The Kings Consort and Choir

Norwich unlike almost every medium sized German town or city has yet to muster the resources for a proper dedicated concert hall. Such a project has been mooted many times over the years, but we have to enjoy our concert events in venues that offer a number of compromises as well as being in demand for many other uses. perhaps this is why Norwich has yet to really grasp the concert-going habit. On the evidence of Sunday evening this is a great shame.

The Theatre Royal is stepping up its programme of classical music concerts, and brought us a rare gem in the form of the Kings Consort, along with their choir, to present an evening called Odes to St Cecilia. She has become the saint of music, and indeed is even credited in some quarters with the invention of the organ, although little evidence supports this claim.

We were treated to three works from diverse composers, Handel, Britten and Purcell. First up was Henry Purcell’s “Welcome to all the pleasure: An Ode for St Cecilia’s Day” from 1683. This delightful and complex piece featured solos from Soprano Julia Doyle, Tenor Joshua Ellicot and the remarkable Countertenor voice of Robin Blaze. The work features a text from a long lost author offering praise to St Cecilia ‘with lute and voice’,  and a few other instruments including the harpsichord and the Theorbo.

Benjamin Britten’s “A Hymn To St Cecilia” featured verse from WH Auden which marked their final collaboration as their artistic tensions drove them down differing paths. The third piece by George Frideric Handel “A Song For St Cecilia’s Day” also draws upon the verse of a well known poet, in this instance John Dryden. This longer composition completed a fascinating and illuminating insight into the tradition of composers creating works to honour St Cecilia which introduced me, and I suspect many others, to a rewarding group of compositions that bring out the best of the skills of The Kings Consort and their Choir and soloists.

It was a delight to hear such fine music in a local setting. Conductor Robert King introduced the three pieces and led the ensemble with great gusto. Each work represented the composers at the peak of their abilities, yet all were new to me. My only slight regret is that these events are at best occasional, until the day that Norwich can build itself a proper dedicated concert hall.

© Julian Swainson 2018