Review: Durham University Choral Society’s ‘Rejoice’

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Elvet Methodist Church sets the scene for ’s sublime November 24th rendition of Rejoice. A powerful performance, the evocative ensemble is expertly led by veteran Conductor John Forsythe MBE. The performance, whose buoyant title is drawn from Benjamin Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, owes its inspiration to the enduring power of flowers.

Sensuous and rich, the incandescent choral music pulsates among the vaulted heights of the Church with a restorative energy and drive. A delicate use of lighting and shade provides an effervescent dynamism, underscoring the music, which swells and dies and then rises once more with a timeless resolution and grace. The concert is mesmerising. It is alive with transcendent power, purpose and beauty.

Brilliantly choreographed, the production moves effortlessly between grand, set-piece performances and subtler – yet nonetheless resonant – soloists. Particular highlights include Matthew Politz’ opening clarinet rendition, in which Politz provides nuanced and beautiful melodic embellishment, the improvised cadenzas underscoring each ornamental harmony. Also excellent is Soprano Anna Shanu Wilson’s brilliant repertoire, a shining example of true quality amidst a ubiquitously impressive cohort.

Returning to the central flower motif of the evening, the second half features Britten’s Flower Songs. Originally composed as a Silver Wedding anniversary present for Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, a pair of avid botanists, the floral theme is particularly fitting. This transportive quintet features moments of expressive poetry and rich, cyclical music, deftly balancing a sense of fun with a more solemn meditation on the passage of time with the changing of the seasons. 

The shifting aural landscape moves, with the passion and mutability of a gushing spring, through imagery of flowers undergoing their swift demise and opulent blossoming – from the stark, to the sublime. Central is the pure and innocent resplendence of nature. This theme, carried successfully throughout the piece, lifts it towards new and expressive poetic heights. As the first frosts of winter gather outside, and biting winds move about the Church, the joy present among the audience members is quite stirring. There is a pervasive sense, as the audience delivers successive rounds of applause, that this is a night that certainly has a lot to be proud of.

The will continue to perform regularly in Durham and the surrounding area. There are upcoming performances at the Durham Christian Union Carol Service at Durham Cathedral (27/11/23), Bruckner’s Great Mass at the Glasshouse, Newcastle (02/02/24) and the Easter Concert with Durham University’s Orchestral Society at Durham Cathedral (14/06/24).

Image credit: James Gordon via Durham Choral Society

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