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Points of Contact

Choral music by Britten and Finzi
from the Derwent Singers,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Britten and Finzi were not exactly kindred spirits professionally, but there are more points of contact between them than you might suppose. Both worked extensively with amateurs, and both had highly developed literary sensitivities which led them to set texts by some of the very finest English poets. So it was interesting to hear Derby-based choir The Derwent Singers performing In Terra Pax, one of Finzi's last pieces, in the context of two of Britten's best-loved works, A Ceremony of Carols and St Nicolas (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 24 November 2007).

The Finzi splices together a poem by Robert Bridges and the Christmas story of the angels appearing to the shepherds. It was given an affectionate performance, spacious and contemplative in the outer sections, with a vivid sense of excitement in the passage of biblical narrative. Derby Cathedral chorister Felicity Bott sang sweetly and confidently as the Angel.

St Nicolas is a favourite among Britten's works for amateurs, and its series of scenes came across vividly here, with plenty of drama, from both the singers and the instrumentalists of the Helix Ensemble, in 'Nicolas and the Pickled Boys' and a hearty storm in 'He journeys to Palestine'. Derby Cathedral's boy choristers were in excellent form as the lively gallery choir. Mark Wilde sang the role of Nicolas with a finely-tuned sense of character. He had been less comfortable in the lower-pitched solo part of the Finzi.

In A Ceremony of Carols the quiet, atmospheric numbers came across more effectively than the lively ones like 'This little babe' and 'Deo Gracias', which were a bit well-behaved where sheer playground rowdiness is called for. The performance was most seriously marred, though, by a painfully out-of-tune harp string. Was it a new one that was still playing itself in? Yes or no, it should have been possible to pause and make the necessary adjustments.

Copyright © 15 December 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK






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