Philharmonia Voices – Roman River Festival at St. Mary’s Church, Dedham

The Roman River Festival brings classical music to some wonderful churches and other locations on the Essex/Suffolk borders. We had the pleasure of going to St. Mary’s Church in Dedham last week for ‘The Philharmonia Voices’, a choir of 10, with Aidan Oliver directing/conducting.

I have to admit that my knowledge of classical music is largely what I glean from on my drive to and from work – so I know Richard Wagner’s ‘Ride of the Valkyries’ and Prokofiev’s ‘Montagus and Capulets’ very well, as they tend to appear on every drive!

We know the church well (Josie includes it in her tours of Dedham) and it was the perfect location for the choral music. Our lack of knowledge of choral music was clear from the start, as we were wondering where the musicians were going to set up. There weren’t any musicians…..

The choir consisted of five men and five women, and the ten of them (I may not know much about classical music but I know my maths) covered soprano, alto, tenor and bass. According to the programme notes the choir is well regarded and is made up of up and coming young choristers. Aidan Oliver, Director of Music at St Margaret’s Church Westminster, directed, providing interesting tidbits of information between songs. The first half of the repertoire was primarily older music, a lot in Latin, and the singing was remarkable, filling the church. To this untrained ear the sopranos of course stood out most, and there were a couple of solos of note.

The second half of the programme had more recent music, and some in English, which did help! ‘Jesus Christ the apple tree’, written by Elizabeth Poston in the first half of the 20th century, was wonderful, as were ‘Never weather-beaten sail’ by CHH Parry, ‘The Bluebird’ by Charles Villiers Stanford, and Benjamin Britten’s ‘Carry her over the water’. Jacopo Clemens non Papa (transl. Jacopo Clemens but not the Pope called Jacopo Clemens) was affecting, but the piece de resistance was James Macmillan’s ‘Christus vincit’ at the end of the evening. The choir moved around the church so that we had voices coming from all directions, which was stunning in itself, but worthy of note (sadly I can’t namecheck here) was the soprano was hit some notes so high and pure that my ears were buzzing and I feared for the medieval glass in the windows!

And to round off the evening, we popped over the road to the Sun Inn, a quite remarkable olde pub which was probably serving ale at the same time as the 16th century songs we had heard were being sung for the first time!

So, thanks to Orlando and Zelie Jopling, Artistic Director and Festival Director respectively, and the choir, for a great evening.