Gathering in Crediton Parish Church on the eve of Remembrance Sunday, Exeter Festival Chorus could not have presented a more poignant and appropriate evening of music. There were moments of desolation, loss, reassurance and affirmation.
Under the guest conductorship of Andrew Millington and accompanied sensitively by organ, brass and percussion, the concert began with the solemn pomp of Purcell’s ‘Funeral Sentences’. Marion Wood’s a cappella miniature, ‘Futility’, provided a suitably contrasting view of ‘darkness’ before the choir rose to the substantial vocal challenges of Jonathan Willcocks’ ‘From Darkness to Light’. Juxtaposing the text of the Latin mass with the poetry of a US Korean veteran this work was a piece of pure drama, from the dark colours of the opening to the sudden emergence of the Last Post and the purity of the high, sustained sopranos towards the end. The choir gave a masterful performance, giving energy to the exciting syncopations of the Dies Irae and lyricism to the lullaby qualities of the Lacrymosa. A most moving interpretation.
The second half began with Eric Whitacre’s ‘When David Heard’. Performed at the high altar, the rich 18-part harmony and warm sonorities were a little lost in the distance between the choir and audience. Thankfully the sense of intimacy returned with Howard Goodall’s ‘Lacrymosa’ and the reappearance of Julian Rippon’s fine baritone voice.
Due to the nature of the programme, the audience had been muted in their applause, reflecting the contemplative mood that the music had created throughout the concert. All this changed however in Rutter’s ‘Gloria’, where the sheer joy and exuberance of the choir’s performance led to spontaneous applause at the end of the first movement. The church truly burst with light in the second movement and the jaunty rhythmic writing and bright wall of sound of the finale were glorious indeed.
This was an evening with music-making of an exceptionally high standard, coupled with an imaginative and thought-provoking programme; something the supporters of Exeter Festival Chorus have grown accustomed to!