Review: Cambridge Voices and The Orchestra of the Age of Reason in the Lady Chapel Ely Cathedral 30th August 2010

ADeC’s annual fund raising concert needed little to persuade the audience to attend. The pinnacle of choral events in Ely Cathedral, the concert by Cambridge Voices and The Orchestra of the Age of Reason in the Lady Chapel, was soon sold out and with good reason.

Director Ian de Massini is a unique musician whose magnetic charisma captures the minds and hearts of the performers and the audience to produce a mesmerizing and unforgettable experience.

At the opening of the concert, the tension of expectation rose as the audience waited in silence for the first sounds of ‘Jesus autem transiens’ by Robert Wylkynson, a round for thirteen voices.      

We were transported back to the 15th century as the choir processed singing from memory, to surround the audience and a choir member dressed in white rang his bell to signal the beginning of each voice in the round. The closing bars were very much part of Ian’s mesmerizing choreography as he and the closing voices bowed in acknowledgement. The ‘Credo’ followed seamlessly. We were enthralled.

Purcell’s ‘Hear my prayer’ followed. The unique acoustics of the Lady Chapel enhanced the electrifying effect of the singers’ hushed opening. Not a soul moved. It was enchanting. The poise and tonal veracity of the choir captured the essence of the excitement and drama of Purcell’s climaxes as the work progressed and the two phrases, ‘Hear my prayer, O Lord’ and ‘And let my crying come unto thee’ intertwined. The crying was indeed from the heart.

Unequivocal gestures from Ian created the shape of a cross on stage as the choir members swiftly moved into place. The ‘Crucifixus a 8’ by Antonio Lotti was potent and sustained as it gradually built up the tension and texture to give extra emotional charge to the words of the creed that speak of the crucifixion and burial of Christ.      

‘Drop, drop, slow tears’ by Orlando Gibbons gave this familiar work new value with the performers’ perfect timing and pinpointed entries.  

One of the most popular pieces of the sacred repertoire followed: ‘Miserere mei, Deus’ by Allegri. In lesser choirs one waits with bated breath for the top ‘C’ in the soprano. Will they make it or will be a note beyond their capability? In this case, it was superb – a clear, polished and integral part of an expertly performed piece that was perfectly balanced and that emphasized the antiphonal nature of the composition by Ian’s clever choreography. The full choir at the back to the Lady Chapel responded in timely fashion to the beautifully balanced ensemble of soloists at the front.

With another quick change the choir was now assembled in semi-circular fashion at the front of the Chapel. Ian’s gesture to create a space between the two sides of the choir made it clear that the competing sides were taking no prisoners. The singers gave ‘Salve Regina’ full measure as they revelled in the glorious sounds of Gabrieli’s style.

More variety followed with the lush, full-bodied tones we associate with Russian Orthodox singing. ‘Bogoroditse Devo’ by Rachmaninov exuded all the melancholic nostalgia and dramatic climaxes needed.

The first half of the concert ended with the most recent composition: ‘Totus tutus’ by the 20th century composer Henryk Mikolaj Górecki. The fanfare-like opening, the velvety angelic episodes, the exploitation of antiphony and sudden changes in modulation were integrated superbly by Ian’s exquisite and powerful moulding. When the singers’ voices calmed to its reverend and prayerful close, there was no doubt that this had been a unique, unsurpassable experience.

The second half of the programme was a fine performance of ‘Magnificat in D’ by Johann Sebastian Bach. In this The Orchestra of the Age of Reason demonstrated its true metal and under the baton of Peter Britton captured the spirit and momentum of Bach’s style perfectly. Choir and soloists combined to highlight the wide variety of effects in Bach’s composition from chordal strength or lyrical charm to fugal tension.

The undoubted success of this evening suggests that you should book your seats for next year’s events very early.


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