Saturday 2 April 2022
St Michael and All Angels Church, Mount Dinham, Exeter

‘Tis Nature’s voice was the theme of this collaborative and ambitious concert and the choir of Exeter Festival Chorus was certainly in very fine voice.

The audience was presented with a wide range of repertoire, from the past (Purcell, Saint-Saëns) to the current (Kerry Andrew, John Rutter), and to dramatic, clear spoken word by performers from the Cygnet Theatre, who made full use of the space.

The choir was stylishly and sensitively accompanied in Purcell’s Hail bright Cecilia by members of Divertimento and in Matthew Cann and Jonny Titchin we were treated to two accomplished singers who are clearly used to singing together and blending their tone seemingly effortlessly. The Purcell was presented throughout the programme and other highlights included the wonderful balance and breath control displayed by the choir in Andrew’s O Nata Lux and the rich multi-layers of Bennett’s All Creatures now are merry minded. It was mightily impressive how the choir switched from one era to another so quickly and changed their tone to suit each new piece. I hope they were not offended that the audience were reluctant to clap at times; it was simply that no-one wanted to break the beauty of the moment they had created!

Two works felt central to the programme; the first was a work by local composer, Peter Nickol. Expanding on the theme of rebirth and renewal, this was a dramatic and engaging performance of a work that contained vivid story-telling, note clusters, a wide dynamic range and contemporary vocal techniques from the choir. Britten’s Five Flower Songs (with a local connection to Dartington) were presented in full and with the consummate musicianship that only comes with detailed rehearsal. This ensemble performance was rock solid with sensitive ends of phrases, precise staccato chords and a virtuosic final section. 

The choir’s love of singing was clearly communicated to everyone and the conductor, Andrea Brown’s, encouraging conducting and ability to draw out a fine array of colours alongside precision and vivacity were a joy to listen to. The final words of the last item, fittingly, were “perfect harmony” which sums up the vision and execution of this spring concert.

Angela Blackwell