Not having heard the City of Birmingham Choir for some time I was pleasantly surprised to re-encounter such a wonderful homogeneity of tone from all four vocal sections, and the lightness of touch with which this huge corpus delivers (despite some heads firmly ensconced in their scores).
These qualities were particularly invaluable in the large amount of unison writing required in the imaginative programme conductor Adrian Lucas had devised, involving folksong settings as an everlasting counterpoint to the carnage of the First World War. The rhythms of the seasons go on, while horror recedes into history.
John Rutter's The Sprig of Thyme is a delightful sequence of folksong, and here the CBC ladies sounded youthfully fresh, the men sturdy and game, and the remarkable little Westminster Chamber Orchestra conveyed all the filmic glamour of Rutter's evocative scoring.
And Cecilia McDowall's A Fancy of Folk Songs brought a contemporary take on these timeless aspects of our heritage. Men whistling added cheerful punctuations to "Green Bushes", and the concluding "O No John!" was deliciously perky and jolly. Harpist Fontane Liang accompanied with an aplomb which made us wish to hear her in Britten's Ceremony of Carols.
Vaughan Williams' Six Studies in English Folk Song for cor anglais and strings proved a rambling, nondescript addition to proceedings, before we moved on to acknowledgement of the Great War in Harold Darke's As the Leaves Fall.
As elegiac as Elgar's contemporaneous For the Fallen, and unified by a similar descending motif, this is a work written actually during the throes of the war, and performed here with a grateful response to the hall's acoustic. The solo contribution from soprano Hannah Grove needed a more defined projection.
Written soon after the Great War, during which he lost so many close to him, Gerald Finzi's Requiem da Camera is a deeply-felt if misshapen work. Its Prelude is an overlong lament for lost pastoral innocence, its subsequent setting of John Masefield's "From August, 1914" outstays its welcome, and it is only when we reach Thomas Hardy's "In Time of the Breaking of Nations", baritone William Clements noble of tone, that the music reaches out and grips, invoking the shades of centuries.
All concerned gave their all for the piece, and it was appropriate to hear it at this time of reflection. And heartening to hear this venerable choir in such good shape.