BERNSTEIN, JANACEK, PANUFNIK
Writtle Singers in Chelmsford Cathedral
Ancient texts, modern choral settings, though only one of the composers is still living.
She is Roxanna Panufnik, whose exquisite Westminster Mass brought the programme to a close. The extended chromatic harmonies of the Gloria, the rapid Hosannas of the Sanctus, the crescendo repetitions of the Agnus Dei, and the final peaceful resolution, all superbly realised by the Writtle Singers, made this a deeply moving experience on the eve of Holy Week. Alison Connolly was a fine soprano soloist for the Deus Meus. This was the Clifton Cathedral version, with organ [James Norrey], harp [Satu Salo] and wonderfully evocative bells [Katy Elman].
The other commission was Bernstein's much-loved Chichester Psalms. More percussion here, with a startling cymbal crash in the first bar. The powerful drums, and the mighty organ part, would have been better matched by a more unbuttoned choral approach, though I can understand why the singers would want to keep their eyes on the score or the conductor. No such concerns in the gorgeous second part, where Oliver El-Holiby's alto filled the cathedral with Bernstein's melodic line.
Christine Gwynne's challenging programme also included the unforced sincerity of Janacek's setting of the Lord's Prayer [sung in Czech], with its bold Amen, and a chance for James Norrey to put the West End organ through its paces, with Petr Eben's thrillingly martial Moto Ostinato.