On a warm evening in July, The Renaissance Choir under their conductor, Peter Gambie, was back at The Church of The Holy Spirit, Southsea with a programme formed about Protest against oppression. ‘Its concept was to explore how protest against political or religious oppression has been used by musicians and composers over the years, beginning with the Reformation.’ (P.G.)
The audience member from Ukraine was moved with the opening item, ‘A Prayer for Ukraine’, sang from behind the audience. The choir then processed through the audience singing ‘Sumer is icumen in’ from 13th century.
Pieces by Dowland, Sheppard and Dering made the most of the excellent acoustics with beautifully sustained tone, but, at the same time, carefully emphasising the meaning of the pieces.
In stark contrast, The Monington Duo, Karen Kingsley, piano and Rob Blanken, clarinet played two lively movements from Hindemith’s 1939 Sonata.
Taverner and Philips, with texts on Easter and Christmas, gave us word-painting in musical terms with good attack and precision.
The Lamentations of Jeremiah, set by Robert White, was performed with variety of musical expression, including lovely legato tone and dynamics which matched the text perfectly. A passionate protest piece by William Byrd provided a suitably moving and strong ending to the first half of the concert.
After the interval, the choir sang a favourite of theirs, the five-part motet by William Byrd, ‘Ne irascaris Domine’ (Be not angry, O Lord) from Isaiah 64. They were more spread out for this masterpiece and produced waves of gorgeous sound, which ebbed and flowed, until the final words of protest, expressing Byrd’s sorrow in the words, ‘Jerusalem desolata est’ (Jerusalem has been made desolate).
“Feel the Spirit”, a suite of seven spirituals arranged by John Rutter was accompanied by Karen Kingsley and Rob Blanken, with occasional percussion from Tim Boxall. It began with a lively rendition of ‘Joshua fit the battle of Jericho’ which was followed by a moving performance of ‘Steal Away’ by mezzo-soprano, Melissa Wingfield, a talented choir member, with Rob Blanken providing a beautiful clarinet obbligato.
‘I Got a Robe’ preceded ‘Sometimes I feel like a motherless child’, which was sung with feeling by the soloist, showing her lovely lower register to advantage. The choir sang with quiet restraint, especially the men, who used the helpful acoustic to moving effect and Karen and Rob added skilfully to the hushed atmosphere.
The drum kit came into its own in ‘Ev’ry time I feel the spirit’, a rhythmical and uplifting arrangement. Another choir member, Andrew Dickinson, was the effective bass soloist in ‘Deep river’ which showed off his range in the final section.
The suite concluded with, ‘When the saints go marching in’, which provided a lively finish, clearly enjoyed by choir members, showing their versatility. Particularly effective was the final section, which, with a well-timed change of key, gave a rousing ending to an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening.