A Celebration of Baroque
All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, February 2023
Review: Celebration of Baroque Concert by the Phoenix Choir 25 February, All Saints Church, Eastbourne
For anyone who is a lover of Baroque music, the concert by the Phoenix Choir, under the trusty leadership of Musical Director, Michael Fields, was a sublime treat.
Four works, by Pergolesi, Bach, Telemann and Vivaldi were on the menu.
Laudate Pueri Dominum, by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi, a setting of Psalm 112, intended for vespers, was divided into solo and choral sections, distinguished by lively declaration of the text and melodic charm in the solo arias. Pergolesi, (whose actual surname was Draghi - the addition of Pergolesi deriving from his birthplace), died at the age of 26 from tuberculosis. One can only imagine what the mature composer may have given us, but we are blessed with the works that have survived for our pleasure.
This piece was unknown to me, so I took time to listen to a good recording beforehand to familiarise myself. I was pleasurably surprised to find that the soprano soloist, Helen Groves, was more than a match for the recording. Sung with simplicity and grace, her vocal acrobatics and embellishments and her sure command of legato phrasing were thrilling to hear. The purity of her voice was ideally suited to the Baroque repertoire. The Gloria Patri was particularly moving - a beautiful work sung by a beautiful voice. The choir accompanied the work with warmth and clarity throughout. I loved this work.
What can be said that has not already been said about Johann Sebastian Bach's Magnificat? It is a majestic piece, requiring a large choir, orchestra and five soloists...a very big sing! To this effect, the choir was supplemented by a visiting choir from Maastricht, the "other" Phoenix Choir, who have made previous appearances in Eastbourne.
We were introduced in this piece to the dulcet tones of the soloists, with Helen Groves joined by soprano Ansy Boothroyd, alto Alice Simmons, tenor Sebastian Charlesworth and bass Dan Jordan - all of whom acquitted themselves very well indeed in their various solos. This is a difficult piece for any choir, soloist and accompanying orchestra and all gave of their best, to our evident enjoyment. A small glitch in timing was addressed with grace and humour by Michael Fields, which only served to make the audience identify even more closely with the musicians. The oboe solo, played impeccably by Mark Radcliffe, was a high point.
The Concerto for 3 Clarini (baroque trumpets), 2 Oboes and Timpani was new to me, but utterly enchanting. Telemann was a friend of Bach’s and godfather to his son, Carl Philipp and was compared favourably to both Bach and Handel. There is more than a hint of the upcoming Classical period in Telemann's works. A beautiful piece, very fresh and melodic, with each musician giving a highly polished, professional performance on their sonorous period instruments.
Antonio Vivaldi wrote his Gloria between 1713 and 1715, and preceded it with a prelude, Ostro Picta, as an introduction to his main work. This was sung with dexterity by soprano Ansy Boothroyd and led seamlessly to the Gloria itself, which was sung with obvious pleasure by the choir, fulsome and secure. This piece is well known and beloved by both choirs and audience, so provided a fitting finale to the evening.
All the soloists gave their very best, and here I must mention the solo cellist, Sarah Stuart-Pennink, whose haunting solo in Domine Deus provided a perfect counterpoint to Alice Simmon’s warm vocal line.
I looked forward to this occasion and left absolutely delighted. A brave and challenging programme...and it delivered. Well done, all!