A splendid beginning

Andrew Clarke QC reviews the Bar Choral Society’s inaugural concert.

On 23 June, the Bar Choral Society (BSC) gave its inaugural concert in Temple Church. It is idle to speculate as to why it has taken the Bar so long to have a choir of its own.

Congratulations to Tim Dutton QC, the committee and the numerous supporters for getting the BSC off the ground and an inaugural concert arranged. The choir is making up for lost time: it was born not as an unsteady infant, but as an enthusiastic young adult, anxious to show its paces. From the opening Bach, to the encore from the pen of BSC president, John Rutter (present in the front row and clearly impressed), the choir provided splendid entertainment. Temple Church is a wonderful venue with a wonderful acoustic and the BSC did it justice (as a choir of lawyers should do).

The programme was a mixed one with an organ solo in the middle. In that solo, Roger Sayer demonstrated that his talents are not confined to providing careful and sensitive accompaniments (which he certainly did). A great organ, splendidly played, is wonderful to hear. The Mendelssohn Sonata is a demanding piece, with an ingenious double fugue. This was no mere interlude and the warm applause from choir and audience was richly deserved.

Soprano soloist, Grace Davidson, received a similar (and equally deserved) response to her contributions. Her careful diction and clear, bright tone was particularly suited to the excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, although she was in good voice right from her first entry. Her solo “I know that my redeemer liveth”, that firm and confident pronouncement of faith in the resurrection, was beautifully moving.

All four of the Messiah excerpts are familiar pieces, but she and the choir were well balanced and managed to make them sound fresh and alive. There is nothing more uplifting (for singers and listeners) than a powerful chorus. Handel’s “Worthy is the Lamb” provides a combination of three such choruses. Yet, in such pieces it is easy to get carried away, so that the texture becomes muddy and structure is abandoned in favour of sheer volume. This choir certainly showed power in their attack, but it was well controlled, the individual registers maintaining definition and achieving harmony. There was bite, vibrancy and no little panache, but there was also discipline and concentration. Above all there was obvious enjoyment. It all boded well for the larger scale works to follow in future concerts.

Contrasting emotions

Mendelssohn’s “Hear my prayer” has a close association with Temple Church. Ernest Lough, the famous boy soloist of “Oh, for the wings of a dove” was a Temple chorister. How fitting that the choir should have chosen it for this opening concert. How well they sang it. It came after Bach’s “Awake thy wintry earth” and two short Mozart pieces. By this time, the choir had relaxed a little; smiles could be readily detected. Soloist and choir combined to present the contrasting emotions of the piece. There is an ethereal quality in the music, with much drama and warmth to be conveyed and all were there. I shall not attempt a comparison with Mr Lough’s 1928 interpretation, it is enough that the 2014 version was worthy of the piece and of the place.

The choir was conducted by music director, Greg Morris. What every choir needs from its conductor is encouragement, imagination, sensible direction and a clear beat. He obviously provides all of those. It was also obvious that he has managed to establish a close rapport with the choir in a remarkably short period of time. They will surely go on to enjoy more successful concerts together.

When Otto Klemperer persuaded the legendary chorus master, Wilhelm Pitz, to create the Philharmonia Chorus for him, he demanded a disciplined, but hearty, choir whose sound was both dramatic and colourful. This first performance from the BCS was technically accomplished, but much more than that. It had drama and colour, it was emotional and gripping, above all it was enjoyable (and the choir clearly enjoyed it too). Klemperer, that sternest of task masters, would have congratulated Mr Morris. He would then have exhorted him to reach even greater heights with Vaughan Williams and Fauré on 18 November. I confidently look forward to applauding that achievement.

The choir’s rehearsal schedule is designed to suit the life of a busy barrister. For the next concert there are rehearsals from late September to November, all but one on a Monday in Temple Church at 6pm. I urge competent singers at the Bar (and family and friends) to give it a go and join in the fun. Further details are on the BCS web site: www.barchoralsociety.co.uk.

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Andrew Clarke QC

Andrew is a Silk in Littleton Chambers. He is widely regarded as a leading member of the employment Bar with a wide ranging practice.