Saturday 10 December 2022
St David's Church, Exeter

On Holy Night was a delightful programme of music with a Christmas theme.

Andrea Brown, now in her second year with Exeter Festival Chorus, has obviously worked hard to create such a warm, together performance. 

The programme began with Messe de Minuit sur des Airs de Noël (Midnight Mass on Christmas Themes) by Marc-Antoine Charpentier. The simple carol melodies were clear and well performed, with Charpentier’s skilful harmonic writing suitably supporting. Short organ interludes between movements performed by Peter Adcock (chamber organ) were a real treat. The dance-like quality of several passages helped the audience feel the joy of the spirit of Christmas. 

The mass included several sections for solo voices, ably sung by members of the choir. Of particular note were the unaccompanied bass introductions to certain movements and the solos in the Deus pater omnipotens in the Gloria.  The slow, legato, solemn, rich Crucifixus section, full of suspensions, was delightful. There were examples of well blended small group singing in this work, for example a soprano duet and a trio for Sopranos and Alto. 

The second half featured The Christmas Story by Heinrich Schütz. It was a contrast to the first half and was an example of a piece intended to be used within a church service. The Evangelist (tenor) tells the story and the choir, often in small groups, elaborates on particular points of the story or comments. The programme stated that ‘key to Andrea’s vision for Exeter Festival Chorus is to develop and explore diverse repertoire, bringing a commitment to nurture new talent and partnerships.’ This work was one such opportunity to nurture new talent, with Gregory Steward, 22, singing the role of the Evangelist. He sang with passion, and it was a delight to witness new talent being given such an opportunity. 

There were several sections for small groups from within the choir, e.g. High Priests and Scribes (Basses), Choir of Angels (singing peace on earth), Herod (bass solo, issuing orders to the wise men), Angels (Sopranos) and Shepherds in the fields (Sopranos and Altos). These were all beautiful contrasts to the Evangelist recitative sections. The choir is fortunate to have such voices, capable of achieving these types of movements. 

These two works were complemented by three carols. The audience was asked to join in with It came upon the midnight clear and Hark! the herald-angels sing, with the choir sopranos treating us to gorgeous descants. The conductor even gave the audience a ‘Bravo!’. Exeter Festival Chorus sang In dulci jubilo which was a superb addition to the programme, showing sensitive melodious and harmonious singing. 

Thank you to Andrea, Peter, Gregory and the Exeter Festival Chorus for bringing high-quality music to Exeter and enabling audiences to begin to feel the joy of Christmas. 

Paul Stock