Exeter University Singers: Concert For Remembrance

by Matt Hacke

I dropped into the Remembrance Concert by the Exeter University Singers on Friday, because for as long as I can remember, each year I’ve attended some sort of choral tribute to Armistice Day. Whilst last year, I went to see a highly poignant rendition of Faure’s Requiem in the Cathedral, memorable for the juxtaposed sobriety of the main Requiem motif with the majesty of the Gothic architecture, this concert was a more reflective affair. Midday, quiet, with light streaming in through the windows of the whitewashed interior of the Mary Harris Chapel. Nevertheless, in drawing this comparison, I don’t mean to make any sort of qualitative statement, as, like the Faure, the Concert for Remembrance was affecting, and of course, extremely well sung.

The repertoire was focused via a selection of Charles’ Parry’s Songs Of Farewell, a cycle written in the immediate aftermath to World War I which unsurprisingly makes them extremely pertinent this time of year. The opening movement was extremely well rendered, and whilst at some points the Tenor line (which was the smallest person-to-person in the choir) was obscured, the Singers deserve credit for maintaining impetus and colour throughout, especially in a middle section which I would imagine could be prone to dragging. Antithetical somewhat to the more unified phonics of the Parry, a rendition of Palestrina (the man who essentially gave his own name to tumbling polyphony) that followed was, equally tight, demonstrating the groups’ versatility and a clear synchronicity between the different parts.

Biased as I am towards Elgar (his Cello Concerto in E Minor is probably my favourite classical piece of all time) I couldn’t help but see his two works, which came in the middle of the performance as highlights. Notably in the first, the contrapuntal, percussive ATB lines worked brilliantly, again constituting a great contrast to the previous numbers. Elsewhere, the Bruckner, which followed was similarly well-executed. By far the most rousing piece in the Concert, the fortissimos worked the acoustics of the Chapel well - especially in the piercing discord of the super onem.

Two pieces by Parry concluded the recital, the second of which was particularly memorable, defined by a strong Tenor thrust in the last section, which lead to a sepulchral and still final lyric; “eternal sleep.” I expected a strong performance from the Singers and its fair to say they delivered, and the remembrance concert was a definite success. If you want to check them out in the future, they will be performing nearer to Christmas, so keep your eyes here for updates as they come.