Lyme Bay Chorale spreads joy with Christmas concert

Lyme Bay Chorale and guest professional musicians entertain in St Michael’s Parish Church for their annual Christmas concert (photo by Andrew Blackmore)

Concert review by Richard Godfrey

LAST Sunday afternoon a capacity audience in St Michael’s Church was treated to a magnificent feast of joyful music, directed by Alex Davies.

Lyme Bay Chorale (LBC) were on top form, singing with precision, perfect tuning and obvious enjoyment of great music. They were joined by professional guests to provide a small but very effective orchestra of strings, woodwind and continuo.

Timpani and trumpets behind the choir added terrific excitement, and almost ear-splitting volume at times!

The undoubted star of the show was Philippa Hyde, one of LBC’s distinguished patrons. Her beautiful voice was heard in solos throughout the first half of the concert, and she also generously joined with the full chorus during the Hadyn Mass in the second half. Each of her solos demonstrated outstanding musicality coupled with apparently effortless technique.

Her performance of the seldom-heard Handel aria ‘Haec est Regina Virginum’ was especially memorable – a lovely gentle lilting piece reminiscent of the ‘Water Music’, accompanied by strings and tastefully played organ continuo. The three major works in the concerts shared a joyful theme.

First was Handel’s cantata ‘Laudate Pueri Dominum’ (‘Praise the Lord ye servants’), based on Psalm 112 and written when the composer was only 22 during his highly productive time in Rome. This was a perfect piece to show off the choir, with some splendid choruses interspersed with soprano solos containing imitative exchanges between voice and instruments.

Then came J.S. Bach’s glorious celebration of the Nativity – the first chorus of the first part of his Christmas Oratorio, ‘Jauchzet, Frohlocket’ (‘Shout for Joy, exult’). Starting with three great bangs on the timpani, this is a movement of uninterrupted joy.

Alex Davies set a fine fast tempo and the choir responded magnificently. I do hope that LBC will include more of this superb oratorio in a future Christmas concert.

After the interval, Haydn’s ‘Heiligmesse’ was an excellent and ambitious choice. The six movements gave prominence to some fine singing by the visiting soloists (Kate Barnes, Rachel Bennett, Paul Tindall, David Fouracre and Julian Sutton). There were also some moving and quieter moments for the choir to show they could sing at less than the exuberant volume of most the concert!

Almost at the end there was a particularly good example with the Latin word ‘pacem’ (peace): here Alex skillfully brought choir and orchestra down to pianissimo, before a final outburst of joy.

It is always difficult when reporting a fine concert to single out particular participants, but I must mention the two Axminster Peters (Parshall and Lea-Cox), who provided impeccable backing from chamber organ and electronic harpsichord.

I’d also like to mention a certain eight-year-old closely related to Alex and Alison Davies – their daughter, Cecilia – who sang in the front row with energy, obvious musicianship, and excitement. With such young talent coming along, the future is bright.

Woodmead Halls

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