Derek Ansell, St Lawrence’s Church, Hungerford - 13th March 2010

The following review was written for Newbury Weekly News:

This area is rich in choirs and the Reading Phoenix is one of the best. Their programme for this recital was typical of their standard presentation, which mixes baroque with later classical selections, a sprinkling of spirituals, two or three classic folk songs, a jazz staple and a selection from the shows. Something for almost everybody in fact unless you happen to be addicted to Outer Mongolian punk or something similar.

The choir appeared from the back of the church, down the aisles singing a medieval song to the beat of a marching drum. They followed with a church anthem from the late-19th century by Charles Wood, Tallis’ O Nata Lux from 1575 and Lux Arumque, a modern piece from 2000 by Eric Whitacre, who noted that if a choir gets the harmonies right it will “shimmer and glow”. And it did with the choir in strong and vibrant voice, bringing out that aspect and all the other positives in this strong music.

Christopher Enston, who played piano and was one of the three conductors, took time out to play an organ solo on that magnificent instrument at St Lawrence’s, built in 1880 and still going strong. He chose variations from Messiah and soon had the low bass notes reverberating around the old church and the music soaring upwards from a slow start.

Just before the interval the choir returned to show us that they are fine interpreters of negro spirituals, with the well-known Jushua Fit The Battle of Jerico following a Lydian motet by Bruckner, Os Justi. They certainly mix up their genres with ease but no doubt adhere to Duke Ellington’s dictum that there are only two kinds of music in this world, good and bad.

After the break, it was pretty much the mix as before, with Matthew Harris’ Hark, Hark, The Lark and Lullaby from Mantyjarvi being followed by Shenandoah and Scarborough Fair, complete with piano accompaniment. A far cry from Simon and Garfunkel in this version of the latter, but closer to the original composition.

Katie Nichols was a confident soprano soloist with pieces by Burns and Puccini, her voice somewhat subdued and restrained to begin with, but gaining in volume and confidence as she went on.

The choir’s singing of Ellington’s It Don’t Mean A Thing If It Ain’t Got That Swing, proved the point effectively with a nicely pulsating reading.

Altogether this concert offered a fine strong blend of voices in close harmony with skilled conducting by Stephen Tyler, Rachel Lee-Johnson and Christopher Enston. It is to their credit that their music covers such a wide range of styles and types.

Derek Ansell, Newbury Weekly News

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