Alan Adler Memorial Concert

The first half of this year’s Alan Adler Memorial concert on Tuesday offered almost a surfeit of musical pleasures – all choral, and involving six different choirs. Mendelssohn dominated. ‘Hear my Prayer’ set the tone wonderfully: Jasmine Coomber sang the gently pleading opening with great delicacy, accompanied by Richard Brasier on the chamber organ; in the second section, Sehee Lim lent drama to the interchanges between soloist and choir (the wonderfully unanimous Sennocke Consort); while Julia Morris’s lovely soprano wafted us successfully heavenward in the final ‘O for the Wings of a Dove.’

Later, we had the Chamber Choir’s beautifully smooth rendering of ‘How Lovely are the Messengers’ from Mendelssohn’s St Paul, again directed by Christopher Dyer; and the motet ‘Veni Domine’ performed by the Senior Girls’ Choir directed by Mercè Villanueva Molas. This was again accompanied on the organ, and sung with admirable precision and variety of expression. 

Karl Jenkins’ Adiemus first took us away from Mendelssohn. The huge (I counted 112) Year 7 Choir, again directed by Christopher Dyer, filled the hall with the throbbing all-embracing rhythms of Jenkins’ score in a sort of irresistible surround-sound enriched by drums, recorders, piano, and six colourful dancers. Three traditional African songs and ‘He Lives in You’ from The Lion King followed, all performed by the Gospel Choir and Lower School Singers directed by the positively corybantic Fiona Bolton. Guitar, drums (especially drums), syncopated clapping and general rhythmic gusto carried us away. 

In a gentler vein, the Chamber Choir gave us a delicate performance of Laura Farnell’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s haunting ‘Remember Me,’ and the Senior Girls’ Choir movingly explored the sometimes unexpected harmonies and characteristic melodic sinuosity of Fauré’s ‘Ave Verum Corpus’ to the accompaniment of the gently bubbling chamber organ.

The first half closed with a darkly gleaming gem: Carissimi’s Plorate filii Israel, again given by the Sennocke Consort under Christopher Dyer. The thirty-strong choir was now enriched by string orchestra and organ, to wonderfully stately effect.

Part Two was Haydn – in all his variety – performed by the impressive forces of the Choral Society and Parents’ Choir with orchestra and organ, all directed by Christopher Dyer. Blast-off was ‘The Heavens are Telling’ in an electrifying performance. Nathaniel Robinson, Pippa Stevens, and Roger Woodward provided the very expressive solos. Sofia Clini’s pure tones in the beautiful Benedictus from The Little Organ Mass provided a complete contrast, cleansing our palates before the strikingly characterised drama of ‘Insanae et Vanae Curae’. Here, a stern and furious opening led on to a serene second section; the third part was even more furious, with added trombones and trumpets, before we returned to serenity at the close.

Next, Tabitha Steemson gave ‘She Never Told her Love’, a very assured performance of a lovely and all too brief setting of words from Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night. This led us back to the more familiar territory of ‘The Creation’, and one of its most irresistible melodies: ‘With Verdure Clad’. Jasmine Cheng’s expressive vibrato negotiated the almost operatically ornamented phrases with beautiful poise and clarity.

The concert concluded with Haydn’s Te Deum in C major. Timpani and trumpets were much in evidence in a vigorous performance whose onward drive never faltered. The striking contrasts of the piece were well characterised: from the spooky minor of the central section to the glorious brightness of the final fugue, which ended the concert on a very appropriate note of triumph.

Paul Harrison

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