The Gift of Life

Date: Saturday 18th March
Venue: Ely Cathedral, Presbytery
Programme: The Gift of Life
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd, Piano & Organ ~ Ralph Woodward, Piano ~ Christopher Moore, Harp ~ Rohan Platts, Percussion ~ Roger Bett

Resplendent with the gold background, this splendid choir sang beautifully, giving us a tasteful selection of varied pieces that reflected the fragility and joy of life.

There were compositions by historically well-known composers such as Hubert Parry, and Johannes Brahams and more recent composers including David Brunner, Debra Scroggins, Sir James MacMillan and our own, local, John Rutter.

The opening piece, ‘High Flight’ by David Brunner, captured the thrill of flying high, spiralling in the heavens as if touching the divine. The accompanist Ralph Woodward proved his worth by playing magnificently as he stood in for Anne Reece who was unavoidably detained by Covid-19.

‘A Dream within a dream’ by Debra Scroggins explored the dream-like nature of life. The choir sang unaccompanied with clear, pure tone, moving softly and gently through the beautiful phrases of this American composer.

Two pieces that were played at the funeral of the Queen Elizabeth II were an apt addition to the programme. They included Sir Huber Parry’s ‘My soul, there is a country’ and Sir James MacMillan’s ‘Who shall separate us’. Parry’s work was infused with ardent fervour as the nature of life was contemplated. It contained moving climaxes especially noticeable when emphasising ‘None can be secure.’ MacMillan’s work reached regal choral heights as choir and composer developed music that reflected the deep religious devotion and good works of the Queen.

The well-known ‘Den alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras’ (‘For all flesh is as grass’) by Johannes Brahms took us into the depth and darkness of a rich funeral march. Singers and instrumentalists sustained the long, absorbed phrases of Brahms to the full with the opening, especially, creating a sense of foreboding before death. The timpani played by Roger Bett, were especially effective in this work.

After interval, the evening ended with John Rutter’s ‘Gift of Life’. The six movements of this fine work demonstrated Rutter’s very attractive style perfectly. When the opening notes were played by the instrumentalists we were tempted to open up in song – a temptation taken up by the singers admirably. Their skill, smooth tone and sincere involvement in the singing emphasized how approachable and attractive Rutter’s melodies were. Singers and instrumentalists with their knowledgeable performance added colour and interest to the words and harmonies, giving refreshing light at the ends of phrases and revelling in the sense of awe and joy emanating from the exquisiteness of the writing.

The instrumentalists who helped make this evening such a success were Christopher Moore (piano), Ralph Woodward (piano and organ), Rohan Platts (harp), and Roger Bett (timpanists and percussionist). Martin Kenward gave an impressive solo in ‘Believe in Life’.

This was indeed a wonderful concert, all made possible by the encouraging and inspiring conducting by the director, Matthew Rudd. Ely Consort’s next concert to attend is ‘A Summer Celebration’ on Saturday June 24 at St. Mary’s Church, Burwell.

Review: Rosemary Westwell

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