OK. Whilst I’m PUBLISHING this post days after the event, it was written as I lay in bed, cup of tea to hand, still reeling from a fabulous English Arts Chorale concert, on Saturday 23rd October.
The setting was the charming St Martin’s church of Dorking, Surrey. I arrived at the 2:30pm rehearsal with cold, wet feet – the Powers That Be decided that the 15 minute slot during which I was walking from Dorking train station to the church was the ideal time to rain.
The rehearsal was… well, it was ok. Nothing special. We had a new acoustic to get used to (along the back row we agreed that it felt like we were the only ones singing) and we had the recurrent problems of flat notes. Nothing that some effort and diligence wouldn’t resolve. But these minor errors aside, the music still wasn’t alive. It was, mostly, technically sound – but any musician will tell you that that’s not the be all and end all of music making.
Maybe we needed some inspiration, or just to fight the increasing winter chill from our bones. The break between rehearsal and concert offered me both – not only did I find a radiator to shelter against (and dry my shoes on), but I also had a chance to explore the church a little bit.
St Martin’s is a pretty little church – it’s the first time I’ve ever been there, and I was pleasantly surprised. It has all the usual big stone columns, stained glass windows, impressive wooden doors. But what really drew me (and I’m sure people got sick of me mentioning) was the beautiful mosaics dotted around the sides of the church. They were mostly of angels, and were depicted delicately but in vibrant, strong colours. Here’s just one:
A few of the angels had mother-of-pearl inlay. Maybe it’s the Art Noveau tone to them (think Mucha) but I fell in love with these.
Anyway, we got ourselves together, and (braving the cold between the church hall and the church itself) we filed in.
Before either of the requiems, we performed Rutter’s “Look To The Day” – as this is always beautiful (in a straight-forward sort of way), it made for a good start. Next, it was time for Ledger: I have grown very fond of this particular requiem. Whilst it doesn’t have the obvious drama of Fauré or Verdi, it does have a lot of depth, cunningly hidden by some deceivingly simplistic melodies. It helps that I had a (very short) bit of solo in this, and that I was standing next to Kate, a fellow soprano with a lovely top register – it all made the experience very memorable.
I refer back to the opinion that, from a singer’s perspective, St Martin’s has a very “lonely” acoustic, but it many ways this made singing here very exciting. I was doing my favourite thing and singing second soprano, whilst Kate (my only fellow soprano in the back row) sang first soprano. In St Martin’s acoustic, it made for some seriously enjoyable “duetting” between the two of us (added to the fact that, as usual, I was also sat next to Mark, so I could enjoy the reverberations coming off his second bass line).
We really produced some incredibly poignant moments with the Ledger – it wasn’t perfect (the Hosanna passage, as predicted, raced beyond the conducted speed, leaving a sort of disorganised but enthusiastic mess) but it was beautiful.
As for the Rutter – wow. I don’t think I can really express how lovely it was. I have never been a magnificent lover of the Rutter Requiem (except for the fact that it allows me to use the “I can’t believe it’s not Rutter” joke. Oh dear, my dad would be proud) but this particular performance won me over. “Into The Deep” was haunting and strangely evocative, whilst the Lux Aeterna made my eyes glisten – I caught our conductor Les’ eye as the sopranos crested a top G wave, and he had his best Cheshire cat smile on. Les cannot fake this sort of smile – it was a very good sign. I think it was still present when I left the church after the concert – perhaps Les has disappeared and now only the smile remains.
The English Arts Chorale runs regular concerts throughtout the season, usually in Sussex and Surrey, but sometimes we venture forth to London, Cambridgeshire and Suffolk. Have a look at the website to see when they’ll be near you, and give us a whirl. EAC do also have a Facebook group, which should be getting a facelift soon.