The Crouch End Festival Chorus are a choir with a formidable reputation but, until last night, I’d never heard them in action. A battle through the snow to reach the Barbican was rewarded with a terrific performance of an imaginative programme.
Kicking off with a miniature masterpiece, Orlando Gibbons’s ‘The Silver Swan’, the choir were immediately into their stride, with precise entries and lovely tuning. Will Todd’s setting of Keats’s Ode to a Nightingale is a substantial choral symphony for choir and orchestra, and very impressive. Todd creates a very convincing architecture which carries through the long spans of the structure, tied together by a recurring violin solo. The piece had something in common with the music of Britten – which was exemplified in the second half – in that it was a serious and ambitious piece but very approachable, with a lot of surface detail to enjoy. But there was always sufficient edge to avoid blandness. The choir gave a wonderfully committed performance in what is a big sing, sounding great in the big, filmic climaxes, and their diction always careful.
The second half comprised Britten’s Spring Symphony, clearly well loved by the CEFC’s charismatic conductor David Temple. The interpretation was enjoyable – and exhilarating in places. Here we had solo singing to enjoy as well: Ben Johnson’s lithe tenor and mezzo Jennifer Johnston in the highlight of the performance, Britten’s setting of Auden’s verse, in which the soloist is burnished by wordless chorus and wind choir. There was a glorious tutti in the final section which made a wonderful noise, Britten wielding all his forces in a drunken waltz which is overtaken by the children’s chorus singing ‘Sumer is icumen in’ (the Finchley Children’s Music Group in good voice). This was a persuasive performance of a fine work, and a warming experience on a very cold night.
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