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Chorus hits spiritual high

THE American poet Robert Frost said: "Freedom lies in being bold". The programme of Herts Chorus' latest prestigious booking at London's Barbican Hall was suffused with such a sentiment and the performances coursed with a similar release.

Sir Michael Tippett's Five Negro Spirituals was inspired by Kristalnacht, the Nazis' night of murder and destruction in Poland at the start of World War Two. He used spirituals the music of negro slaves as a direct appeal for justice and freedom.

Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms represented a period of freedom for the West Side Story composer, who took a year out from his high profile life to rediscover his composing skills with it.

George Gershwin's Porgy and Bess, considered the first American Opera, concerns escapes to freedom from poverty, abusive relationships and prison among the poor black community in 1920s South Carolina.

Odd as it might appear to have these white, middle class composers writing work steeped in the troubled history of African Americans, it may be more anomolous to have the Herts Chorus interpret them.

However, in collaboration with the Aurelian Symphony Orchestra and four excellent guest soloists, the large choir are superb and seemingly having the time of their lives.

The entire evening is a delight, in turns affecting and exultant.

Tippett's spirituals feature some breathtaking accompaniment from the orchestra with string sections that sound borne on the air.

The soloists soprano Maureen Braithwaite, mezzo soprano Hyacinth Nicholls, tenor Bernard Abervandana and bass Rodney Clarke at first seem to struggle to define their sound above the chorus but singing as one it is an inspiring sound.

Bernstein's psalms are driven by the composer's trademark heavily syncopated timpani rhythm and are exhilarating.

There are also moments of great tranquility, with a harp-accompanied sequence particularly beautiful. The animated, magnetic conductor David Temple paces everything superbly.

Psalm 23 features the wondrous voice of young treble Daniel Marx. It is a marvel to witness such a soaring perfect sound coming out of someone so young and slight. He got a well deserved ovation and a pat on the back from Temple.

After the interval the concert version of Porgy and Bess showcases the talents of the soloists. Braithwaite has a voice to match her dazzling smile.

The soprano, who has performed in the opera previously with the Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra, began with a vaulting performance of summertime.

Best of all was her interplay with rich baritone Clarke on I Loves You, Porgy. It's a celebratory song and everyone on stage seemed caught up in the emotion and the Barbican audience was rapt.

Clarke and Braithwaite were obviously enjoying themselves and embraced in character as the song ended.

It was enough to bring a tear to the eye.

Abervandana had seemed swallowed up by the chorus' accompaniment during the spirituals but performing It Ain't Necessarily So and There's A Boat Dat's Leavin' Soon For New York he comes into his own.

Nicholls brings a lilting, playful quality to her solos in Overflow and Leavin' For The Promised Land.

The chorus boost Clarke for a rousing send-off on Oh Lawd, I'm On My Way.

The performers left the stage to thunderous applause and it was well deserved. The evening seemed a joyous release for everyone involved.

This was one of the most involving nights of classical music I have ever attenbded and I await with eagerness the next performance by the chorus.

10:38am Thursday 1st June 2006

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