This was the first concert that I have been able to attend since the appointment of Michael Fields as Musical Director of the Phoenix Choir. The choir has blossomed under his direction and tackled some difficult pieces with both enthusiasm and skill. As ever, there was a dearth of basses and tenors, but the few held together very well and the overall sound was very pleasing.
The second half consisted of the popular Rutter Magnificat. The opening was rousing and full-bodied, justifying the musical direction of “bright and joyful”. The orchestration of this piece sets the colour of what is to come and the solos were beautifully realised by Ansy Boothroyd’s soaring soprano and the creamy warmth of Lindsay Richardson’s mezzo. The only drawback was the perennial problem of the orchestra being in front of the choir, so soft passages are often lost by the volume of the instruments. But a delight, nonetheless.
A new work, Midsummer Mass, by Michael Fields himself, opened the programme. Gosh..how to review a piece of music which one has never heard before and has no access to notes or score? What an exciting task! New works require a very concentrated ear and I have to say thank you to my husband, who diligently scribbled notes, while I listened hard to the music. Midsummer Mass is a melodic, lyric piece, with many influences and an eclectic mix of styles, which is instantly accessible and appeals to all. There is jazz, a fragment of the popular 60’s song “I believe” (which we are asked to guess), in the Credo and echoes of Vivaldi and Pachelbel, amongst others. Never dull and I loved the orchestral interludes. The opening Kyrie introduced us to the rich voice of Nigel Richards, baritone and all the soloists sang the Gloria. There were complex rhythms in the Laudamus Te and a brilliant saxophone motif. Domine Deus featured an unaccompanied slot for the baritone and Domine Fili was sung by the mezzo. The choir accompanied the soloist in this movement alongside an oboe phrase. Qui Tollis began with piano and orchestra and baritone solo and Quoniam in fugue style, reminiscent of Mozart which led to the Credo and the hidden melody and the Sanctus – Benedictus introduced the guitar. The finale, Agnus Dei was a suitably quiet finish with a blues motif to end. Like all new music, this deserves a second hearing to accommodate all the various colours of the piece and I hope that will be achieved soon! Eastbourne may well embrace Michael Fields as its very own.
The evening ended with a rousing rendition of Rule Britannia by Nigel Richards and the audience and Land of Hope and Glory, sung slightly tongue in cheek by Lindsay Richardson and Ansy Boothroyd. I absolutely loved every minute of the evening – a feeling of real fun pervaded the whole programme, not least emanating from the affable and likeable Michael Fields. More, please!
All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, June 2013