The Organ

Choir of King's College, Cambridge, Snape Maltings

Choir of King's College, Cambridge; Stephen Cleobury. Snape Maltings
August 30th

Sports reporters often refer to 'home advantage', and the visit of the choir of King's College, Cambridge to Snape as part of the consistently enterprising summer Snape Proms series naturally prompted a question: how well would these celebrated singers fare out of their usual spacious acoustic milieu with its soaring stone vault? As it turned out, some of the gloss did seem to have been stripped off the sound, just as the trebles appeared less angelic (and more varied in physique) without their surplices. The basses, though powerful when necessary, did not have a great deal of richness of tone, and Stephen Cleobury would not perhaps have conducted so energetically in chapel.

The first half of the programme was devoted to anthems from the age of Byrd. Fine as they are, nine of them was quite a lot, even with two brief organ solos for variety. Though Gibbons' Hosanna to the Son rang out quite well, it was Tomkins' When David Heard that made the deepest impression. Here was a quite direct expression of emotions that all could understand and share. The boys in particular responded with extra urgency as the music rose to insist on sorrowful questions to which no answer could be given that would console.

When the second half of the programme began it was startling to hear the opening of Britten's St Cecilia when funeral music by Purcell was indicated in the programme. It did come later, but alterations in the running order are disconcerting to people who take their music seriously and think about what they are told to expect next. It was surprising that performers accustomed to the fixed patterns of church services should be slack about needless changes.

In St Cecilia the passages where Auden was at his simplest and repeated a refrain came across best. Responses elsewhere might have been more positive if copies of the words had been provided. A similar point might be made about Britten's Five Flower Songs. The text is dense and not altogether easy to understand, the setting is quick and complex, and though the singers tried hard, much detail was lost. Britten, however, was naturally well received on his home ground, and the audience also made it clear how welcome King's College choir was in Suffolk.