Plenty of Vigour and Panache

MIKE WHEELER reacts to music by Holst, Andrew Carter, Moses Hogan and John Rutter


Derby Choral Union and conductor Paul Provost were joined by mezzo-soprano Rosemary Braddy and Central England Camerata for their latest concert - Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 27 April 2024.

The opening nod to Holst's 150th anniversary, Brook Green Suite, came as a very pleasant surprise, since it was not mentioned in the advance publicity. Central England Camerata's fresh, unaffected performance made the music dance where appropriate, and while the last of the three movements could have been a little more rumbustious, nevertheless it skipped along nicely.

Poster for Derby Choral Union's 'Feel the Spirit' concert
Poster for Derby Choral Union's
Feel the Spirit concert

Andrew Carter has tended to be overshadowed by John Rutter, Bob Chilcott and others writing in a similar style, but his generous-spirited inventiveness and vitality deserve equal recognition.

While there are undeniable echoes of other composers in his Benedicite - some Waltonesque harmonies in the second movement, 'Green Things'; touches of Holst in the almost mystical calm of the third movement, 'Sun and Moon'; and, at one point, some Finzi-ish string writing - they are merely fleeting, and never mask Carter's own voice.

The work thrives on contrasts, and with the opening extended choral-orchestral fanfare, 'O all ye works of the Lord' getting the performance off to a bold, confident start, the singers took them all in their stride, from the towering climaxes of 'Ice and Snow' to the stillness of 'Spirits and Souls'.

The canticle's text, calling on creation to praise the Lord, is augmented, presumably by Carter himself, with three movements, sung by a children's choir, extending the invitation to a whole carnival of creatures that the author(s) of the original somehow managed to overlook - 'Badgers and Hedgehogs' (not to mention squirrels, ferrets, foxes, etc), 'Butterflies and Moths', and - a nice touch, this - some obviously young-at-heart 'Grannies and Grandads'. The school choirs from Derby Cathedral's Music in Schools programme clearly had fun with them all.

And let's not overlook Carter's orchestral skills, including the glittery writing in 'Ice and Snow', and some oceanic effects in 'Whales and Waters', with slow string slides that are, perhaps, intended to evoke whale songs.

The second half focused on spirituals, beginning with American composer Moses Hogan's fizzing unaccompanied 'The Battle of Jericho', whose inventive exuberance prompted a vivid response from the choir.

John Rutter's sequence of arrangements, Feel the Spirit, begins with a version of the same spiritual, which felt rather tame after Hogan's version. 'Steal away', with its occasional Delius-like touches, brought emotional warmth from Rosemary Braddy. The cakewalk-style 'I got a robe' went with a swing, before the sequence's emotional heart, 'Sometimes I feel like a motherless child', opening with the mezzo soloist unaccompanied - an effective touch - and, later, a plangent cor anglais solo. This was the stand-out movement, no question.

Rosemary Braddy
Rosemary Braddy

'Ev'ry time I feel the spirit' is a medley of four different spirituals, in which Rutter's imitation of New Orleans jazz had at least one young child in the audience playing air percussion. In 'Deep river', the orchestra quotes 'Swing low, sweet chariot'; all the more effective for not being unduly spotlit. But as with 'Steal Away', it was hard to put Tippett's arrangement, in A Child of Our Time, out of mind. We were, perhaps inevitably, back in New Orleans for the final celebratory 'When the saints go marching in', given plenty of vigour and panache.

Copyright © 7 May 2024 Mike Wheeler,
Derby UK



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