BBC Singers

CHRISTOPHER SMITH Norfolk and Norwich Festival event at Norwich Cathedral


Magnificent, sinewy, sacred music from the English Reformation was presented by the celebrated BBC Singers in the first part of their recital. The programme was all the better for including a fine work by Osbert Parsley, a long-serving member of the cathedral choir from those distant days.

Conducted with emphatic gestures by their Danish conductor, Bo Holten, the expert choristers approached the complex Latin works with impressive self confidence, singing out with full-throated vigour.

Turning away from the more restrained style, traditional in deeply religious settings, they produced a splendidly rich body of sound.

Next came the thrill of the premier of a new Festival commission. It was “The Monk Watches the Eagle”, a substantial cantata written and conducted by Keith Tippett. The basis was an intriguingly rhapsodic, if rather difficult, text of more than 650 words by Julie Tippetts. She also made a striking contribution in the important role of the rapt vocalist.

Switching to a difficult contemporary idiom with well-honed skill, the BBC Singers were a flexible chorus. At one point they also had to double as maracas players. But for the most part, the accompaniment was entrusted to a rhythmically pulsating band of no fewer than eight saxophones.

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About the originality of “The Monk” there could be no doubt. It gripped attention from start to finish, while developing its inspiration with variety and power.

It is good to know we shall be able to listen to it once more when Radio Three broadcasts a recording. But will it be long before the Festival puts on another live performance?