November 15: Seaside Rendezvous

A Bountiful Buffet

Do you prefer a roast dinner or a buffet, one substantial dish or a range of light bites? Exeter Festival Chorus provided the latter on Sunday afternoon at Sidmouth Parish Church, a sizeable building containing a sizeable audience.

Handel’s Zadok the Priest provided a rousing start, sung with full voice and great confidence. Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine was dedicated to those who had recently lost their lives in Paris, and the moving performance so gripped the audience that no-one wanted to break the stillness at the end of the piece. Standing in the aisles in a large circle to sing Rachmaninov’s Bogoroditse Dyevo and Tchaikovsky’s Dostoino Yest produced intriguing antiphonal effects for the listener; the applause appreciated the careful ensemble and triumphant climax.

Bob Chilcott’s settings of Aesop’s Fables provided the main course in this buffet. Diction became all-important, as the stories were told in quasi-speech rhythms which needed the accurate discipline imposed by Nigel Perrin in order to be heard. Each had a moral, declaimed by the choir with suitably suspenseful pauses. Here as elsewhere there was some doubt as to whether applause was welcome after each item, but often the enthusiasm could not be resisted.

There were still more courses in this feast, with ‘The Lighter Side’. Perhaps the singers were tiring a little after an hour of concentration, for the ensemble was not as tight in these numbers – each singer had remembered a version of Bridge over Troubled Water, and they had not quite reached a unified compromise. The audience did not mind unduly, and greeted this with as much enthusiasm as any of the previous items: a good tune goes a long way. The Three-minute Messiah only offered a hint of Handel’s good tunes, and might have been too much of an ‘in joke’, though there was an immediate response among the audience to the suggestion that the tenors might ‘like sheep have gone astray’. Settings of two traditional songs (and an encore) brought the programme to a close, after which the gastronomic image became physical with the serving of tea and cake before the audience dispersed, having been well and truly fed.

 

Mary Ellis

15 November 2015