EASTBOURNE’S MOST ORIGINAL CHORAL CONCERT YET?

  ROBIN GREGORY reviews Eastbourne Choral Society’s ambitious programme at All Saints

On Saturday June 26th the Eastbourne Choral Society, Ocklynge School Choir, Ratton Cultural and Dance Choir, Academy Voices, members of East Sussex Bach Choir and the Call me Al Jazz Quintet presented a programme of music by various composers, of whom two were actually present. Conductor and baritone John Hancorn kept everyone in order, ably assisted by conductors Katy Wood and Jenny Johnstone.

The entire evening had a refreshing originality.  Much was African-inspired, some took its inspiration from Sussex;  all of it showed a deep dedication not only from the adult performers but also from the many young children involved.  Those who glibly criticise modern education would have been silenced by the musicality and excitement of what resulted.

Bob Chilcott’s Little Jazz Mass was receiving its second performance in All Saints Church within a few months.  This modern take on the Missa Brevis found Eastbourne Choral Society under John Hancorn giving a gentler performance than that by Hailsham Choral, but the music is so compelling that it succeeds in many interpretations. 

The youngsters of Ratton (nine girls, a boy and a drummer) gave spirited performances of two African songs, ably fitting rhythmic movement to their singing.  This music contrasted with three songs by Tony Biggin, which brought some fine singing by John Hancorn, accompanied by that utterly reliable pianist Mark Smith.  Dr Biggin is Sussex-based, and is perhaps best-known for two choral works, The Gates of Greenham, and Cry of the Earth, and these delicate settings of his own words revealed Biggin to be a master of composing for the voice. Of Time Long Ago was Brittenesque; Downland Flowers was  thoroughly personal.  The composer enjoyed a deserved ovation.

Alexander L’Estrange  is singer, composer and pianist. His arrangement of folksong O Waly, Waly for his jazz quintet breathed new life into an old favourite, with fine alto sax work by Julian Landymore.  It seemed to inspire Ocklynge School Choir (which needs more boys) to display remarkable command of the tricky rhythms and leaping phrases of The Smile Behind the Eyes, by Brenda Rattray, black composer, poet, artist and vocalist.

The second half was dedicated to L’Estrange’s Zimbe. The composer mounted the podium to introduce his cantata of African Music written for adult chorus, children’s choir and jazz quintet. The first performance was given in Dorking as recently as November 2008, and Hancorn kept the reins tight while allowing that occasional spontaneity which the music demands. The young children, some only seven years of age, were remarkably integrated into the massive forces on show:  a credit to their teaching staff and parents.  In the best sense, Ghana, Zimbabwe and South Africa were brought into Eastbourne,  and the work was given a standing ovation.  If there was one regret it was that I could spot not one black singer or listener.  Does that say anything about Eastbourne?  I don’t know.

 

 

 

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