REVIEW BY Simon Austin
‘Finding the right venue for a programme of choral music is sometimes a most frustrating exercise. Location, location, location…. But Sussex Chorus found a most fitting venue in St Andrew’s, Burgess Hill, on November 9th, for their concert of largely French sacred music - with its newly-arranged format and splendid organ, the venue admirably suited the organ-centred works of Durufle, Vierne and Faure which the choir so ably performed.
Under their excellent, young conductor, Jack Thompson and with the organist, Jeremy Weaver guiding them through a demanding programme, the choir rose to the occasion with one of their more confident and assured performances. Sussex Chorus has brought in some new voices and the balance and quality of their sound is markedly improved. The leading voices in each part, without standing out, give a secure and reliable line which ensured confident entries and homogenous delivery. This was immediately evident in the opening A Cappella rendition of Durufle’s Notre Pere and Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine. For this, the choir was joined by Jeremy, a very accomplished organist greatly enjoying the lovely, beautifully-voiced organ, producing a warm, rounded tone and an expressive range of dynamics. This set the style for the evening which they maintained well.
Jeremy further demonstrated both his skills and the organ’s potential in a wonderful rendition of Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C minor. His work continued in accompanying the choir in Vierne’s Messe Solennelle. Intended for liturgical use, this work follows the standard sequence of the Proper of the Mass without the Credo and the many dynamic and expressive fluctuations within the work were well negotiated, with some tricky passages well covered – it is no easy sing and they made a good fist of it.
The Durufle Requiem filled the second half of the concert. The composer was steeped in the Catholic practices of Chant and Plainsong. Much of this has rhythmic patterning driven by the words and in consequence may be irregular and unexpectedly grouped. To sing a single note over many syllables and maintain intonation is difficult but Sussex Chorus managed this very well and there was never any apparent break in the chant-like enunciation of the text. The short solo passages in the Domine Jesu and Libera me sections were very well delivered by the fine baritone, Chris Murphy and the short but poignant Pie Jesu by the lyrical soprano, Ella Rainbird-Earley. Again, the contrasts within the music were well delivered and the assurance of the choir, especially of the male sections, palpably evident.
The programme was helpfully full of detail about the works and of the choir’s support for St Peter and St James’ Hospice. This group of singers evidently gave their all for this concert, evidencing their enjoyment of singing, a fitting accolade to the new regime and to jack Thompson’s energy and commitment to the choir. It certainly seems to be a good place for singers to find like-minds and fellow spirits in search of the joys choral singing brings.’