Review of the Jubilee Concert in Ely Cathedral by Hunts Phil on Saturday 7th July

The octagon of Ely Cathedral was packed. A wonderful array of singers filled the stage, the performers coming from a number of different organizations to combine to give this magnificent concert for the Jubilee celebrations. The performers included Huntingdonshire Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra, St Ives Choral Society, Swavesey Community Choir, Members of Bedford Choral Society, The Boys’ Choir of All Saints’ Church, Northampton, Cottenham Village College Choir and members of Bromley Symphony Orchestra. 

The conductor, Adrian Brown showed great skill in managing this large throng. Other notable contributors were the soloists: Una Barry (soprano), Janet Shell (mezzo-soprano), Richard Reaville (tenor) and Alan Fairs (bass). The leader of the orchestra was Jane Foottit and the organist Julian Merson.

The concert opened with a most appropriate arrangement of the National Anthem by Britten. As we stood after the first chords sounded , the softness of the opening phrases drew us in, making us listen more intently to the words. Then the piece gradually built up to a glorious rousing end.

We sat down and settled in, ready for what promised to be a good concert.

‘Coronation Ode, op.44’ by Elgar began with a fanfare like declaration from the orchestra. The first movement, ‘Crown the King’ contained the first stirrings of Elgar’s very familiar ‘Land of Hope and Glory’. The excellent programme notes told us how after a performance of the Pomp and Circumstance March, King Edward suggested to Elgar that words should be put to the Trio section so that it could be sung. Thus began the ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ now used as a rousing climax to the Last Night of the Proms.  The Ode’s different movements reflected the nature of the Monarchy and the Nation. The power and strength of the monarchy came forth in the first movement: ‘Crown the King’ and the occurrence of the familiar ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ theme added to this glory. The second movement, ‘The Queen’, was gentle, warm and graceful. ‘Daughter of Ancient Kings’ that followed had a soft but resonant tone and long sustained phrases. Elgar’s ability to reflect the meaning of the words was particularly well shown in the ending of this movement with left the words ‘Mother of kings to be’ in unfinished mode.

The contrasting ‘Britain ask Thyself’ was a more dramatic and emphatic piece. The bass soloist gave it good measure and the urgent march-like qualities emphasized the words particularly well, especially ‘Britain, ask of thyself, see that they sons are strong.’

‘Hark, Upon the Hallowed Air’ and ‘Only Let the Heart be Pure’ followed and these movements were indeed hallowed as voices and orchestra softly pleaded, the soloists assuming a more dominant role.

One of the finest performances of this large group of musicians was in ‘Peace, gentle Peace’ which was a testament to the tremendous ability of the conductor who inspired a very moving and effective expression of quiet peace.

The work ended with a wonderful rousing performance of ‘Land of Hope and Glory’, slightly different to the one we know but definitely with the same message.

After interval the challenging ‘Te Deum, op.22’ by Berlioz filled the programme. This demanding work was well managed by these excellent musicians and the colour and expressiveness of Berlioz well highlighted. Every effect was explored delightfully and the sometimes haunting melancholy of his repetitive themes was well explored while his moments of drama and tremendous and exciting climaxes were thoroughly enjoyed by the performers, filling the Cathedral vaults with powerful sounds.

The was a magnificent celebratory event .

Huntingdonshire Philharmonic will next perform in a choral and orchestral concert on 10th November  which will include Parry’s ‘I was glad’, ‘Sea Drift’ by Delius sung by Laurence Melkle and ‘Symphony no 5’ by Vaughan Williams.


Rosemary Westwell


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