December 2018: Peace on Earth

Saturday 15 December 2018
Exeter Cathedral

This concert, given in aid of the Lord Mayor’s Appeal for the armed forces charity SSAFA, aimed to bring together three disparate themes: World War I, Christmas, and the choir’s own 25th anniversary. That it largely succeeded is due to the imaginative planning of its conductor, Nigel Perrin.
 
The anniversary was celebrated by two pieces specially composed by the choir’s founder, Paul Patterson, an antiphonal brass fanfare and an a capella setting of When Music Sounds (Walter de la Mare), impressively sung from memory. Christmas and World War I were brought together by focusing on the spontaneous ceasefire of Christmas Day 1914 in a moving setting of The Christmas Truce (Frederick Niven) by Graham Fitkin.  
 
The Royal Marines Band’s first solo was a stirring performance of Gustav Holst’s Mars, the Bringer of War (composed in 1914). The first half ended with a group of movements from Karl Jenkins’s The Armed Man – A Mass for Peace. This focuses on the themes of war and peace and two movements in particular gave an opportunity for the choir to shine: Torches, where the clarity of the words was exemplary and the end of Better is Peace which made a poignant ending to the first half of the concert.
 
After the interval the band opened with an exhilarating selection which included A Life on the Ocean Wave and produced the evening’s virtuoso moment – an electrifying drum static, as mesmerising for its visuals as for its music. Their accompanying of singers presented more of a challenge; balance with both choir and baritone soloist was a problem and the assorted arrangements of familiar music met with varying success. Indeed, the high points of the evening were unquestionably the choir’s unaccompanied singing: The Three Kings, by Peter Cornelius (the artistic high point) with the golden voice of Roderick Williams, followed by Philip Stopford’s Lully, Lulla. The encore generated the emotional culmination of the concert; Silent Night, sung macaronically in English and German, returning us with the final sounds of the evening to the Christmas Day Truce of 1914. The prolonged silence which followed was testimony to its effect. 

Peter King
16 December 2018