The Crouch End Festival Chorus, directed by David Temple, has established itself as a leading chorus with work that spans classical and popular idioms and a great deal of recording. Recent work includes Noel Gallagher’s new solo album, television and film scores and the concert at the Barbican this evening demonstrates the Chorus’ dedication to new music with works by Glass alongside a new commission by the composer James McCarthy.
Precise rhythmic and dynamic control was evident in the opening song (There are Some Men) in Philip Glass’ ‘Three Songs. The French diction was clear in the second and third songs (Quand Les Hommes Vivront D’amour and Pierre de Soleil) with David Temple shaping a strong sound from the chorus throughout the songs. Basses sang their solo passage with confidence in third song with the chorus displaying good pitch control of the instrumental-like lines.
James McCarthy’s (b. 1979) 17 Days is a work that explores the Chilean mining accident in 2010 where 33 miners were trapped for 17 days after the collapse of a copper mine. This work for chorus (including two youth choirs in addition to the Crouch End Chorus) and ensemble does not seek, as the composer writes, “to be a narrative with” but explores the event through a variety of texts that includes news reports, poetry and extracts from the King James Bible. The opening setting of John 11:25 is nothing but dramatic. This showed the dynamic potential of the choir better than the first half, with the lush harmonies sung with real confidence. There was rhythmic energy in the incisive percussion parts, and warmth from the brass which made this a colourful setting. The words were always clear as much a product of the excellent diction from the chorus, direction from David Temple and the writing by James McCarthy. Rupert Brooke’s Oh! Death will find me, long before I tire had a strongly harmonic setting sung only by Crouch End Festival Chorus – the text remained the focus of this choral setting, with a robust sound from the CEFC. Sopranos did well to sustain the long note at the end of this.
Do dreams lie deeper? displayed McCarthy’s strong harmonic rhetoric, and strength at rich choral textures. CEFC coped well with the close harmonies. Brass and piano opened We live in mud (Carol S. Lashof), and the choral entry was suitably muddy at the start in its dense chords. Diction was always clear and a broad dynamic palette was achieved here. Charlotte Mew’s A quoi bon dire saw the chorus singing similar oscillating gestures to the piano introduction; poignant in its expression and soaring lines. It had a beautifully controlled quiet ending, and included a confident solo soprano – wonderfully controlled soaring high notes. For Emily Dickenson’s Hope, sung by youth choirs and CEFC, it was great to hear some polyphony with rhythmic singing and excellent diction. Brass and piano helped create the excitement in this setting, with trombones particularly powerful here. Rising gestures in this movement captured the ascent of the miners to the surface. It seemed the real dynamic variety was saved for the final items in the McCarthy work as one was confronted with the power of the choral sound increasingly as the work drew to a close. I am the resurrection and the life was suitably powerful and driving, with prominent percussion. Male voices confidently announced “Seventeen days ago…” and one was struck by the quality of a chorus that is of amateurs and how strong they sang. Isaiah 26:19 “Thy dead men shall live” closed the work with intense jubilation and energy, the three combined choirs singing the expressive harmonies with precision and diction that made the music even more poignant. The final “Awake!” was stunning.
The real strength of this concert laid in this commission by McCarthy that showed the best of what CEFC can do: close harmony singing with a robust homogenous tone, and clear diction. The Crouch End Festival Chorus is a chorus well worth hearing: their range of work is inspiring and I look forward to discovering even more of their work.
Steven Berryman is a composer and teacher working and living in London. Follow him on Twitter: @Steven_Berryman