Cambridge choir scores an A

REVIEW / CONCERT

CHOIR OF CLARE COLLEGE

Clare College Choir, Cambridge/ Graham Ross (conductor)

Yong Siew Toh Conservatory Concert Hall

Wednesday

There can be very few people in the Singapore choral scene who have not encountered the work of John Rutter. What would any choral concert be - especially at Christmas - without his lovely arrangements?

This recital by the choir of Clare College Cambridge ended with a moving little piece which Rutter had written especially for them. He owed them that, for it was through the music he arranged for this choir when he was its conductor during the 1970s that his international reputation was made.

There was also a clever arrangement of Summertime by the current conductor, Graham Ross, an over-the-top one of Nobody Does It Better by another British choral arranger, Jim Clements, and a very animated medley of American folk tunes arranged as an almost manic piece of choral chatter by Ward Swingle.

For the most part, however, the Clare College Choir chose to perform for its Singapore debut concert the core English repertory which it sings on an almost daily basis in its Cambridge University chapel.

This ranged from the English Reformation of the 16th century - Byrd's Laudibus In Sanctis - to the almost hypnotically atmospheric setting of Come Holy Ghost written in the 21st century by Jonathan Harvey.

For this, the choir members spread themselves out all around the auditorium and up in its galleries too, creating a most extraordinary and captivating surround- sound effect.

Music with a strong connection with the college figured prominently. A breath-taking, jazz-infused Magnificat by Giles Swayne, a former composer-in-residence, found the choir dancing nimbly over its monumental technical complexities.

And the delicate part-song, The Bluebird, by a former professor of music, Charles Stanford, showcased the extraordinarily soft and caressing tone Ross coaxes from his student singers.

Mostly, the choir performed unaccompanied.

In Pierre Villette's mouth-wateringly luscious Hymn To The Virgin and William Harris' ravishing Faire Is The Heaven, the sound it produced was almost mind-blowing in its opulence.

But this concert also marked the first public outing for the conservatory's new pipe organ.

In Bach's funeral motet and Purcell's Jehova, quam multi sunt, organist Michael Papadopoulos revealed that this new instrument sounds every bit as beautiful as it looks.

The German baroque works perhaps exposed a lack of stability within the choir, but in the English songs, it was never less than outstanding.

Unconducted and unaccompanied, it gave a fabulous account of a Vaughan Williams folk song, while in Britten's terrifically challenging Hymn To St Cecilia, it showed that, in addition to being a vehicle for good choral arrangers, it is also a world-class choral group.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 09, 2016, with the headline 'Cambridge choir scores an A'. Print Edition | Subscribe