Quite how a song from Noel Coward’s operetta Bitter Sweet came to feature in a concert entitled “English Cathedral Music” I can only guess – but it contributed to an interestingly varied programme for a summer evening.
It was one of four songs performed by teenager Madeleine Lavery, a member of the excellent CBSO Youth Chorus, accompanied by Pamela Davies.
Her sweet lyric voice was ideally suited to Thiman’s Wordsworth setting I wandered lonely as a cloud and Massenet’s Ouvre tes yeux bleus. It’s also agile enough to make the demanding fioratura in Bester Jüngling from Mozart’s opera Der Schaulspieldirector sound a treat.
The BCU chorus, a smaller force than usual under conductor Colin Baines, chose some challenging items including Elgar’s Te Deum and Benedictus (Opus 34 Nos. 1 and 2) and Herbert Howells’ Te Deum.
Occasionally they were hard-pressed, the sopranos becoming shrill on high although in their middle range, like the Benedictus’s hushed “That we should be saved from our enemies”, were effective.
The choir was more at ease in the lighter works, Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer and Howell’s Jubilate, but best of all in Wesley’s rousing, and refreshingly politically incorrect, Ascribe unto the Lord – damn those heathens! – with each section of the chorus alternately highlighted and where the basses clearly relished their blood-curdling lines.
As well as accompanying the choir Darren Hogg played Thalben-Ball’s Elegy and a very impressive and impassioned performance of Howells’ Rhapsody No.3, a sometimes tortured threnody for the dead of the first World War.