Ashtead Choral Society give a lesson in three Rs

Ashtead Choral Society outside St Martins Church in Epsom

Jane Pickles reviews a concert given by the Ashtead Choral Society in Epsom’s St Martin’s Church on Saturday 16th March that included works from Rameau, Rossini and Rutter.

I don’t know about you, but when I open my Spotify application to listen to music I am immediately drawn to the familiar where one finds comfort and pleasure. The glory of this programme was to take the audience on a spiritual journey from the less familiar Catholic Baroque to the well-known glory of the modern English church tradition.

You will find it difficult to find a recording of Rameau’s Blow the Trumpet. One wonders why as this joyful opening set the scene invigoratingly for the evening, bringing together the full forces of choir, organ and soprano, Helen Pritchard. If you were at the last ACS concert, you will have enjoyed the rich, operatic dramaticism of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. This time we were treated to three of his glorious motets in the same vein, with Musical Director Dr Andrew Storey making the most of the sacred setting and acoustic of St Martin of Tours and the powerful shifts in expression offered by Rossini.

Helen Pritchard’s solo performance moved us firmly into the early 20 th century with a rare opportunity to experience Vierne’s Les Angelus song cycle in which John Carnelley’s shimmering organ playing underpinned Pritchard’s effortlessly lyrical appeals to the Virgin Mary. This set the scene for another rarely heard classic: the intense homophonic simplicity of Gorecki’s incantation Totus Tuus. Storey created and sustained a mesmerising soundscape, still yet kinetic, and crowned with a resounding silence at the end of this evocative chant to the Virgin Mary.

Faure’s Pavane and Cantique de Jean Racine brought us back to the familiar and foreshadowed the last stage in the evening’s journey, Rutter’s well-known Requiem. Rutter went to France to view the original manuscript of Faure’s Requiem before he wrote his own, and Storey illustrated exactly why Rutter’s offering is a modern classic.

The choir dealt purposefully with the anguished chromatic calls for eternal rest that open the work, before resolving into the simple, lyrical beauty of Rutter’s requiem theme. In the psalm setting movements – Out of the Deep and The Lord is My Shepherd – the choir shifted seamlessly from simple lines shared between the parts, to glorious harmonies and well-delivered choral recitatives. Pritchard gave us grace and purity in Rutter’s Pie Jesu, soaring to heaven and back again from the pulpit.

Storey gave a blazing Sanctus, an Angus Dei which tore at the heartstrings as he drove a crescendo of pleas to the Lamb of God from choir, and, finally, resolution and rest through the spare lines of the Lux Aeterna.

All in all, tour of Europe, a tour of musical epochs, and a tour for the soul. Storey must have tours on his mind as he mentioned that ACS will be taking much of this repertoire on tour to Italy later this year. Bravo!

Jane Pickles

Photo Credit: Sue Weeks.