A balmy June evening in a beautiful church was the setting for a programme of music which was wonderfully evocative of the period just before the start of World War One and took us up to the millennium and Karl Jenkins’ composition The Armed Man. Phoenix Choir began the concert with two folk song serttings, Early One Morning (arr.Willcocks) and The Springtime of the year (Vaughan Williams), which evoked the treasured years of peace preceding the advent of the Great War.
Then we were treated to an evening in which choral items alternated with superb English Art Songs (by Ivor Gurney, Roger Quilter, Frank Bridge and George Butterworth) sung by the soloists: soprano, Ansy Boothroyd and baritone, John Hancorn - both looking as well as they sounded. This programme was my idea of bliss and the creamy rise of Ansy Boothroyd’s top notes and the warmth of John Hancorn’s mellow voice, very much in control of his vocal equipment, suited the songs well. I would pick out Autumn Evening by Roger Quilter, sung by Ansy Boothroyd and Butterworth’s Is my Team Ploughing? from John Hancorn as my personal favourites, although I was smitten by other pieces from their repertoire. George Butterworth’s setting of A E Houseman’s A Shropshire Lad featured prominently, and although written before the onset of war, the moving marriage of poetry and music brought home the suffering of conflict. The songs were beautifully accompanied by the highly accomplished pianist, Howard Beach, and we also had the pleasure of listening to the organ playing of David Force in three choral pieces. It was fitting that Quilter and Bridge were featured, as they were both “Sussex lads” from Hove and Brighton respectively, and Bridge died in Friston.
From the Choir, I would single out their singing of Thomas Tallis’ Why Fum’th in Fight? as a highlight: sung with colour and passion, it hit the spot nicely, as did Vaughan Williams’ Agnus Dei and Reconciliation from Dona Nobis Pacem. Coincidentally, the piece was first performed on June 9th 1926, fitting almost to the day on which we heard it. Agnus Dei from Karl Jenkins The Armed Man closed the evening, leading to The Last Post, movingly played by young trumpeter Harry Plant.
The Choir has come on in leaps and bounds under the direction of Michael Fields and there is much to commend. I very much enjoyed the concert and the comments which I heard around me would suggest that all had a most pleasant evening.
Reviewed by Carol Mounter Collins
All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, June 2014