Newbury Spring Festival: St Martin’s Church, East Woodhay - 24.05.19
I was driving to a Corsham Band rehearsal when I tuned into BBC Radio 3. I had already been asked to review SANSARA at this year’s NSF, so it was lovely to hear them perform live on the radio and my journey was all the more enjoyable for their music.
Last Saturday, the extra seating behind the pews at St Martin’s, East Woodhay, proved essential and without fuss the choir processed up the aisle, took their places, listened to the note given to them on the tuning pipes and launched into the most interesting potpourri of choral music I’ve heard in a long time.
From Benjamin Britten to Billy Joel, this young ensemble delighted us with the gentles of sounds one minute and in the blink of an eye, managed to sound like the brass section of the LSO. Each and every singer a soloist and yet the blend of voices together was perfectly balanced and even.
Artistic Director Tom Herring conducted the first half, which included Four Songs of Love by Sven-David Sandström and I noticed a few members of the audience had their eyes closed (all the better to enjoy the heavenly and perfect intonation) and what choral evening would be complete without some spine-tingling polyphony in the shape of Tallis’ wonderful tribute to the Virgin Mary, Ave Rosa sine spinis. I loved James MacMillan’s The Gallant Weaver, which showcased the upper voices and gently faded to just two soprano lines.
We had all seen My Funny Valentine in the programme notes, but Harry Baker’s arrangement absolutely knocked us sideways. Soloist Hilary Cronin set down the tune, but what followed was nothing short of a masterclass in vocal writing. Threads of melody were thrown from part to part, alternative harmonies abounded, leaving us in awe at the sheer technique and musicality of the choir.
Co-Artistic Director Ben Cunningham conducted the second half and Tom joined hi fellow singers. During the interval, I had spoken to several people who also thought they could hear organ accompaniment, but we eventually twigged that this was the orotund timbre of Piers Kennedy’s delicious bass tones which actually sounded like a 32-inch organ stop.
Britten’s Hymn to St Cecilia is a popular, but notoriously tricky piece, but SANSARA’s performance was exciting and perfect. The tender My love is like a red, red rose (arr Simon Carrington) was the ideal conclusion to this very special evening and we are all crossing our fingers that these dedicated and talented singers will return to our festival next year.