No more fear: A choral conversion



IT was certainly not the sort of programme the Newbury Choral Society members were used to. Where the composer’s names were usually Bach, Handel or Mozart, it was Will Todd. And what was to be played was a jazz mass, Mass in Blue, composed in 2003 and, against the expectations of the composer, his most successful and applauded work to date.

Whatever the expectations of the audience and, indeed, the choir members themselves though, the opening Kyrie began with a sweeping cadenza of dark chords, leading into a swing section; composer Will Todd at the piano with bassist Gareth Hugh Davies and drummer Jim Fleeman setting a pulsating pace.

Sturdy blues chords heralded the first vocal entries, followed steadily by the full choir. The singers burst through ecstatically on the trio’s shift to B flat and, as the choir subsided, soprano Hilary Cronin entered to sing a soulful melody in clear dulcet tones. The following Gloria had that distinctive gospel feel from the start, as the choir sung with sturdy rhythmic drive.

Newbury Choral Society: In the Mood – Sacred and Secular Jazz, at St Nicolas’ Church, Newbury, on Saturday, July 1

The gospel feel was accentuated in the Credo, Hilary Cronin singing over a 12-bar blues introduction, with the choir repeating her lines in authentic fashion, before Will Todd came in with a slow piano solo, backed by arco bass and splashing cymbals. This led to an up tempo swing section depicting the resurrection.

The choir were fully-engaged in the blues idiom here, voices raised effectively for a powerful climax


The choir were fully-engaged in the blues idiom here, voices raised effectively for a powerful climax. There was much to enjoy as the work proceeded through the slow ballad of the Sanctus, the walking bass line that introduced the bass voices in the Benedictus and the final, tumultuous, joyful Angus Dei.

It was a major achievement by pianist Todd and conductor Cathal Garvey to weld this heavily blues and gospel inflected work into a thoroughly enjoyable concert with a choir that usually only sings the classic repertoire. But full marks, too, belong to soprano Hilary Cronin, the choir throughout and soprano saxophonist Paul Fawkus.

Paul told me choir members either love or hate this composition and NCS were obviously in the former camp. Perhaps it was best summed up by a choir member who told me in the interval, “this afternoon I was terrified, but now I love it”.





Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News