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A review of our Christmas concert on 2 December 2017 by local musician Richard Godfrey:

There was standing room only for the Lyme Bay Chorale's Christmas concert in St Michael's Church last Sunday afternoon, directed by Alex Davies. Rather than a hotchpotch of seasonal pieces, the programme consisted of just three substantial major works. The choir was joined by a small number of professional soloists and instrumentalists, and the performance was of the highest standard. There was also the happy announcement that two very distinguished musicians - Philippa Hyde (soprano) and Paul Esswood (countertenor) - have agreed to become patrons of the choir.

On the first Sunday in Advent, there could have no more appropriate choice to begin the concert than Bach's great setting of Wachet Auf, ruft uns die Stimme from Cantata 140. Alex Davies set exactly the right tempo for this measured unfolding of the text, sung in long phrases above a lilting and mesmeric accompaniment, which hardly changes in character throughout the eight minutes of the piece. The choir immediately showed how good it has become, with excellent balance, clarity, and wide dynamic range. There was also fine continuo playing, which was to be a major feature of the whole concert.

Next was Vivaldi's Dixit Dominus, a work with an extraordinary history recounted in the well-written programme notes. It had been wrongly attributed to another Venetian composer, and was only recognised as being by Vivaldi in the 1920s. It has nine sections, each devoted to a verse of Psalm 110 (incidentally, some of the words are decidedly disturbing, dealing with dead bodies of the heathen being piled up in public places). Vivaldi employs a mixture of full chorus sections interspersed with solos. Chloe Stratta, in beautiful voice, sang the first solo. Philippa Hyde then joined her in a duet, with their two voices blending in a perfect match. And so it continued, with further assured solos from Julie De'Ath Lancaster, Nicholas Hawker and David Fouracre. The work finishes with a splendid Gloria in fugal style, which brought the first half of this splendid concert to a grand close.

After a short interval the internationally famous countertenor Paul Esswood gave a short speech in which he warmly congratulated the Lyme Bay Chorale on their singing. He told us something of his professional work, then apologised for having a cold and being unable to sing his scheduled pieces. But luckily there were two pieces planned for soprano solo, and these were marvellously performed by Philippa Hyde, accompanied by Peter Lea-Cox. The second, Handel's famous Let the bright Seraphim, was directed by Paul Esswood and included a splendid part for solo trumpet played by Dom Hammett, a student at the Royal Academy of Music. The imitative moments between soprano and trumpet will remain in everyone's memory of this truly outstanding performance.

The concert concluded with Bach's Magnificat, one of the pinnacles of the choral repertoire. The 12 movements included beautiful solos, including some for the orchestral instruments, and magnificent full choruses, complete with timpani and trumpets. Alex Davies did a wonderful job in judging the mood and tempo of each section. Apart from his great musicianship, he deserves praise for assembling such an excellent group of players to accompany the choir, and for arranging them imaginatively in the space available. Special mention must be made of the continuo players (Peter Lea-Cox, harpsichord; Peter Parshall, organ; Arturo Serna, cello; and Imogen Fernando, bass) for their accurate and imaginative accompaniment, and to the three trumpets whose ringing tone pealed out from the chancel at many thrilling moments.

RICHARD GODFREY
Artistic adviser to the South Wessex Organ Society