A tightly packed All Saints' church was treated to a festival of Italian Baroque music by Phoenix Choir augmented by a group of guest singers from Maastricht. It was joyous music making from all involved....congratulations.
The programme opened with a little gem from Vivaldi - his Lute Concerto accompanied by two violins and continuo. Even the archlute, used here, (the ''Big Daddy'' of the family) is a very delicately toned instrument, but with this 'orchestration' managed to be well balanced, and was played with poise and delicacy by the choir's musical director, Michael Fields. The 'ensemble' was outstanding and the three movements contrasted in true baroque style - the elegiac Largo was a particular pleasure.
Next we had what may have been the first performance in Eastbourne of Laudate Pueri for soprano and chorus by Pergolesi. It was a good choice. A rarely performed work but here given a very assured performance. Evelyn Tubb set the tone by her command of the idiom - beautiful, carefully modulated phrasing & delicacy of expression making full use of her creamy voice. The chorus responded well & echoed &/or contrasted her moods with subtlety. This was the best singing I have heard from this choir.
Two contrasting Vivaldi arias followed - Nulla in Mundo sung by Evelyn, & Ostra Pieta (the introduzione written to precede the Gloria) sung by the splendid Ansy Boothroyd which provided a different perspective of the composer's range.
Finally we had the Gloria - the best known of Vivaldi's works. This is known and loved by choral societies because it is within their capability and so effectively written. The chorus was augmented here by Ratton School Choir - how encouraging to see an appreciation of good music being fostered in schools! This was a commendable performance but one which I felt lacked conviction. The tempos were well judged to suit the choir, but this in turn demands extra fire, energy and consistent articulation to bring it alive & make this a truly vibrant interpretation. The most difficult movement, Cum Sancto Spirito, was the highlight; the fugal entries were assured and well balanced. Special mention must be made of the superb soprano soloists & magnificent counter-tenor Derek Lee Ragin. Can we hope to hear, in Eastbourne, further music for lute & counter-tenor from Derek and Michael, these two fine exponents of their art.
Lastly, what a joy to hear an instrumental ensemble which actually accompanied the soloists & chorus, matching their sound to the singers.
Review by Robin Moray
Italian Baroque Concert
All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, Feburary 2014