A warmly attentive audience fell silent as Rock Festival Choir appeared in groups around the nave and a drumbeat announced Margaret Watchorn’s rhythmic arrangement of a thirteenth century hymn, which filled the church with surround sound and introduced us afresh to the members of this now well-known, dedicated and gifted choir under its director Peter Brown. The singers gradually converged onto the altar steps, where the mood was changed entirely with Peter Hignett’s pensive, hymn-like ‘The God we seek’ and Judith Weir’s ’I love all beauteous things’, cathedral music, first performed for the Queen’s ninetieth birthday, coming across well in St Paul’s acoustic with the choir’s enormous range of tone, from the softest pp to a soaring full sound, amazing coming from just eighteen singers!
The third composition by a member of the choir was Cheryl Camm’s ‘That first Christmas night’, with its narrative and varied line supported by a gentle humming motif. The line up of composers was firmly set in the modern age but with strong mediaeval echoes. The choir delighted our ears in the next three unaccompanied works with characteristic control and focus, and ever more luscious and varied sounds to transport us far away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
William Mathias’s ‘Bell Carol’ led us, gently at first, into a lively joyous mood of celebration, before Alan Gidney’s organ interlude, ‘Let us rejoice’, demonstrated that the organ can sing with just as many voices as the choir! Such a mid concert break from the singing is so much better for this particular concert than an interval, as the atmosphere is not broken but carried through. The choir picked up the theme from the side with the syncopated rhythmic ‘Rejoice’, highlighting different groups in the choir, before returning to the steps for the absolute simplicity of the haunting confessional carol ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’, followed by choral works culminating in the well known carol ‘Ding dong merrily on high’, recognisable but reworked into a jazzy number full of life and vigour. The organ had the last word with a lively full stop flourish.