April 2019: Miserere

Saturday 6 April 2019
St Michael's Church, Exeter

It was encouraging to see St Michael’s church well-filled for this Exeter Festival Chorus concert, a programme of music for Lent entitled “Miserere”.

The evening began with “Morning Prayer” by the London-based Russian composer Alexander Levine, sung from the back of the church with great confidence and wide dynamic contrasts. This was a demanding opening, unaccompanied (as was most of the programme) and very effective.

Conductor Nigel Perrin introduced the items, and took time to explain the construction of the second item, Roderick Williams’ re-imagining of Byrd’s well-known motet “Ave Verum Corpus”. A section of the chorus sang the Byrd original as a preface before the whole choir, divided into three four-part groups, performed the 21st century version most effectively. In this and the opening item the church’s resonant acoustic added atmosphere.

The ladies of the chorus then took charge for a haunting performance of Poulenc’s “Litanies à la Vierge Noire”, with Peter Adcock a skilful organ accompanist. The tone was well-blended and the composer’s harmonic idiom clearly delineated. The first half ended with Samuel Barber’s familiar “Agnus Dei”, the choral version of his famous “Adagio” for string orchestra.

The second half opened with Allegri’s famous “Miserere”, using different areas of the church for the three separate groups of performers – plainsong verses from the west end by an excellent baritone soloist, Chris Droop, main choir in the crossing and the 4-voice solo group beginning out of sight in the vestry and moving into the chancel between verses. Congratulations to the soprano soloists, Kate Hurley and Melanie Shaw, on their effortless top C in each verse!

The final item was Domenico Scarlatti’s surprisingly cheerful setting of the “Stabat Mater”, written in 10 voice parts, in a number of short contrasting movements, alternating solos and full choir sections. It brought the evening to an effective conclusion.

EFC are well-known for their splendid performances of large-scale works with orchestra. On this occasion they showed themselves equally at home with chamber choir repertoire.

Stephen Bell
7 April 2019