BBC Proms Season 2016 ~ PROM 3 – 4*’s

Last night the infamous choir of King’s College, Cambridge took to the BBC Proms stage in an evening of ‘choral classics’. All 6 basses, 4 tenors, 4 countertenors and a whopping 17 trebles sang in Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and two famous Fauré works.

But the evening started in the hands of a very sparkly Lucy Crowe who sang very professionally in Mozart’s ‘Exsultate, jubilate’. I suspect this was indeed chosen as a crowd pleaser, although it seemed that Lucy knew the piece pretty well. Her second cadenza stood out for me as what she was capable of, showcasing her immense control over the quiet, high register. Her vibrato for the most part was a little too much (the same can be said for her trills), but in this cadenza she pulled it back and created the most pure, indulgent sound. Fabulous.

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Soprano Lucy Crowe

The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment are one of my favourite orchestras because of their attention to detail and feeling they put into every performance without fail-last night was not an exception. Pretty much all the players were engaged with each other, constantly looking round and smiling. Although they seemed to completely ignore choral conductor ‘royalty’ Stephen Cleobury… it’s up to you to decide why!

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With the Haydn, I had expected it to be the start of the engine; if you like the first firework set off, but in a way it was slightly disappointing. So often in choral music we look for volume, and in a way it means that sometimes quantity is put over quality. Of course it should never be this way, but the reality is that the King’s College choir are not used to singing full pelt, and we could tell.

I am so lucky to sing in such great choirs. In both the two choirs I’m in the trebles are switched on (most of the time..), have depth in their voices, can lead others and work as a team, and read music. Although the trebles of King’s are obvious fantastic musicians, shown as they sat through the first piece nodding their heads, it was clear from the very first Kyrie that they were lacking some energy, some fizz, some volume. This was especially clear in the higher register where most trebles would relish, these trebles sounded weak and very strained. I found the tenors of the choir a bit disappointing, although it was clear they had very mature voices and preferred to stay contained, something I rarely seek. Perhaps they could have done with a former Trinity Musician of the Year?.. I know, I’m sorry… The 6 basses, as you could imagine were ferocious, although still within the limits of their choir’s dynamic ranges, which slightly disappointed me.

That brings me to the only other section left, the MIGHTY altos! Although contained (still..) this sensational section managed to sing with conviction and with pureness throughout all the pieces, but above all in the Fauré Requiem.

The soloists were average except for our Man of the Match (MOTM) for Prom 3: RODERICK WILLIAMS who had fantastic stage presence and finesse in every part of his voice. As a baritone it was clear that he relished the upper register, but his bass notes were equally as admirable. He returns again in the Requiem..

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Look at that POWER!

In the all Fauré second half, the Pavane was enjoyable but a bit of an average choice of music for an average seven minutes. It wasn’t a choral version as printed in the programme. Tut tut tut.

If I have ever complained about the choir under-singing (which I think I have?), it was a happy mistake as it worked absolute wonders in the Cantique de Jean Racine. With every single singer having complete control over their voices, Mr Cleobury could bring the choir right down to almost nothing, and the effects were incredible! Such sensitive singing, with the altos again winning the prize for the top quality singing. I loved the muted strings which gave it a really fabulous atmosphere.

The highlight of the evening was always going to be the Requiem. As such a fantastic piece, it’s difficult to not love it, and now King’s choir had found their style, they could really sit back and let their professionalism and experience carry them through what was, to be honest, 36 minutes of delightful singing.

I found the Agnus Dei tenor soli  a little disappointing, but they made it up with the help of mighty altos in the Offertorium. The beginning chords in the orchestra weren’t together and were a bit feeble, which is the last thing this piece should be. The amazingly written key change with the held ‘Lux’ in the trebles is usually a very hairs-on-the-back-of-the-neck moment, but with the lack of support from the trebles it didn’t quite work which was a shame.

The treble solo in ‘Pie Jesu’ in front of the Albert Hall must have been the most intense moment of the young boy’s life but in all honesty he performed well. It was a shame he saved all his excitement until after he sang, because his performance would have been transformed with some passion. This is something he could have learned from the tank that is Roderick, who striked again in two solos that were just glorious.

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To conclude, I know it may sound like there was a lot wrong with last night but at the end of the day that’s only because the rest of the evening was incredible and that’s not much fun to write about! The choir, like I say, was clearly used to more luscious intimate singing with their fantastic acoustics at home. Away, however, they bought that special feeling of really sensitive singing, which made for a very, very interesting concert.

Although the first half may have been slightly disappointing for the King’s choir and the soloists perhaps a bit disengaged, the second half felt exclusive and lush. A well deserved four stars.

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