Michael Fields Midsummer Mass
John Rutter Feel the Spirit
All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, June 2019
RARE MUSIC BUT FULL HOUSE
The reputations of the Phoenix Choir and the Fletching Singers are such that they were able to fill All Saints Church on June 15th 2019 even though the main work in their chosen programme was a Mass by a living composer. Several “secret weapons” could be deployed, however, not least the fact that the composer in question is also their Musical Director. In addition, a most unusual work by John Rutter was to be used to set the feet tapping to round off the evening, and a young musician was going to open the second-half conducting the premiere of a short orchestral work by - - - himself ! So how did it all go?
There was a handsome and informative printed programme: a great help when many listeners, including your reviewer, were outside their comfort-zones. There were biographies of the three soloists, the names of every choir-member and chamber-orchestra instrumentalist, an essay by Michael Fields explaining his composing-method, and every word of the Latin Mass, with an English translation for those whose Latin is rusty.
Michael Fields’ Midsummer Mass (dating from 2007) occupied about an hour, and was (hooray) tuneful, comprehensible and exciting. Choir and orchestra performed superbly under the composer’s baton. One particular high-spot was the Laudamus, with scintillating playing on the tenor-saxophone by Philip Edwards, and beautiful singing by soprano Ansy Boothroyd. Another was a sensitive Domine Fili, with mezzo Lindsay Richardson floating a limpid sound above fine singing (as always) by the Choir. And yet another was a haunting Qui tollis, with fine work from baritone Nigel Richards. I have complete recordings of many Masses, but few measure-up to what I heard from Michael Fields. His modesty (speaking of John Rutter on the final page of the programme “He does it better than I do”) is generous, but this wonderful Midsummer Mass bears comparison with anything. Has it been recorded? If not, get to it a.s.a.p. I should buy a copy for myself and a few extras for my musical friends.
“The Cuckmere”, with composer Samuel Ives conducting, brought about five minutes of delight. Beautiful string playing and fine work (on the clarinet this time) by Philip Edwards. I felt this was well worth developing into a short suite, perhaps 15 or 20 minutes in length. What about four movements representing the Cuckmere in spring, summer, autumn and winter? Nose down, Samuel. The talent’s there, now let’s have something more substantial.
The final item of the evening, John Rutter’s setting of seven American Spirituals, seemed to delight choir and audience alike, even leading to a clap-along. Not my cup of tea, so I’m not the one to ask about the quality of performance. But nothing could dim my admiration of Michael’s Midsummer Mass. And a final word of admiration for the superb Phoenix Chamber Orchestra, fourteen mellifluous musicians led by Joanna Lawrence.
– Robin Gregory