Review of Mixing their Music in Ely Cathedral on 10th March 2012

Mixing their Music in Ely Cathedral last Saturday night was an outstanding concert. The choirs of Ely Cathedral, Jesus College, Cambridge and Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge, combined to produce music of the highest quality filling the vaults of Ely Cathedral with potent sounds appropriate for the season.

The concert opened with all the choirs singing movements from the Crucifixion by Stainer.  When the first choral declamation of ‘Fling wide the gates!’ in The Processional to Calvary struck, it was apparent that these musicians were professionals of the highest order. Tonal purity and strength were complemented with pure beauty and polished precision. The reverence and sense of awe the words of God so loved the world were reflected perfectly by these highly accomplished performers and the Appeal of the Crucified was particularly effective, bringing out the passion of the words particularly well. Special moments included the climax to ‘they shouted against me, Crucify’ and the poignancy of ‘is it nothing to you?’

Bruckner’s attraction was made particularly apparent as the Cambridge choirs gave voice to his O Justi, Christus Factus Est and Ave Maria. Most notable were the special tonal qualities of O Justi, the powerful exploitation of contrast in Christus Factus Est and the angelic qualities and subtle expression in Ave Maria.

The first half of the programme ended with all the choirs joining to sing Finzi’s Lo the Full Final Score. Paul Trepte (Musical Director of Ely Cathedral) mentions the need for concentration by the audience to appreciate this lengthy work, but this was not difficult to do for the singers brought out an appreciable array of effects that gave credence to the words and constantly kept the music alive.

After interval the choirs combined to sing Kodaly’s Pange lingua, Barber’s Agnus Dei and Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine.  Powerful resonance permeated the Kodaly while the familiar Agnus Dei by Barber gained in depth and meaning with the words so clearly delineated. Fauré’s work maintained its romantic pull in the hands of these expert singers.

A very short interlude was provided by Richard Allain’s Cana’s Guest which developed a highly effective and glorious climax. Dvorak’s Kyrie (Mass in D) was delightful. A surprisingly charming opening Kyrie was contrasted well with the more challenging Christe eleison.

Frances Grier’s twentieth century Prayer was perhaps the most challenging of the concert. A keen sense of mystery pervaded the work, while wide-ranging effects added dimension. Notable effects included foreboding marching in the depths of the organ and strong soprano lines.

The final work was an ideal choice and ended the concert perfectly. Ralph Vaughan Williams, known to have visited Ely Cathedral and admired the angels in the south transept, wrote music to thrill and inspire. His lord thou hast been our refuge with words from Psalm 90 in the Book of Common Prayer expressed triumphant faith. The overlapping lines and the careful combination of the verses with lines from the hymn O God our help in ages past made this a perfect ending for an evening of stunning music.

 Conductors, Paul Trepte, Mark Williams, Geoffrey Webber and Sarah MacDonald, organists Jonathan Lilley and Oliver Hancock and trumpeter Malachy Frame and the choirs are to be congratulated for one of the finest, most awe-inspiring concerts of the season.

Rosemary Westwell 

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