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Robert Hugill chose to represent Weelkes here, however, by another fine verse anthem, In Thee, O Lord, which was launched splendidly by men's voices and included an appealing baritone solo and some incisive singing from the alto line especially. Perhaps one looked for a little more vitality and stronger projection in some of these pieces: at times the singers seemed to hide their talents under a bushel. Yet just the opportunity to hear some of these rarer works in live performances was immensely satisfying.

The countertenor or alto solo in Orlando Gibbons' This is the Record of John calls for a really strong delivery, and here, from the FifteenB Consort's experienced contralto, it received it. This was a most handsome piece of singing, nicely matched by support from the rest of the choir. Tomkins' My Shepherd is the living Lord is another of the best examples of the genre, and needs a comparably fine alto, although it is a work much shyer in demeanour.

Paul Ayres
Paul Ayres

The group's organist, Paul Ayres, contributed a great deal by his sensitive range of soft colourings, and although some passages need stronger enunciation if the particularly fine words Tomkins sets -- and his skill and finesse in setting them -- are to make their mark, a vital duet for alto and tenor brought the later stages stirringly alive.

There were a number of modern works interspersed within this concert, of which two in particular made a strong impression. One was an organ solo, a lively short piece called Sestina, by the American composer Jim Dalton, which had a lively sparkle and some highly inventive counterpoint which brought to mind the sprightly organ sonatas of Paul Hindemith.

Robert Hugill
Robert Hugill

The other was a work by the conductor himself, who also furnished the tenor line in this concert: Robert Hugill's appealing anthem My Eyes are ever Turned unto the Lord is indeed a modern contribution to the tradition of the verse anthem; a setting of the Introit for the Third Sunday in Lent. The deft alternation of solo and tutti sections revealed real inspiration, the style -- while not untouched by such modern masters as Pärt or Gorecki -- seemed to be neither a hybrid nor a borrowing, but fresh and original, arguably with its own identifiable voice, and Hugill's work in no way paled in comparison with the Tudor pieces surrounding it. Originally composed for a wedding, this 21st century anthem is a beautifully turned, enticing piece of music which skilfully embraced a range of contrasting moods and contrived to say a good deal in a short space. This attractive, well-crafted piece certainly, in my book, deserves to be known more widely.

Copyright © 29 April 2007 Roderic Dunnett, Kent UK






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