell.

Centrestage was ceded to the fresh voices of the New London's Children Choir, conducted by Ronald Corp, in premières of his own, sweetly tuneful May the Lord Bless You and Keep you, and a more lightweight, propulsive Fill the World with Praise by Nicholas Andsell-Evans.

The climax of the concert was Britten's St Nicholas, one of his most popular works, in which the two choirs combined, the Children's Choir placed in angelic galleries above, and the pulpit ideally placed for the outstanding young tenor, Mark Wilde, whose Pears-like bright edge well suited the characterisation as St Nicholas. The blend of music theatrical ebullience, popular styles, and evocative, plangent tone pictures about the legendary 4th century saint evinces much of the best of Britten's early style. The Camden Choir rose to its challenges with a swirling waltz rhythm in the music hall like 'The Birth of Nicholas', in which the single treble's melody 'God be Glorified' rang brightly from the upper gallery, contrasted by the bleak, stirring sailors male chorus in 'He Journeys to Palestine', full of dramatic swoops and sliding chromaticism for the stormy seas and a quasi-cantorial intensity to Nicholas's soliloquy.

Especially theatrical was the expressive singing of the bleak, winter winds in 'Nicholas and the Pickled Boys', contrasted by Mark Wilde's defiant outbursts and the final Alleluia sung by the three trebles walking through the church. 'The Death of Nicholas' had a poignant tension in its two part intertwining of Mark Wilde and strings, and the subtle colours of the final hymn, 'God moves in mysterious ways' especially eloquent. Julian Williamson's highly compelling interpretation of the work was rewarded with some beefy audience participation in the congregational hymns, all of which added to the seasonal message at the heart of the work.

Copyright © 22 December 2000 Malcolm Miller, London, UK




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