Choral society doubly impressive



THIS was a fabulous concert and, as did the packed house at Douai Abbey, I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The abbey is an incredible venue and its lofty vaulted interior boasts fabulous acoustics. It’s a Gothic structure – the original architect Arnold Crush was a pupil of Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, the designer of Liverpool Cathedral, Battersea Power Station and the famous red telephone box – begun in 1928, but halted in 1932 through lack of funds. Architect Michael Blee was commissioned to finish it in 1989.

It’s the second concert I’ve reviewed recently by Newbury Choral Society ( The first was at the end of last year but until then I’d never heard of them and I was impressed, as I was again on Saturday.

For a choir (there were 95 listed as singing on Saturday’s programme) that does not audition its singers, it’s incredibly impressive.


Sacred Music through the Ages, at Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, on Saturday, March 22

No small praise must go to their conductor and musical director, Cathal Garvey, who brings an élan and charged atmosphere to their performance. He also enthusiastically introduces every piece – and speaks so fast that the audience asked him to slow down.

The evening was a journey through the ages, starting with ninth-century Gregorian plainchant from four unaccompanied male singers standing in front of the choir.

The choir then kicked off the Renaissance with Victoria – calm, lovely, precise harmonies, and Palestrina’s polyphonic Kyrie, and completed the era with Monteverdi’s Cantate Domino.

The Baroque period was introduced with a piece by that master of the era, J S Bach. Et exultavit was a lively work, with soprano Janet Coxwell, backed by a very good string quartet – Julia Loyal Flint, Abigail Dance, Robert Spriggs and Celine Barry.


And, speaking of the instrumentalists, mention must be made of the gifted percussionist Elizabeth Barker, on timpani and tubular bells later on in the concert, in the Parry and Eben.

This was followed by another Bach, Jesu, meines Herzens Freud, and Purcell’s I was glad.

Next was the classical era, with Mozart and Haydn, progressing chronologically to the Romantics, with Mendelssohn, Fauré and Parry.

The evening culminated with Poulenc, Howells, Tavener and Eben, bringing us up to 1989.

It was a hugely enjoyable evening, and the audience applauded with unreserved enthusiasm.

Well done NCS.

Nick Davies



Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News