Review: Angmering Chorale, Arundel Cathedral

Angmering Chorale
Angmering Chorale
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Jazz? ..........In the Cathedral!? ……….Will Who? .........Saturday 25th March 2017 ……….During Lent?

Surely my eyes are deceiving me but the poster did say Angmering Chorale and they usually do perform a concert in Arundel Cathedral just before Easter so perhaps it’s a printers’ error?

Such questions may have been asked by many but, perhaps through curiosity, the love of jazz or because the Chorale rarely disappoint, a large audience had assembled in the magnificent Cathedral. Sure enough the programme confirmed that we were to hear a Jazz Missa Brevis and a Mass in Blue composed by Will Todd whose music is, so we were told, sung and loved all over the World. What is more, Todd and his Ensemble were to accompany the Chorale which is a rarity because, apart from visits by Sir Karl Jenkins, there have been few occasions where a great living composer has been present to hear his work AND, what is more, partake in its performance.

Both works share the same Latin text of the Mass with Kyrie, Gloria, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei but Credo appears only in the lengthier Mass in Blue.

Jazz Missa Brevis was written for Portsmouth Cathedral Choir but was ideally suited to the larger ensemble of over 90 voices. Led by the composer at the piano and his splendid sextet, George Jones and his choir clearly revelled in this wonderfully enlightening music. One could see their obvious joy at being asked to sing in a swinging style and both in their facial and bodily expressions showed how much they were enjoying themselves in the opening Kyrie and Gloria. Sanctus, Benedictus and the closing Agnus Dei were more traditional in style with, for me, hints of John Rutter. The audience certainly enjoyed what they were hearing.

For the remainder of the first half we were royally entertained by the musicians with splendid arrangements of music by Oscar Peterson and Pat Metheny combining splendidly with the composer’s own Nightfall and his takes on Swing Low Sweet Chariot, Just as I am and Give me Joy in my Heart. All of these featured sensational improvised solos from members of the sextet.

Mass in Blue is of larger scale than the Missa Brevis and featured the exceptional soprano soloist, Robyn Allegra Parton with the original sextet doubling in size to become the Will Todd Big Band. These forces combined with the choir to produce some truly magnificent sounds and, although it did not detract from the overall aural experience, I felt that the band did rather dominate proceedings, mainly in the Gloria. Although operatically-trained and next year appearing again with the Chorale in Handel’s Messiah, Robyn Allegra Parton has amazing talents and range as a jazz and blues singer too, soaring high above the other forces whenever needed and adding a wow factor to the splendid choral singing and big band sounds. Mass in Blue has some calm reflective moments too but, to get an overall impression of this work as a whole, the final Agnus Dei takes some beating. This started with a bluesy soprano solo followed by some beautiful choral sounds but finishing with a spirited fortissimo ending which rang out all around the vast auditorium.

Congratulations to the Chorale for their enterprise in bringing Will Todd and his music to Arundel – it was a revelation which will, hopefully, be repeated!

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