Three Choirs Festival 2017 Worcester
A Child of Our Time
Worcester Cathedral – Saturday 22 July 2017
Review: Paul & David Gray
Three English Giants: Elgar, Britten, Tippett
Elgar is a composer closely linked with the Three Choirs Festival and almost synonymous with Worcestershire. It was, therefore, appropriate to start this festival opening concert, in the grandeur of Worcester Cathedral, with Elgar’s rousing anthem Great is the Lord. This is an expansive piece, the delivery of which suffered somewhat in the cathedral’s resonant acoustic. Some of the textures were muddy and much of the choir’s diction was lost. The bass soloist, Neal Davies, was commanding and had a clarity of diction which made every word count.
This was followed by Britten’s Four Sea Interludes from Peter Grimes. Conductor and Festival Artistic Director, Peter Nardone, took this slightly on the slow side, an approach which paid off, enabling the exquisite orchestral detail to shine through the lush acoustic. The strings played with sinuous lyricism and searing intensity. The woodwind were particularly outstanding and deft. The Philharmonia Orchestra are orchestra in residence this festival week and it is a good opportunity to savour the sheer delight of their superlative musicianship.
Tippett’s A Child of Our Time is, in itself, a problematic work. Tippet wrote the words himself. They are not of the greatest literary merit and can seem naive. The mood and music of the piece is almost unrelentingly sombre. This was a well-structured reading, with fine soloists. Hilary Summers’s contralto plumbed the sonorous depths of her vocal range with remarkable power and gravitas. Andrew Tortise, a fine tenor, who brought anguish and heroism in equal measure to the role of the boy. Sarah Fox stunned the audience with her soaring upper register, especially in the final vocalise within the General Ensemble section, where she entered on what sounded like a top C. Breath-taking.
Undoubtedly the most immediate and obvious appeal of the Tippett are his settings of negro spirituals. Here, both choir and soloists shone with enthusiasm and commitment. The choral sound was superb, with all singers: heads up, eyes front, selling the story. This served to prove that clarity of diction can be achieved in even the most demanding of acoustics, and it is a shame that this was not always the case elsewhere in the evening.
Sarah Fox – Soprano Hilary Summers – Contralto Andrew Tortise – Tenor Neal Davies – Bass Three Choirs Festival Chorus Philharmonia Orchestra Peter Nardone – Conductor