Epsom Chamber Choir performed “Music for Passiontide” in Epsom’s St Martin’s Church on Saturday 25th March in a varied programme of singing and playing. Passiontide is a name for the last two weeks of Lent, and the repertoire for the concert, which was directed by guest conductor Jack Apperley, had been carefully chosen to reflect the emotions and suffering of this time.
The central work was Dieterich Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri, a Passion-meditation for Holy Week, which consists of a series of seven cantatas. On this occasion, the cantatas were performed over the course of the evening, interspersed with other a cappella anthems and motets.
For the Buxtehude, the choir was joined by the Chamberlain Ensemble, an early music group of 9 members, including violins, a violone (a large viol), viols, theorbo and organ, along with four excellent soloists (Lily Platts – soprano, Pete Dockrill – alto, Dominic Edwards – tenor, and Fionn Ó hAlmhain – bass). I was particularly moved by Lily’s aria in the third cantata, “Ad manus” (to the hands) and I very much enjoyed the well blended trios with alto, tenor and bass in the later cantatas.
The accompaniment by the Chamberlain Ensemble enhanced the variety of moods, often reflective and sombre but sometimes uplifting, and the sound became even more intense when 5 viols joined in the sixth cantata for orchestra and soloists alone. Each member of the ensemble added to the texture and brought out the beauty and
sensitivity in the music. An extra special mention needs to be made here to one of the viol players, Helen Williams, who is also a long-standing member of the Chamber Choir.
But what of the Epsom Chamber Choir themselves? They obviously knew all the music very well and maintained good contact with the audience throughout. Dynamics, diction and storytelling were beautiful and well executed, and the blend and balance between the voice parts (as many as 9 in Paul Mealor’s Ubi Caritas) was clearly heard.
The anthems and motets were all unaccompanied and ranged from the 16th to the 21st centuries. I had two particular favourites. To begin the second half of the concert, the choir processed to the back of the church, formed a semi-circle using the full width of the building, and sang Antonio Lotti’s 8-part Crucifixus (written around 1718). The sound was fuller in this configuration, as if surround sound had been switched on… The
suspensions were spine tingling, and the emotional intensity exceptionally powerful representing the agonies of the Crucifixion. You could have heard a pin drop at the end.
My other favourite was Crux Fidelis, (Faithful Cross) with music by Sarah MacDonald (born in 1968) and set to words written by Emilia Lanier (1569 – 1645) and Emily Dickinson (1830-1886). The piece is not as complex from a musical point of view as some of the others we heard, but you could tell that the choir were fully engaged in
delivering its message, with the meditative refrain of “Crux Fidelis” underpinning the excellent storytelling.
Jack Apperley, the Guest Conductor for this concert was in fine form, giving clear direction throughout. His energy, his explanations of the music in between items, and his obvious enjoyment of the performances, completed the experience for everyone.