I had, of course, heard of the Joyful Company of Singers, but never actually heard them in concert until last night. Under the leadership of founder conductor Peter Broadbent, they are about to enter their 25th year, and they go into that important year in good voice.
The programme for the concert on 26 June was cleverly thought-out. It was called ‘Three Traditions’, and explored sacred (but mostly not liturgical) music of the 19th century from the Lutheran, Russian Orthodox and Catholic repertories. The concert was bookended by psalm settings by Mendelssohn, serious pieces without the quicksilver wit of the Octet or A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The choir projected the psalms with a warm sound in a very favourable acoustic, capturing the character of the music and showing themselves strong in the low bass register. This strength also came to the fore, not surprisingly, in the Russian Orthodox music. One of the highlights here was an extract from Rachmaninov’s Liturgy of St John; restrained by that composer’s sometimes over-wrought standards, and much the better for it, the JCS achieved an air of rapt meditation below Helen Morton’s beautifully judged solo.
The Catholic tradition was represented by Verdi, and I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the peculiar Ave Maria, subtitled ‘scala enigmatica’. This piece was written following a challenge in a Milanese magazine, to compose a piece using an invented scale. Verdi’s response is odd but captivatingly so, the esoteric harmony slip-sliding between unlikely chords in a manner almost reminiscent of Schoenberg’s Verklärte Nacht.
Throughout, the choir were tight, singing with impressive control in both homophonic and contrapuntal textures. The diction was good, especially in the German pieces, and achieved both hushed pianos (notably in the Rachmaninov) and a resounding forte in the extract from Tchaikovsky’s Office for the Dead. Peter Broadbent’s conducting was lucid and focused, and he spoke interestingly between items to introduce the music.
I was delighted to hear such a strong choir singing an intelligently put together programme, another example of the high standard of choral singing on offer in London at the moment.