Review: ‘A Summer Prom’ in Ely Cathedral on Saturday 11th June 2011

With Ely’s finest musicians taking part, it was no wonder Ely Cathedral was packed for ‘A Summer Prom’. The audience knew they would be hearing something special and indeed they were not disappointed.

Conductors Paul Trepte (Director of Music, Ely Cathedral) and Sarah McDonald (Director of Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir) inspired great sounds from the performers: Ely Cathedral Choir, Ely Cathedral Girls’ Choir, The Selwyn Consort and East Anglia Chamber Orchestra.

The programme was unashamedly popular including Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria’, Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’, Handel’s ‘Zadok the priest’, Bach’s ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’, movements from Handel’s ‘Water Music’ suite and Bach’s ‘Magnificat’. So many of these pieces are so familiar that one would think there is little more that can be done to bring them alive but in the hands of these highly talented musicians, buoyancy, precision and clarity breathed new life into these popular compositions.

‘Zadok the Priest’ with those extremely high notes in the opening was one of the best moments. With such highly trained singers, those top notes resounded beautifully. The change of pace was precise, energetic and magnetizing and the rapid runs were clear, supported and essential to the wonderful effect. Choir, orchestra and conductor (Sarah McDonald) worked as one.

In the opening work, ‘Gloria’, choir and orchestra gave this familiar work good measure. ‘Et in terra pax’ was especially mesmerizing with its phenomenally soft, smooth line and expressive phrasing. The ‘Gloria’ contained great moments of drama, sensitivity and richness that only the best of performers can produce.

One of the most moving pieces for the evening was undoubtedly Albinoni’s ‘Adagio’ and as the familiar pulse in the bass line and emotive melody above slowly filled the cathedral, the audience remained hushed. With the summer evening light casting colourful shadows from the stained glass windows onto the century-old columns of the Cathedral, the listeners could not help but be transfixed by the sheer beauty of the occasion.

In the second half of the programme, under the baton of Paul Trepte, the highlight for me was the freshness and vitality Paul managed to inspire in the very familiar works played. With exquisite precision ‘Jesu, joy of man’s desiring’ progressed with momentum with an almost ethereal serenity in the choir that rose effortlessly above the sustained and charming memorable theme in the orchestra beneath. ‘The Water music’s’ ‘Ouverture’, ‘Air’, ‘Bourrée’ and ‘Hornpipe’ reminded us of the integral magnificence of their original musicality. It was so refreshing to hear them played to such a high standard with effective and cohesive changes in dynamics, moments of elegant grandeur and rhythmic vitality that brought out wonderfully the flavour of their dance origins.

The concert ended with a splendid performance of ‘Magnificat’, the words beautifully phrased and expressed, every moment of poignancy, drama and reflection expertly shaped.

In all this, the instrumentalists and soloists (selected from the choirs) excelled. It was obvious from the first notes struck by East Anglia Chamber Orchestra, that its music was going to be first class. Led by Helen Medlock, this orchestra balanced perfectly with the singers. Tonal quality was first rate in all sections, every instrumentalist demonstrating real skill in meeting every demand: crisp attack, sharp staccato, or complex interwoven textures – nothing was too much for the players.

This whole evening was indeed a most uplifting and successful experience.

Forthcoming events include:

Saturday 25th June, 730 p.m. An Evening with James Bowman

Summer Organ Recitals every Sunday 5.15 (admissions free) from 17 July to 4th September

Sunday 4th September 5.15 pm Prime Brass in Concert

Sunday 11th September 730 pm Organ Lollipops

Saturday 10th December 730 pm ‘Winter Wonderland’ (tickets on sale in October)

Thursday 22nd December 730 pm ‘Carols by Candlelight’ (tickets on sale in October)



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