A fine May evening, a glorious Norman church, and an unusually varied programme of choral and instrumental music, this was Steyning for the Summer Concert of the Chanctonbury Chorus and Orchestra on 13th May. From Schubert to Korngold, Mendelssohn to Vaughan Williams, our musicians tackled a challenging programme that required sustained vocal control, wide dynamic grasp and considerable stamina. Under the magisterial leadership of their director, Soibhan Denning, they delivered music of a near professional standard, aided by orchestral leader Chris Phipps, the promising young tenor Ryan Williams and soprano Lucy Mair, whose fresh and radiant voice, pure-toned and unaffected, was one of the pleasures of the evening.
The orchestra played Mendelssohn’s Octet in A flat which, after an uncertain start, soon gained a warmth and vitality that characterised their playing throughout the evening, especially in the major work of the first half, Schubert’s Mass in C, an odd piece, pleasing but lacking the profundity of his best work. The choir proved resonant and strong, even though Schubert kept his sopranos steadily at the top of their register. Particularly in the Benedictus, the counterplay between soloist and choir was effective.
The second half opened to a fanfare blaze of organ – Mendelssohn’s Wedding March, a flamboyant performance by Brian Sawyer – and then came the choir, singing a cappella, aided by pianist Geraldine Rowland, later to prove a sensitive accompanist to Lucy Mair as she sang Korngold’s Shakespeare Songs with tremendous feeling and bell-like tone. Roberton’s April Evening, reminiscent of his iconic Glasgow Orpheus Choir, was followed by De Pearsall, Sullivan and Vaughan Williams’ “In Windsor Forest“. Here was delicious music making and the choir revelled in it, relishing the luscious harmonies of De Pearsall’s Lay A Garland, the heartfelt emotion of Sullivan’s The Long Day Closes and rollicking their way through “In Windsor Forest” with lip-smacking enjoyment.
After an encore of the Sullivan piece, our warm applause expressed appreciation for a special evening.