Review: The Bar Choral Society

A high octane achievement

Philip Bartle reviews the most recent concert of the Bar Choral Society

The fourth concert of the Bar Choral Society was performed on 16 November 2015. Since the first concert in June 2014, the Society’s concerts have become an essential part of the musical calendar. As with all previous concerts, the fourth was performed in the Temple Church, which is the cultural heart of the Bar.

The Society is exceptionally successful because it provides a wonderful opportunity for many barristers to display their considerable vocal skills when they may be unable to be part of another choir because of their demanding professional commitments. It is astonishing that no-one thought of setting up such a choir until Tim Dutton QC got together with Robin Griffith-Jones, the Master of the Temple, and Greg Morris to create the Society, which is now a registered charity run by a board of trustees drawn from all sections of the Bar, together with a team of helpers.

Greg Morris, the Society’s conductor, has created a truly exceptional choir. It is dramatic and powerful with impressive enunciation and, most importantly, a wonderful sound. In this concert, they rose magnificently to the challenges of singing Handel, Monteverdi, Vivaldi and Bach. The three exceptional soloists were Grace Davidson (soprano), David Allsopp (counter tenor) and Rachel Ambrose Evans (soprano). Like all the Society’s events, this was a well-planned and wonderfully balanced concert.

The concert took place a few days after the massacre in Paris when 130 people were killed and many more were seriously injured. In memory of the victims, Grace Davidson sang God Be In My Head (the text was first published in the late sixteenth century Sarum Primer) composed by Sir Henry Walford-Davies. This would be an emotional piece at any time but, on this occasion, it was very moving.

The concert proper began with two pieces from Handel’s Samson, first performed after his great success with the Messiah. Grace Davidson, superbly accompanied by Russell Gilmour on trumpet, was entrancing in Let the Bright Seraphim. In Let their celestial concerts all unite, the choir sang with great passion and enthusiasm.

The centrepiece was Vivaldi’s Gloria. This very famous piece is almost operatic in its style and the choir and soloists conveyed its remarkable drama and excitement. We were on the edge of our seats from the choir’s urgent powerful opening Gloria in excelsis Deo (Glory to God in the Highest) to their intensely moving Cum Sancto Spiritu (with Holy Spirit). A high-octane achievement from all concerned.

For Ave Maris Stella (Hail Star of the Sea) from Monteverdi’s ground breaking 1610 Vespers, the choir sang from the Round Church while the audience remained in their places. The combination of disembodied voices and the vast space of the Round Church made the music hauntingly ethereal.

The orchestra for the concert was the Temple Players led with great commitment by Persephone Gibbs. Throughout, they played magnificently but they shone in Winter from Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. Their playing was thrilling and Ms Gibbs’ solo playing was as good as any I have heard in this very familiar piece.

A final comment about the programme. In addition to very informative notes about the music and the soloists, there are fascinating pieces by a handful of the choir explaining the part that music has played in their lives and why they became involved in the Society. They are a compelling read.

I look forward with great anticipation to the Society’s fifth concert on 16 May 2016.

Contributor Philip Bartle

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HH Judge Phillip Bartle QC

Philip Bartle has been a Circuit Judge since July 2012 sitting at Luton Crown Court. He was a barrister for 36 years specialising in professional negligence and practised from Littleton Chambers.