|Here are extracts from David Batty’s review. You can read the full text here https://www.exeterphilharmonic.org.uk/dbpage.php?pg=pastevents|
It was two years almost to the day (14 March 2020, just before the first Covid lockdown) that I last had the pleasure of reviewing a concert in Exeter Cathedral by the Exeter Philharmonic Choir. Then it was a performance of Beethoven's mighty Missa Solemnis; this occasion, on Saturday 12 March 2022, was of the German Requiem by Brahms or, rather, Ein deutsches Requiem, as the choir sang the work in the original German. The choice of this major work within the choral repertoire served as a grand celebration of EPC's 175 uninterrupted years of performance since its foundation in 1846 – quite an achievement, and 20 years before Brahms composed the Requiem! It was pleasing, too, to see a well-filled Cathedral to mark the occasion.
For conductor Howard Ionascu this work presented a real challenge. The choir sings in all seven movements, which represents a demanding stay of stamina throughout the 60+ minutes of the work. But Howard Ionascu and his EPC forces are to be admired for keeping the energy levels so high, with no less vigour in the great fugue of the sixth movement than that which ends the third. Some frailties in choral entries and ensemble notwithstanding, the performance gave the audience a real sense of the mix of anguish and consolation that is such a feature of the work. Diction of the German text was good.
Two fine singers took on the solo roles. Jessica Cale's beautiful soprano voice, easily encompassing the high tessitura of her part, led the consolatory fifth movement in a reflective and moving manner. Singing in the third and sixth movements, baritone Timothy Nelson brought an impressive, lieder-like freshness to his performance, with an authoritative feeling for both text and music.
Accompanying the EPC were the London Mozart Players, who provided warm, high quality support: how good, for instance, to have a rich foundation to the slow tread of 'Denn alles Fleisch es ist wie Gras' (‘For all flesh is grass’) at the start of the second movement.
Lo, The Full, Final Sacrifice
Before the Requiem, the concert offered us a rare performance of Gerald Finzi's Lo, The Full, Final Sacrifice, originally written (in 1946) with organ accompaniment but here heard in an orchestral guise very much in the English pastoral tradition. This is a lovely work set to words by the 17th century Richard Crashaw drawn from writings by St Thomas. I enjoyed the choir's careful attention to the work's dynamics though, as with the Brahms, the balance between voices and orchestra was occasionally challenged in forte climaxes. The performance included short solo contributions from EPC members, tenor Stuart Mole and bass Martin Stubbings.
Howard Ionascu and his performers are to be congratulated on such an enjoyable concert, which was the Exeter Philharmonic Choir's annual performance in aid of the Lord Mayor's Charity, on this occasion Inclusive Exeter.
There is a flurry of activity on the publicity front in advance of our 175th anniversary performance of Brahms’ great work, Ein deutsches Requiem in Exeter Cathedral on 12 March. The Western Morning News published an article Friday 26 February. And Angela Kalwaites will feature the choir in her morning programme on BBC Radio Devon, focusing on our celebration of 175 years and our anniversary concert.
Members of the choir are busy publicising the concert among friends, family and work colleagues. And our social media presence on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is alive with posts.
The choir were delighted at the size of audiences at their Autumn and Christmas concerts and were overwhelmed by the warmth of their reception. We look forward to performing for you again with the renowned London Mozart Players and two of the UK’s most exciting soloists, soprano Jessica Cale, winner of the 2020 Kathleen Ferrier Award, and baritone Timothy Nelson.
|Exeter Philharmonic Choir celebrates its 175th anniversary with a performance of Brahms’ great work, Ein deutsches Requiem. The programme includes Lo, The Full, Final Sacrifice by Gerald Finzi, a rare opportunity to hear this piece accompanied by full orchestra.|
Joining us are the renowned London Mozart Players and two of the UK’s most exciting soloists, soprano Jessica Cale, winner of the 2020 Kathleen Ferrier Award, and baritone Timothy Nelson.
Despite wars and pandemics, the choir has performed concerts in Exeter every year since its foundation in 1846. The pandemic has highlighted the importance of live music for both audiences and performers. The choir were delighted at the size of audiences at their Autumn and Christmas concerts and were overwhelmed by the warmth of thir reception.
It was wonderful to sing two nights of carols in Exeter Cathedral again and to experience such a warm and appreciative reception from our audiences.
The varied and balanced programme that our Director of Music, Howard Ionascu, had designed proved very popular. We have had much positive feedback about the choice of pieces and the way we performed them. One of our regular followers said, “It was one of the best, despite the face masks.”
Stephen Tanner, our Associate Director of Music, not only accompanied the choir on organ and piano but also directed our special guests, Isca Voices, who enchanted us all with their beautiful singing.
2021 has been an extraordinary year and we are so pleased (and relieved!) to have been able to stage three wonderful concerts this autumn.
Looking ahead, we fervently hope to start rehearsing Brahms Ein deutsches Requiem in January for our 175th anniversary concert with the London Mozart Players in Exeter Cathedral on Saturday 12 March 2022.
Our first concert after 20 months of enforced silence was certainly the joyous and emotional return to singing that Howard Ionascu, Exeter Philharmonic Choir ’s musical director, had planned. It was wonderful to be back on the stage in the nave of Exeter Cathedral, a place we have all missed so much during the long months of the pandemic.
A large and enthusiastic audience gave the choir, soloists and orchestra a warm and appreciative reception. Many people said afterwards how much they had enjoyed the opportunity to hear live choral music once again.
Howard chose the Fauré Requiem, a choral work much loved for its great beauty, as the focus for the choir’s return. Before that, the European theme of the first half of the concert, sung in French, Russian, German and Latin, showcased shorter pieces of music in a variety of styles.
We were joined by two wonderful young professional soloists, Lucy Cronin and James Geidt, and accompanied by Devon Amici, an ensemble from across the South West, whose playing perfectly complemented the singing.
Our attention now turns to preparations for our two regular evenings of Carols in the Cathedral, on Tuesday 14 and Wednesday 15 December. We look forward to an enjoyable programme of audience and choir carols, with local youth choir Isca Voices appearing as special guests.
|Songs of the Soul along St Michael’s Way|
Members of Exeter Philharmonic Choir and friends received a very warm welcome in Cornwall over the weekend of 24 to 26 September as they walked the ancient pilgrimage route of St Michael’s Way, singing as they journeyed. The singers, who had renamed themselves as the Pilgrims’ Chorus, gave three short concerts, at St Uny’s Church in Lelant, St Paul’s Church in Ludgvan and, at journey’s end, in the Castle Chapel at St Michael’s Mount.
Stephen Tanner, EPC’s associate director of music, conducted an eclectic programme featuring Monteverdi, Palestrina, Bruckner and Haydn, alongside madrigals, folk songs and traditional spirituals arranged by the Soweto Gospel Choir.
It was a privilege for the Pilgrims’ Chorus to perform the première of Stephen Tanner’s most recent composition, a setting of Ave Verum Corpus, as well as to sing a work by the choir’s former director of music, Andrew Millington, entitled Give me my Scallop Shell, an arrangement of words from Sir Walter Raleigh’s The Passionate Man’s Pilgrimage.
The walking was as wonderful as the singing, along varied paths, through contrasting landscapes. Mist obscured the panoramic view from the highest point, the Iron Age hill fort on Trencrom Hill. But, as the walkers descended, St Michael’s Mount came into view, as well as the tower of St Paul’s Church, Ludgvan. And on the final day the sun shone, lighting the walkers’ path along the causeway and up to the Castle Chapel, where the Pilgrims’ Chorus gave its final performance, ending with Parry’s moving settting of Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar.