review Ely Choral Society:Purcell and his Time

Review: Ely Choral Society “Purcell and his time” in the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral 24th October 2009

Under the directorship of Andrew Parnell, Ely Choral Society has become a choir of considerable worth. In their concert Purcell and his time in the Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral on the 24th October, the impressively large number of singers produced a rich, strong, and powerful sound that was very skillfully shaped by Andrew. Their polished performance included notable contrasts of expression and sensitive awareness of the need for clear diction. Angelic thirds proliferated in the sopranos and altos and there was much tonal splendour, vibrancy and fullness in the men’s voices. These qualities were particularly noticeable in the performances of Purcell’s Miserere, Come ye Sons of Art, in the second Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts and in O God Thou art my God .

The event offered a fascinating chronological journey through life during Pepy’s and Purcell’s time. With careful voice production (in order to overcome the difficulties of the unique acoustics of the Lady Chapel), Nick Huntingdon read a fascinating series of excerpts from Pepy’s diary in which he described life in London in the 17th century.  The Plague, the Fire of London and the activities of Lord Sandwich were among his intriguing descriptions.

 Rebecca Duckworth, an alluring soprano, filled the Lady Chapel with some glorious sounds in her solo Evening Hymn (Purcell) and in her roles in O pray for the Peace (John Blow) and in The Lord is King, and hath put on glorious apparel (Purcell).

Jonathan Lilley, confirmed his commendable abilities as Assistant Organist at Ely Cathedral by his highly competent and sympathetic accompaniments on the smaller, more intimate portable organ in the Lady Chapel. 

A team of skilled brass and percussion instrumentalists provided variety: Gavin Bowyer and Richard Hall (trumpets), David Minchin and Sarah Minchin (trombones) and Dave Ellis (drums). Their contributions included Four pieces for Sackbuts and Cornetts c 1661 by Charles Colemen. The third of these was particularly appealing with its lively rhythm and strong contrasts. The players added colour and vibrancy to a number of other items especially in the main highlight of the event: Funeral Music for Queen Mary (Purcell). In this collection of works, the Chapel resonated with spine-chilling effects. The most unforgettable of these were the gradually increasing and decreasing drum rolls by Dave Ellis as he processed into the Chapel at the beginning of this collection of works and as he recessed out of the Chapel at the end until the final, almost silent single drum roll brought this section to a breath-taking close. The choir’s vital, cohesive and broad chords, the brass players’ precise and timely embellishments and the ominous drum calls held the listeners spellbound.

This was indeed a splendid evening.


Future events to look forward to include:

Saturday 5th December 2009 A King is born at St Mary’s Church Ely

Saturday 30th January 2010 Peace Child – Alpha Omega by David Gordon (Cat Steven’s brother) Ely Cathedral

Saturday 27th March 2010 St Matthew Passion by J.S. Bach with Rogers Covey-Crump of The Hilliard Ensemble, a specialist period orchestra and Jonathan Lilley

Saturday 19th June 2010 Summer Concert

Saturday 30th October 2010 Petite Messe Solennelle by Rossini Lady Chapel Ely Cathedral  

Rosemary Westwell


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