Review of Ely Consort singing in Ely Cathedral

Ely Consort presented an exquisite programme of delightful music in the presbytery of Ely Cathedral on Saturday 13th March 2010.

The setting was evocative: the lighting enhanced by flickering candles, the lovely sounds of the choir enriched by the high cathedral vaults. Under Matthew Rudd’s s expert directorship, the contrasts these voices achieved were magnificent. The singers explored the subtle, meditative components with rare sensitivity, filling the cathedral with powerful climactic fervour as the compositions developed. The soloists were particularly well chosen: Clare Lloyd (soprano), Johnny Herford (baritone), Christine Bullen (alto) and Johnny Herford (tenor) and the organ accompaniment by Jonathan Lilley was, as expected, first-rate.

Works included Ronald Corp’s Missa San Marco, Ave Maria by Bach and Gounod, Urlicht by Mahler, Five Spirituals from a ‘Child of our Time’ by Michael Tippett and Faure’s Requiem – all highly appropriate for the setting.

Ronald Corp’s Missa San Marco was a fine composition that explored the cathedral environment intuitively. His scompositional approach used a more sophisticated but attractive style than the music of 16th -17th century Monteverdi in St. Mark’s Venice (the inspiration for the work). A wholesome tone, long pedal notes, carefully balanced echoing and sustained phrases that allowed the full effect of the acoustics to contribute created a splendid ethereal sound.

Clare Lloyd (soprano) has a magnificent voice and her Ave Maria was positively exquisite. Her beautiful resonance and seamless phrasing above Jonathan Lilley’s serene accompaniment (J.S. Bach’s First Prelude of his 48 Preludes and Fugues) kept the audience spellbound.  

After Johnny Herford’s fine performance of Urlicht by Mahler came one of the highlights of the concert: Michael Tippett’s Five Spirituals from a ‘Child of our Time’: Steal away, Nobody knows, Go down, Moses, By and by and Deep river. Similar to how Bach included familiar episodes in his passions, Tippet introduced these familiar works into his oratorio Child of our Time. However, these were no ordinary arrangements. Tippett’s inspiration driven by sympathy for the victims of the brutal anti-Semitism of his time was clearly reflected in these songs. Poignancy, despair, anguish, elation and excruciating yearning were just some of the heightened emotions these works released. The spirituals were infused with Ely Consort’s and the soloists’ positive influences notably the rising tones of the soprano in Steal Away, a very pleasing texture and exciting contrasts in Nobody knows, emphatic, elongated cries to ‘Let my people go’ in Go down Moses, a dynamic, rhythmic pulse in By and by and rich harmonies and the breath-taking reverence in Deep river.  

The evening culminated with Requiem by Fauré. With rare, constrained sensitivity, these singers reflected the serenity of Faure’s composition exactly. The familiar movements, Introit et Kyrie, Offertoire, Sanctus, Pie Jesu, Agnus Dei, Libera me and In paradisum, were potent entities, the special character of each perfectly maintained. Clare Lloyd’s Pie Jesu and Johnny Herford’s Libera me were outstanding.

As the final notes of In paradisum faded we knew that we had been involved in a unique event that will be very hard to follow.

Future events for Ely Consort include:

On tour in Belgium 29th May to 1st June

Saturday 26th June, St. Andrew’s Church, Sutton, Missa di Gloria Puccini

Saturday 27th November, St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s Church, Chatteris Ceremony of Carols Britten



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