Concert  Reviews

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March 2017 - The Sea Symphony - Vaughan Williams


The Sea Symphony - Vaughn Williams - March 2017
Eastbourne’s choral music-making is in happy and vibrant health, and Eastbourne Choral Society filled All Saints Church last week with a wonderful Evening of English Music.

Good amateur choral societies generally have a repertoire of about a dozen major classic works – Messiah, the Bach Passions, the great Requiems and oratorios – with about two dozen more on the supporting list. The Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony is actually on neither list, demanding large resources, plenty of stamina and an awful lot of rehearsal time. Eastbourne Choral were undaunted, and they pulled it off with great success.

A top ten of English composers is a matter of debate. Britten must be there,

and Henry Purcell certainly. Holst, Elgar and Delius have a claim. Byrd and Tallis echo from the Tudor cloisters. (George Frederick Handel? Sorry, sir, EU citizens no longer qualify.) But Ralph Vaughan Williams surely has pride of place, and his Sea Symphony is his majestic masterpiece. This evening embraced Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Charles HH Parry, and it was English to the core.

The programme opened with Parry’s huge, stately Coronation anthem I Was Glad. It can be rather a blare, but John Hancorn’s nicely judged rendering contrasted its great climbing crescendos with its reverent, subdued “Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem”. The anthem was paired with Parry’s My Soul, There is a Country, harmonically trickier but confidently sung, with a great sense of unity in its dramatic finale.

Then, the first RVW of the evening – his O Clap Your Hands, jubilant and extrovert – and giving ample evidence, of the fine choral singing on offer.

Organist Nicholas Houghton was a busy chap, now forsaking the manuals for the podium and immaculately directing the orchestra in two much-loved Elgar pieces, each with motifs and themes which are in your ear the moment you spot them on the programme. (Try this at home: Chanson du Matin – lah, da dah diddle-a-dah-dum... Yes? And now try it with Nimrod – bah da dah dah da- aah dummm... Oh, never mind.)

Chanson du Matin was gorgeous: light as a summer morning, with delightful pizzicato strings, rippling harp, and orchestra leader Kate Comberti exquisite on the solo violin. Wonderful picture painting, and very English.

The brass and percussion had meanwhile – very courteously – waited their turn, and now in Nimrod, from the Enigma Variations, they were rich, warm and powerful. Houghton’s reading had splendid contrast, not building too soon and replacing the thunder of the final bars with a stillness and peace.

A most congenial interval followed, with the chance of a brief word with Eastbourne’s First Lady. Our dedicated Mayor Councillor Pat Hearn and her consort Councillor Philip Hearn are close to the end of their spell of office, in which Pat told me, she has fulfilled somewhere between four and five hundred engagements a year. Indeed, they had spent that very Saturday morning breakfast at a charity beachcombing event! Madam Mayor, our town owes you much: thank you.

And so to the grand oeuvre. Vaughan Williams spent some six years writing his Sea Symphony, arguably his finest work and certainly a landmark. Previously Choral Symphonies had used the chorus usually in just a single movement, and sometimes as merely a bolt-on. Mahler No. 8 just precedes RVW in integrating the choral and the orchestral, as in the Sea Symphony.

Its scope and scale are huge, demanding on the chorus and pretty exhausting for everyone; but you cannot listen to it without being swept up, enveloped in the swell of music which Vaughan Williams creates. Based on the long, rambling poetry of Walt Whitman, rather a hippy before his time, there are truthfully moments when the music seems to lose its way.

But they are few. This performance was full of inspirational musicianship. I cannot ever imagine John Hancorn directing anything dispassionately or clinically: he is at one with his musicians, and they rise to his rising and falling baton. Both soloists were outstanding, Catrin Woodruff a thrilling, dramatic soprano and Adam Marsden a baritone with rich tone and great command. The quite superb Eastbourne Sinfonia, professionally assured and beautifully balanced, always supporting the singers but never intruding or overwhelming them.

The choir of almost a hundred voices will have studied and practised for weeks and months to achieve this performance, and achieve it they did. There was splendid clarity despite the sometimes cloudy texture of the music, there was excellent balance and tuning, and above all there was a oneness with the spirit of the music, its ebb and flow, and its lyrical and emotional range. A memorable night.

Kevin Anderson 24th March 18





December 2017 - Haydn: The Seasons


Haydn’s Creation is often performed but not the oratorio which followed it: The Seasons, is less often undertaken by our local choral societies. On Sat 2nd December in All Saints' Church, Eastbourne, the Eastbourne Choral Society rose to that challenge. They sang from the new English version by Neil Jenkins. The work opens with an orchestral overture which was played by Eastbourne Sinfonia, their leader for the evening was Alison Bury and as the work moved towards the first recitative where we were introduced to the three young soloists, soprano Helen Lacey, tenor Ruairi Bowen and baritone James Newby it became clear that we were in for a treat. When the choir made its first entrance Come Gentle Spring, John Hancorn, their musical director, ensured that there was a good balance between the choir and orchestra and we were gradually led towards the summer where we heard snippets from the Surprise Symphony and Haydn’s delightful word painting as the sun rose. As the skies darkened, the pizzicato strings suggested rain drops and a storm arose both from the choir and the orchestra. The first half ended with a cheerful trio from the three young soloists who delivered everything with impeccable clarity. Part 2 took us into Autumn and James Newby was very much in character as we moved into the hunting scene, announced by the sound of the horn. The choir clearly enjoyed the chorus Joyful, Joyful the liquor flows as they celebrated the fruits of the harvest and John Hancorn drove them on through the dancing at a fearful pace. As winter arrived there was a sense of foreboding expressed by the orchestra as thick fogs descended but Helen Lacey as Hannah recounted tales of a country maid and the choir joined in with enthusiasm to this rather gossipy chorus. The work ends reminding us of the final reward for hard work and the struggles of life with the fugue “Direct us in Thy Ways” and the large choir sang with conviction. This was Haydn’s last major work and he is reported to have said “The Seasons broke my back” but for the enthusiastic audience it was a memorable evening and well received, as it was at its first public performance in 1801 when Haydn himself conducted.




July 2017 - Music for a Summer’s Evening - Rutter, Quilter and favourite show songs.


Eastbourne Choral Society’s skilfully chosen programme for their concert at All Saints’ Church on July 8th 2017 had about it the scent of the sea. It proved to be an almost unbroken evening of tuneful song. The opening work, which many of us were hearing for the first time, showed the singers and their conductor John Hancorn in fine fettle. Eleven English folksongs had been collected by John Rutter into a cycle lasting about 28 minutes entitled “The Sprig of Thyme”. The title-song and “I know where I’m going” introduced the evening’s star soprano, Yvonne Patrick, who certainly gave the lie to the common assumption that all good sopranos are portly. Slim and elegantly dressed, she knew precisely how to bring an audience into her musical world, never needing to use a score, and throughout giving the words her full attention. I hope we shall see more of her in future concerts. Some settings were for female choir only (“Can ye sew cushions?”); others for men only (“The Miller of Dee”). All enjoyed the superb piano accompaniment of Nick Houghton. The choir relished the chance to show off their balanced singing. If I had to find one teeny reservation it would be that the final song (“Afton Water”) might have gained from a more lingering tempo. Yvonne then sang three Shakespeare songs. From “Measure for Measure” we heard music by Roger Quilter, one of England’s finest songwriters, who was born in Brighton. In this, as in the songs from “Hamlet” by Elisabeth Maconchy and “The Tempest” by Arthur Sullivan, pianist Nick Houghton again provided brilliant support. Conductor John Hancorn changed roles in order to sing Butterworth’s heartbreaking song “Is my Team Ploughing?” This dialogue between a dead man and a living friend is often assumed, even in TV documentaries, to have been a response to the slaughter of The Great War of 1914-18. In fact it sets a poem by AE Housman which was published in 1896, though Butterworth was indeed killed in the War. It demands two distinct voices, and a real understanding not only of the words, but of their implications. John’s performance was perfect. He then changed his hat again, to accompany one of his baritone pupils, Lars, who sang three of Vaughan Williams’s settings of Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Songs of Travel”. Undoubtedly Lars has a promising voice, but did he really need the printed score, the handling of which tended to separate him from his audience? We were certainly near the sea in Sussex for the rest of the first half. Yvonne sang impeccably “The Singer”, by Michael Head,who was born in Eastbourne in 1900, and then Parry’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s “My heart is like a singing bird”. Parry was born in Bournemouth, but died in Rustington. Part Two was devoted to the musical stage. From “Gondoliers” by G&S, the choir gave a rousing “Cachucha”, every word audible. Then we were in the world of the Stage Musical. Some items were so musically satisfying that they could be lifted from stage to a choral concert and still retain their attraction. Others suffered from having fame based more on the actual staging than on musical quality. Yvonne’s performance of “Bill” from “Show Boat” worked wonderfully, not only because she really “performed” the brilliant words by PG Wodehouse, but because Kern was a master of subtle melody. The choir’s appropriation of some solo songs by Rodgers, Loewe and even Bernstein also functioned perfectly because the melodies are so strong that one doesn’t miss the glorious sound of (for example) Ezio Pinza in South Pacific or the star quality of Julie Andrews in “My Fair Lady” . Congratulations. A really successful change of subject matter which the choir really brought off. There’s much to look forward to from Eastbourne Choral Society: Haydn’s “The Seasons” on 2nd December, and RVW’s “Sea Symphony” on March 24th, both at All Saints Church.




April 2017 - Mozart Requiem and Haydn's Nelson Mass - Review by Kevin Anderson


Eastbourne’s choral music – especially the oratorio choirs – can seldom if ever have been stronger than at present, and Eastbourne Choral Society goes from strength to strength. Last Saturday’s double bill of the Mozart Requiem with Haydn’s Nelson Mass, at a packed All Saints Church, was marvellous evidence of that. We opened with the Haydn. Now, as well as the inspiration of its composer, all music is an echo of its time. The Nelson or “Missa in Angustiis” was indeed written in Time of Trouble: Papa Haydn’s beloved Austria had suffered four defeats in battle to Napoleon and was in distress and disarray. It did not acquire its Nelson dedication, and even that quite enigmatically, until some years later, but Nelson’s Battle of the Nile victory seems to have earned the accolade in the eyes both of the composer and of a grateful Europe. But the conscious and profoundly moving journey of the Mass, from its dark and quite agitated D minor opening to its final resounding D major triumph, is also a statement of faith, from a composer who signed every manuscript AMDG – “to the greater glory of God”. Eastbourne Choral led us with passion and conviction on exactly that journey. Haydn does pack in an awful lot of notes, and the Mass makes huge demands of concentration and simple stamina: a more typical mass of the period divides the labour, so to speak, alternating the sections or movements between chorus and soloists. But in the Nelson, they are almost always woven together in the fabric of the writing, and the chorus is on its feet almost throughout. It was a challenge to which the performers rose with energy and with the confidence of a choir which has done its preparation: heads were always up for the director, and never buried in copies. And that sense of communication made such a difference for the attentive, appreciative audience. This was truly a shared experience. Evidence suggests that a reduced court budget had robbed Haydn of his wind section – Arts funding evidently being an 18th as well as a 21st Century issue – but the strings soared and danced in the hands of Eastbourne Sinfonia and their expert leader Jenny King. Indeed all sections of the orchestra, including the woodwind restored later for the Mozart, were simply immaculate. John Hancorn’s direction is a delight in itself. No baton and nothing even faintly metronomic, but a flowing and flexible style which draws the performers rather than driving them. His tempi here were brisk and clear, and the singers responded. Eastbourne Choral is genuinely fortunate to have a director so expert and so intuitive. All four soloists showed consummate control and gorgeous quality. Their dialogue with the chorus, at so many points, was perfectly balanced, and their blend in the duets and quartets was beautiful: more opera than oratorio, but in the best sense. Soprano Catrin Woodruff, with possibly the most to do, ranged from anguished and war-torn to serene and effortless. Mezzo Thalie Knights brought a dramatic edge to the Gloria, and beautifully led off an exquisite Agnus Dei. After such a vibrant, energised Haydn, what could we expect of the Mozart? Once again there is a narrative behind it: a dying composer dictating sketches and motifs for what he believed to be his own Requiem, darkly commissioned by an anonymous messenger who might almost have been Death himself. The writing of the final score, largely by his pupil Sussmayer, is so authentic that it almost conjures disbelief. Perhaps one day some musicologist will discover a long-lost original manuscript which had lain hidden under the mattress.... Eastbourne Choral seized our attention from the very first bars. There is no serenity in the opening Requiem Aeternam, only a soul-searching and pleading appeal, and the choir filled the movement with both passion and sincerity. It set the mood perfectly, and that sense of drama and intensity never, ever faltered. Rex Tremendae was delivered with fear in the voices, the Confutatis was a cry of agitation and the Lachrymosa a swelling wave of prayer. Alongside the chorus, bass soloist Jozik Kotz was equally dramatic in his rich Tuba Mirum, gloriously echoed in the fabulous high range of tenor Paul Austin Kelly, followed by the female soloists. As in the Haydn, they formed a perfectly blended quartet in almost Italianate opera style: a special quality. And like the choir behind them, they were just a joy to hear.




December 2016 - Bach's Christmas Oratorio


Christmas brings a whole spectrum of musical treats, from the traditional carol concert to the lighter-weight entertainments. But there is one hallmark choral work, and last Saturday Eastbourne Choral Society brought it triumphantly to life. Bach's Christmas Oratorio is a majestic but quite sprawling work, a stitching together of six cantatas which were written for sequential performances across the days of Christmas. It opens exuberantly, with chorus, percussion and brass united in a great shout of joy; and yet it has moments of extraordinary, pin-quiet reverence. For a packed All Saints Church, this was simply a box of delights. There is much talk these days of the Gareth Malone Effect, and the breezy young animateur must have inspired thousands of singers and scores of new community choirs. Eastbourne Choral, seasoned performers all, would probably prefer to claim the John Hancorn Effect. John is a superb director. Conducting without a baton, he coaxes the choir and teases out the texture of a work which only benefits from his light, flexible touch. The great choral repertoire took quite a battering over the years from the Victorians to Huddersfield Choral, with their noisy massed ranks; but this is Baroque music, and John perfectly lifts every upbeat, values every semi-quaver, and never beats four where two will suffice. The music simply dances and delights with every phrase. To achieve this sound with a large choir is close to magicianship. The choir itself, close to a hundred voices, was absolutely wonderful on the night. Thrilling and vibrant in the big choruses, reverent and radiant in the chorales, they had really searched out the essence of the work: Christmas Oratorio is celebration threaded through with affection. The slightly outnumbered gentlemen held their own perfectly well, and in any case the soprano line is naturally the most prominent in the chorales. With excellent tuning and dynamics, this is a choir which truly conveys the spirit of the music. John Hancorn prudently eases the tempo in one or two of the most complex choruses, and they are underpinned by an orchestra of beautiful precision. The Eastbourne Sinfonia leader Alison Bury has a frighteningly strong CV with, among others, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. For chorus singers, there is always a sense of privilege to be performing alongside these consummate professionals. There is a story to be told, and tenor Neil Jenkins is the definitive narrator, expressive and effortless across the range. Sussex has few, if any, more distinguished singers or scholars of the period. The other three soloists bring gifts as rich as the Magi. Rachel Shouksmith delights with her lightness and fluency in With His Hand, and mezzo Rebecca Leggett has beautiful warmth in two of the work's finest arias, Prepare Thyself Zion and Slumber Beloved. In keeping with the work, bass Andrew Robinson is reflective and engaging, rather than declamatory. The soloists' final quartet is woven like a tapestry. (cont) And what a lovely, welcoming atmosphere this choir creates. Singers and audience mingle like old friends over an interval glass of wine, and the whole church radiates pleasure in this great and timeless music. "I came in thinking this was a bit too early for Christmas, but now my Christmas has properly started!" was one overheard comment as happy audience members filed out into a chill, sharp night. Freezing on the outside perhaps, but hearts all a-glow.




June 2016 - Puccini: Messa di Gloria & Poulenc's Gloria


Robin Gregory reviews concert in All Saints' Church John Hancorn, Musical Director and experienced conductor of Eastbourne Choral Society, made a thrilling choice when he decided to perform Puccini’s Messa di Gloria and Poulenc’s Gloria in the same concert. One is very Italian, the other very French. The Puccini is the work of a young genius of twenty-two, whereas the Poulenc dates from near the end of the composer’s life. But despite their contrasts, both present choral music at its finest. “Thrilling” indeed, but presenting several problems. Both demand outstanding soloists, but the Puccini requires a tenor and a bass, whereas the Poulenc’s only soloist is a soprano. Furthermore, both need fine orchestral forces: this is not easy music! In the event the decision was taken to use a solo piano to “stand in” for an orchestra; and how fortunate that on 2nd July at All Saints Church the pianist was exceptional: Rachel Fryer, well done! There were plusses and minuses in the use of a piano. On the whole it best suited the Poulenc, who was, as it happens, himself a fine pianist. In the Puccini the soaring melodies sometimes cried out for that bed of string sound on which the tenor soloist’s voice could float. Paul Austin Kelly, however, displayed a fine resonant sound, with opulent top notes and great musicality, so there was something to be said for the clarity with which we could hear him, set against the beautifully-judged playing of Rachel Fryer. In the Poulenc the sensitive singing of the choir could be appreciated without their appearing to “fade”, as sometimes happens when a French orchestra really lets rip. Rachel Shouksmith (soprano) seemed really to relish the high, soaring tessitura of her part, giving a performance to treasure. Tenor, Paul Austin Kelly and bass, Geoffrey Moses offered a couple of bon- bons after the Poulenc Gloria, before the interval. Paul’s was by one of the Bononcini family of Italian musicians associated with Modena, later home to the great Luciano Pavarotti. It was good to hear that nearby Lewes (where Paul lives) is home to a fine tenor who could so delight us. Geoffrey gave us the short Coat aria from the end of La Boheme. This is a true bass voice. I rather wish he had chosen to sing the big aria from South Pacific, following in the footsteps of Italian bass Ezio Pinza who sang the première in New York. Then we should have heard from him the words which most exactly describe this ECS concert: “Some Enchanted Evening”.




March 2016 - Handel’s Messiah


On 26th March at 7.30, All Saints’ Church, Eastbourne was full to capacity. Liz Barker, the chairman, was busy organising additional chairs that were needed, to accommodate an enthusiastic audience for Eastbourne Choral Society’s performance of Handel’s Messiah. They were accompanied by The Eastbourne Sinfonia, leader Jenny King and directed by John Hancorn. Four young soloists completed the team.

Following the overture, Jack Roberts set the standard for the singing with his able tenor voice and precise diction in the opening recit Comfort Ye. The choir followed his lead when they rose to sing the first chorus And the Glory of the Lord. Despite the large numbers the choir now attracts, they produced a light and clear tone with every word audible. There was an athletic approach to the semi quaver runs in All We Like Sheep and some beautiful soft singing but the Hallelujah chorus gave the choir a chance to raise the roof of All Saints’ and they certainly did.

Catrin Woodruff then brought us all back to earth with her beautifully controlled rendition of I know that My Redeemer Liveth. Marcus Plant joined James Williams for the The Trumpet shall sound and Nick Houghton, now a resident of Eastbourne and the choir’s regular accompanist was always supporting the proceedings from the chamber organ.

John Hancorn, as always, was in control and led the whole ensemble from tender pianissimo to rousing fortissimo while retaining a style appropriate for this great work. The choir were immaculately turned out and the staging allowed everyone to see and be seen clearly. The informative programme was presented at the door with a smile.

The audience were on their feet at the end, having had a wonderful evening. This was a free concert and a lovely gesture from Eastbourne Choral Society to the people of Eastbourne, enabling everyone to enjoy Handel’s best known work this Easter.

Jean Hill





November 2015 - Handel's Coronation Anthems, Vaughan Williams, Ireland and more.


ROBIN GREGORY reports Of late, so much great music has filled All Saints' Church in Carlisle Road that music-lovers will soon be seeking holiday properties nearby. It was there, on Saturday 28th November, that John Hancorn conducted the ECS in an evening of English Anthems and Songs, in the presence of the Mayor. The event will long be remembered by all those present. Eastbourne Choral is now a big choir: over eighty singers, all beautifully turned-out and well-disciplined. Handel’s four Coronation Anthems demand power and confidence: and from the first notes of Zadok the Priest it was clear that we were in safe hands. No orchestra on this occasion, but the church’s fine Harrison & Harrison organ rocked the rafters while remaining under the expert control of David Force. He was, indeed, one of the stars of the show, accompanying every item, and, when required, moving to the electronic keyboard which, in his hands, became a piano. His own solo-spot (a little-known but magical Voluntary by Peter Prelleur) brought well-deserved applause. Handel’s genius is undeniable; but in a masterful piece of programme-planning his four Anthems were by no means the only delights offered that evening. Vaughan Williams’s O Taste and See for unaccompanied choir was composed for our own Queen’s coronation. Beautifully sung, this exquisite work gave an opportunity for Shirlene Billenness to demonstrate that there are some worthy soloists lurking in the ranks. Another un-named soprano shone in John Ireland’s majestic Greater Love hath No Man, for me a masterpiece deserving of more frequent exposure. Ireland spent the last years of his life in a converted Sussex windmill, and was buried at St Mary the Virgin church, Shipley, West Sussex. Unbroken choral singing, no matter how brilliant, is best set against some gentle contrast. Enter Welsh soprano Catrin Woodruff, a singer who, we discovered, combines beauty of sound with power and a concern for words. She gave us songs by Rebecca Clarke, Muriel Herbert, Liza Lehmann, Roger Quilter and Ivor Novello. It was a real pleasure to hear singing of such quality, with exquisite pianissimos on some of the high notes, and passion in the words. If she can acquire the confidence to discard her score she will undoubtedly become a recitalist of distinction. Quilter’s Love’s Philosophy, a setting of a poem by Shelley, was especially on-target; and even Ivor Novello’s popular We’ll gather lilacs sparkled. I am still waiting, though, to hear a singer confident enough to drop that ridiculous final “S”: one gathers lilac, not lilacs! Congratulations to all concerned, not only for an evening of fine music-making, but for a written programme that was informative and well set-out, and for interval drinks that were dispensed with a smile and with wine at the right temperature.




March 2015 - Brahms Requiem


The Brahms Requiem is a significant work for a choral society to perform. It is by turns dramatic, uplifting, sensitive and telling. The piece requires massive concentration from both the choir and the conductor in order to ensure that the audience has the best experience that this wonderful work can provide. John Hancorn, who has been Eastbourne Choral Society’s conductor since 2003, certainly drew a sensitive and beautifully crafted performance from his singers. The time that he has been with them has ensured that he is able to ask and is given, the sensitivity which this piece demands. On this occasion the piece was accompanied by Nancy Cooley and Gareth Hancock – four hands on one piano, who perfectly matched the dynamics and tone of the chorus. The first half of the evening was a performance of contrast with the pianists playing three Hungarian Dances with great expertise and vigour and the two soloists performing songs in German both individually and together. It gave Ed Ballard the baritone in particular, the chance to show the light and shade in his voice and Sofia Larsson, the soprano gave the audience a flavour of what was to come in the Requiem with her soaring notes. I have never heard the piano in All Saints produce such an effective sound and it was interesting that the lack of an orchestra was almost a blessing in ensuring that we heard the best of both pianists and choir. And of course the conductor was nearer to the chorus in order to ensure that the relationship with them served the piece well. This is not an easy sing. The slow and soft opening leads into some huge choruses with an opportunity for the choir to fill the church with sound. This is a large choir of over 90 singers and one of the important aspects of this performance, was their ability to sing softly in the passages requiring this and yet to expand to a huge sound, particularly in the soaring choruses which abound throughout the work. The choir chose to sing this in English, and whilst the purists would probably have preferred this to be sung in German, in fact it made the piece enormously accessible and there were certainly people in the audience who were moved to tears. The programme helpfully included the English translation of selected verses from the Lutheran bible which Brahms chose to use rather than the customary Latin. This was a very successful performance by a choir and a conductor who are at the peak of their joint endeavours. I was both moved and enormously pleased to be there and look forward to further concerts by this choir.




November 2014 - Eternal Light - Howard Goodall


Review by ROBIN GREGORY Howard Goodall is composer, conductor and presenter, well-known to Classic FM listeners among others. His many compositions include the musical “Love Story”, which was first presented at the Minerva Theatre in Chichester before transferring to London. Eastbourne Choral Society’s Director, John Hancorn, decided to pair Goodall’s fascinating choral work “Eternal Light” with the much-loved Requiem by Fauré, and the decision was fully justified on Saturday 29th November at All Saints’ Church in Carlisle Road. Putting on a choral concert is far from simple. “Eternal Light” lasts about forty minutes, and is scored for the accompaniment of a small string orchestra, so that was fine. But would it then be necessary to bring in some wind instruments just for the Fauré? Surprisingly the beautiful French Requiem seemed actually to be enhanced by the superb playing of the cellists in the Devonshire Chamber Orchestra, judiciously aided by the keyboard, so the winds were not missed! Furthermore, the Fauré demands a fine soprano and baritone, whereas the Goodall usually needs in addition a tenor (Alfie Boe on the recording, I believe). The problem was solved, at no extra expense, because baritone Andrew Robinson was able in the main to sing the part with no apparent difficulty or “change of gear”, and occasionally the choir itself could cover. “Eternal Light” is rare in that it is far from an easy sing for the choir, but a very easy listen for the audience. The ECO is now a large choir, with the welcome addition of several more men; but the rehearsals had certainly ensured that they integrated with the long-term singers. The choral balance was excellent throughout, even in “Eternal Light”, which sets a variety of literary sources. The words, frankly, are of very variable quality; but they gained stature from the musical performance. The soloists could hardly have been bettered: Andrew Robinson’s rounded baritone brought out every word, and the beauty of Shona Hull’s soprano was as good in Goodall as in Fauré. I hope to hear far more from her. Piano and keyboard were in the capable hands of Nancy Cooley and Gareth Hancock. During the interval I spoke to a number of the paying customers, who were universally impressed with what they were hearing. No wonder conductor John Hancorn looked pleased as he took a very well-deserved bow.




July 2014 - Vivaldi's Gloria & Rossini's Petite Messe Solonelle


REVIEW by Robin Gregory All Saints Church was well-filled for the E.C.S. concert on July 5th.
Conductor John Hancorn had chosen two works which play well without an expensive orchestra, and the result was an evening which gave a specialchance for the singers in the choir to show what a high standard they have now achieved. The short first half presented excerpts from Vivaldi’s Gloria. This early 18th century work was sensitively accompanied on the Church’s fine Bluthner piano by Duncan Reid; and three members of the choir (Cat Chapman, Zoe Harris and Arabella Waller) seized their opportunities as soloists. It was good to hear a choir so balanced and alert to John’s conception of this happy work. After the interval, we heard Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle: well-known to be neither little nor solemn. And a rather unusual mass too ! In his early seventies the composer offered an operatic, singable confection, full of tunes, and demanding fine singers. It was originally designed to be accompanied by two pianos and a harmonium: on this occasion we had the Bluthner again, and an electronic keyboard. Duncan now changed seats and “became” the harmonium, while Nancy Cooley beguiled us at the piano. Four fine singers (soprano Vanessa Woodfine, mezzo Maria Jones, tenor Paul Austin Kelly, and bass Alex Roose) ensured that the important solo passages were able to shine; and the choir were pin-sharp in their responses to the conductor’s (and the composer’s) wishes. There were many details to admire: not least the wonderful attack of the chorus in the Amens. By the time Maria brought the work to its final operatic conclusion in the Agnus Dei we had shared the composer’s delight in this ecstatic celebration of the joys of music-making.




March 2014 - The Dream of Gerontius


Few choral societies can undertake a production of “Gerontius”. Elgar’s masterpiece defeated Hans Richter, no less, at its first production in 1900. One can see why. The leading tenor role is as demanding as anything in opera. The orchestral writing is so brilliant that it renders many a choral passage inaudible. The subject-matter (a man in the agony of dying) is hardly likely to bring in a large audience. Yet the fact is that when it works it is one of the most overwhelming musical experiences in the choral repertoire, right up there with the best of Bach and Mozart. John Hancorn, Musical Director of Eastbourne Choral Society, seems to welcome a challenge. To begin with he made a number of wise decisions. He enlisted support from East Sussex Bach Choir and Phoenix Choir, so there was an impressive body of singers. His orchestra, the Eastbourne Sinfonia, some forty players, is well led by Jenny King, and has the weight to do justice to the composer’s demanding score without over-filling the space of All Saints Church. And he no doubt used his extensive knowledge of singers to select three soloists with experience, thus relieving him of having to coach them as well as the choir (as sometimes happens!) The long opening introduction showed instantly that we were in safe hands as regards the orchestra’s contribution. The tonal balance was perfect; the individual solo passages were exquisitely played. And so it was throughout the entire evening. So what of the choirs? Again, it was good to hear from end to end such involved yet controlled singing. Of course, as has been the case in every performance of Gerontius I have seen, many of the words were not heard; but the provision of a complete text in the excellent programme meant that one could, if one wished, follow the argument. Or one could simply wallow in the lovely sounds the large combined chorus was making. The bass solos were handsomely sung by Matthew Hargreaves, especially fine in “Go forth upon thy journey, Christian soul”. As the Angel, Pippa Dames- Longworth’s experience gave us confidence that the soul of Gerontius would indeed be gently woken on the morrow. To address the one remaining question! What of Adrian Thompson’s Gerontius? I have recently seen him in a number of brilliant cameo singer/actor roles: the Schoolmaster and the Mosquito in Janacek’s Cunning Little Vixen at Glyndebourne, for instance. I have a number of fine recordings he made of English song, much of it by Britten. But to me none of that necessarily meant he would have the stamina, the weight, the authority, the passion demanded of a Gerontius. So it is with pleasure that I can say this was as fine a performance as I ever hope to hear. The voice still had the lovely bloom I recall from hearing him some time ago in Bexhill. The big moments (“Sanctus Fortis”, “Take me away”) were tenor singing of the very finest. Throughout there was a consistency and accuracy which I, as one who has done many broadcasts on tenors, applauded enthusiastically. It was his evening, and it was shared by choir, orchestra, fellow soloists ands conductor (especially conductor) who gave the utterly packed audience in the church an evening they will never forget.




July 2018 - Eternal Light: Howard Goodall - Requiem: John Rutter


On November 11th one hundred years ago, the guns fell silent. No more whistles sounded in the trenches, sending young men “over the top”, often to certain death. It was a neat idea by the Eastbourne Choral Society to plan two concerts to sit either side of this historic date. The first took place at All Saints Church on Saturday 7th July, and the second will follow on 24th November. Their chosen works for July were Howard Goodall’s “Eternal Light” and John Rutter’s “Requiem”.

The sad fact is that in 1918 no-one heeded General Pershing’s warning to the Allies against granting the Germans an Armistice. He believed they should be pursued to the very gates of Berlin. An Armistice, he said, would probably leave them an opportunity to set off again some time in the future. In 1938 his prediction proved all-too correct. But nonetheless it has become habitual to regard the Great War as ending in 1918 and to overlook the fact that the period from 1918 to 1938 should really be viewed as no more than a lull in a war that started in 1914 and ended (more or less) in 1945 not with another Armistice but with “unconditional surrender” and the Nuremberg War-crime trials.

Neither Goodall (born 1958) nor Rutter (born 1945) experienced what we conventionally call World War Two. But the choice of their compositions for the recent concert by ECS was an inspiration. They write tuneful, listenable works; and “Eternal Light” in particular demonstrates that a composer who is approachable can also be profound. John Hancorn extracted a very fine performance from a choir in great form, from two fine soloists, and from pianist Nick Houghton. Daisy Walford’s liquid soprano voice and Andrew Robinson’s warm, rounded baritone could not have been bettered. Andrew in particular brought great clarity to the words of the poems which Goodall cleverly intersperses with Latin texts. “Eternal Light” was first heard in 2008, and gives the lie to any idea that modern music is always either “pop” or incomprehensible.

After the refreshment break, Rutter’s Requiem received a performance to treasure (did anyone record it?). Nick Houghton was now at the organ, and the chamber ensemble provided instrumental subtlety from Susan Gregg (flute), Clare Worth (oboe), Joe Giddy (cello) and Dan Lauro (percussion). Hidden in the rich texture of the work is a lovely oboe solo, and Clare Worth brought the melody out admirably. All Saints' proved to be an ideal venue for this music, possibly Rutter’s finest, with the soloists (both vocal and instrumental) combining perfectly with the well-balanced sections of the choir. Conductor John Hancorn rightly looked well-pleased with the performance. What, we ask, can follow this in November?

Robin Gregory




July 2019 Elijah


EASTBOURNE CHORAL SOCIETY PRESENTS “ELIJAH”

Despite the unavailability of soprano Lucy Mair, ECS’s “Elijah” proceeded triumphantly with Susan Young joining tenor Paul Austin Kelly, mezzo Pippa Dames Longworth, baritone Thomas Humphreys in the title role, and Hannah Limbrick as a melodious second soprano.

Mendelssohn’s huge work requires outstanding soloists, and an orchestra which does far more than merely “accompany”. On July 6th at All Saints’ Church the Leader was no less than Alison Bury who regularly led the famous Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor John Hancorn thus had outstanding forces for this brilliant work, one of Mendelssohn’s last compositions before his early death in 1847 at the age of thirty-eight.

To say that the story-line of “Elijah” is complex is an understatement. It was therefore most helpful to have a printed programme which was not only meticulous in explaining the biblical account but also set out the forty or so “items” which comprise the whole. Within this wealth of information one could pick out a number of arias beloved of soloists such as Kathleen Ferrier which are so perfect that one marvels at the composer’s ability to overcome the strain and sorrows of his last few years. “Elijah” was written specifically to fulfil an 1845 request from Birmingham’s Festival Committee, and the composer did them proud.

The Overture is unmistakeably mature Mendelssohn, and the Eastbourne Sinfonia gave an exemplary performance. Paul Austin Kelly’s rich high tenor was thrilling in “Ye People, rend your hearts” followed by “If with all your hearts”, and Pippa Longworth displayed great authority in “Woe unto them who forsake him”. Thomas Humphreys elegantly kept the story moving as he demanded that the chorus “Call him louder; he heareth not” , and later demanded “It is enough, Lord, now take away my life”. Young Hannah Limbrick, assuming the role of a Youth, revealed a soprano voice of great beauty.

Part Two opens with a “long sing” for the soprano. Susan Young thrillingly told the people of Israel to “Hear what the Lord Speaketh”. The chorus shone in “Be not afraid”, and retained their quality throughout Part II. The men’s words were enunciated as to be audible (hooray), and the entire choir seemed to become stronger and stronger right up to, and past, a small cut as the end of the work approached.

John Hancorn has certainly produced a choir that the town can be very proud of, and we look forward to November 2nd, again at All Saints, when they present Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”, Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”and Haydn’s “Maria Therese”. I’m delighted to hear that in April 2020 we shall have Bach’s “St John Passion” in English. – Robin Gregory












November 2018 Duruflé Requiem and Armed Man


Eastbourne Choral Society’s Tribute to The Fallen

On Saturday 24th November 2018 Eastbourne Choral Society’s programme at All Saints Church consisted of just two works, one remembering the fallen in the Great War which ran, effectively, from 1914 to 1945, and the other dedicated to the victims of the war in Kosovo. The cumulative effect of superb choral singing under Musical Director John Hancorn, fine organ-playing by Nicholas Houghton, melifluous solo singing by Briony Lambert and polished orchestral work by the few (alas un-named) members of the Eastbourne Chamber Ensemble made this an evening that will be long-remembered.

The Requiem by Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986), an outstanding French organist, dates from 1947, shortly after France’s liberation. It demands singers who not merely sing in tune but can maintain a long pianissimo seeming to breathe as one. ECS were spot on, and Nicholas Houghton made All Saints’ superb organ seem to breathe along with them. Mezzo Briony Lambert’s Pie Jesu was even over her entire register: involved and beautiful singing. I have heard this Requiem on several occasions, but have never seen it as a masterpiece until hearing this performance.

Karl Jenkins’ Mass for Peace entitled “The Armed Man” was first heard at the Royal Albert Hall in April 2000. It is a massive work, scored for a full symphony orchestra. It mixes choral and solo singing, and entwines a Latin mass with poetry of varying quality. I have heard it described as a Dog’s Dinner. Well, maybe. But some dog! Some dinner! Suffice to say that the performance we heard conducted by John Hancorn, with very few orchestral players, brought out the best not only from the performers but from the work itself. Who needs a full orchestra when one has a cellist, a flautist, trumpeters, and timpany as good as this? I found the experience most moving, and one can’t say that of many very recent compositions . We shall, I’m sure, be in very safe hands when on March 30th 2019 at All Saints ECS will present Brahms’ Requiem.

-Robin Gregory








March 2019 Brahms Review


. Two Superb Choral Concerts at All Saints Church

“My Cup Runneth Over”. On March 23rd All Saints Church (ever-welcoming at the junction of Grange Road and Carlisle Road) was ringing to the wonderful performance of Haydn’s “Creation” by Hailsham Choral Society conducted by Jozik Kotz. Just one week later John Hancorn was in charge of Eastbourne Choral Society’s intriguingly unusual performance of Brahms’s German Requiem.

John is particularly adept at concocting programmes which have a few elements of surprise. Brahms’s work is a difficult length: one hour requires the addition of a few extra delights, and we certainly got them. Hardly had the chorus settled on their seats than the superb All Saints organ thundered forth without any introduction. Nicholas Houghton gave us a performance of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor which set the rafters ringing. He then accompanied soprano Alexandra Kidgell and the choir in Mendelssohn’s “Hear My Prayer”. Her clear, almost metallic voice rang out particularly well in the section we all know: “O for the Wings of a Dove”.

And then it was time for interval drinks ! What at first seemed an unusually short first half allowed for an uninterrupted account of the spiritually-charged (and possibly mis-named) Requiem. I first discovered this wonderful work while on holiday in France. My hotel happened to be right next-door to a church where a French choir and singers were to perform it. I was hooked ! And so on Saturday March 30th 2019 I waited for the orchestra to take its place. The well-researched printed programme told me why none appeared: we were to have an organ accompaniment, surely. Again I was wrong. Nancy Cooley joined Nicholas Houghton at the piano, and the choir sang to four-hands- at- the- keyboard.

Any sense of disappointment soon vanished. Alexandra Kidgell and baritone Ben Davies were fine soloists, and the choir was uniquely sensitive and audible because they had no orchestra to drown them out. Of course, we missed that cushion of rich string sound which Brahms creates, and which we all know from our CDs, but what came across was the clear fact that everyone was singing from the heart. Without doubt much rehearsal had gone into creating a sensitive and understanding interpretation. It was, indeed, a memorable evening, and the performance was loudly applauded.

  • Robin Gregory








July 2019 Elijah


EASTBOURNE CHORAL SOCIETY PRESENTS “ELIJAH”

Despite the unavailability of soprano Lucy Mair, ECS’s “Elijah” proceeded triumphantly with Susan Young joining tenor Paul Austin Kelly, mezzo Pippa Dames Longworth, baritone Thomas Humphreys in the title role, and Hannah Limbrick as a melodious second soprano.

Mendelssohn’s huge work requires outstanding soloists, and an orchestra which does far more than merely “accompany”. On July 6th at All Saints’ Church the Leader was no less than Alison Bury who regularly led the famous Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Conductor John Hancorn thus had outstanding forces for this brilliant work, one of Mendelssohn’s last compositions before his early death in 1847 at the age of thirty-eight.

To say that the story-line of “Elijah” is complex is an understatement. It was therefore most helpful to have a printed programme which was not only meticulous in explaining the biblical account but also set out the forty or so “items” which comprise the whole. Within this wealth of information one could pick out a number of arias beloved of soloists such as Kathleen Ferrier which are so perfect that one marvels at the composer’s ability to overcome the strain and sorrows of his last few years. “Elijah” was written specifically to fulfil an 1845 request from Birmingham’s Festival Committee, and the composer did them proud.

The Overture is unmistakeably mature Mendelssohn, and the Eastbourne Sinfonia gave an exemplary performance. Paul Austin Kelly’s rich high tenor was thrilling in “Ye People, rend your hearts” followed by “If with all your hearts”, and Pippa Longworth displayed great authority in “Woe unto them who forsake him”. Thomas Humphreys elegantly kept the story moving as he demanded that the chorus “Call him louder; he heareth not” , and later demanded “It is enough, Lord, now take away my life”. Young Hannah Limbrick, assuming the role of a Youth, revealed a soprano voice of great beauty.

Part Two opens with a “long sing” for the soprano. Susan Young thrillingly told the people of Israel to “Hear what the Lord Speaketh”. The chorus shone in “Be not afraid”, and retained their quality throughout Part II. The men’s words were enunciated as to be audible (hooray), and the entire choir seemed to become stronger and stronger right up to, and past, a small cut as the end of the work approached.

John Hancorn has certainly produced a choir that the town can be very proud of, and we look forward to November 2nd, again at All Saints, when they present Handel’s “Zadok the Priest”, Mozart’s “Coronation Mass”and Haydn’s “Maria Therese”. I’m delighted to hear that in April 2020 we shall have Bach’s “St John Passion” in English. – Robin Gregory





"The choir of almost a hundred voices will have studied and practised for weeks and months to achieve this performance, and achieve it they did. There was splendid clarity despite the sometimes cloudy texture of the music, there was excellent balance and tuning, and above all there was a oneness with the spirit of the music, its ebb and flow, and its lyrical and emotional range. A memorable night!"

Vaughan Williams' Sea Symphony Reviewed by Kevin Anderson 24th March 2018

2018 Eastbourne Choral Society