No better place to be



  The last time I heard Newbury Choral Society perform, they were giving the Verdi Requiem everything they had at the Anvil in Basingstoke. Saturday's Visions of Albion concert promised to be very different.

The choir placed themselves close to the organ and their opening piece by Thomas Tallis, If Ye Love Me, despite having been written as an unaccompanied motet, was underpinned by the organ (presumably to help keep the pitch from from wavering), but was a lovely opening to this carefully-chosen programme of British choral music.

Our convivial conductor Cathal Garvey gave us the background to each piece from the pulpit; full stop he is a fine musician and his choice of repertoire, ranging from Tallis to Tavener delighted the audience throughout.

Steve Bowey's rousing organ fanfare announced Finzi's God is gone up and the choir sign it with real passion. Every eye was on Cathal and the phrase 'controlled excitement' sprang to mind.

Newbury Choral Society: Visions of Albion, at Douai Abbey, on Saturday, June 23

The music of Elgar and Vaughan Williams followed and the choir was then joined by Northern Irish baritone Ben McAteer for Vaughan Williams' Five Mystical Songs. Steve moved across to the piano and the choir stood in front of the altar for this piece. The famous Douai acoustic is the choir's friend, but sadly it doesn't help the audience hear the words very well, so I'm glad they were all printed in the program.

Ben's beautifully-controlled tones resonated around the abbey and I thought he would lift the roof during The Call, when he sang "...Come, my joy, my love, my heart..." utterly beautiful. Antifon was quite thrilling, with some lovely clear singing From the choir.

Despite his Irish roots, Stanford spent most of his life in London and Cambridge and so, was not out of place among the other Brits. Cathal's introduction to Ben singing A Soft Day was warm and witty and the performance itself was truly gorgeous.

The second-half gems included Parry's Jerusalem and we all giggled when Fr Oliver Holt thanked us for not joining in (how I stopped myself I'll never know); Tavener's Song for Athene, famously performed at the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales and a fine piece of Victoriana, also by Parry, Blest Pair of Sirens. The text is about singing, in this life and in the next and it was a fitting end to a terrific evening.

As we left Douai, just in time to witness the most spectacular red and pink sunset, there really was no better place to be.

Fiona Bennett

Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News