A celebration of London with a tube map as a programme. What better way to celebrate 2012 and the coming of the Olympics? From Thomas Tallis’ Spem in Alium to Lionel Bart’s ‘Who Will Buy?’ from Oliver!, the night’s performance was not short of variety.

Exultate Singers, © Louise Broom
Exultate Singers,
© Louise Broom

It was clear that the conductor David Ogden had put great effort into the programme, and it was certainly worthwhile. He took inspiration from the year 2012, which sees the Olympics coming to London, and put together an exciting programme. The paper programme opened up into an A3 spread based on a London Underground map, entitled ‘A Sense of the Divine: London Connections’ and each piece in the concert was connected to a stop on the map.

The Exultate Singers were founded in September 2002, and have given well over a hundred concerts and broadcasts all over Europe. The choir has a broad repertoire from Bach to Duke Ellington, of which they demonstrated the full range over the course of the evening. The composers were varied and all significant to a celebration of London, including arrangements from members of the choir. The first part of the concert had more of a traditional feel, the pieces becoming more diverse after the interval. Some works were sung a cappella, and some accompanied by pianist Richard Johnson, who combines his busy schedule of musical activities and concerts with a professional career as a patent attorney. He gave a great performance and particularly shined in Mid-Winter Songs by Morten Laurisden.

It is always nice to have a composer present at a concert where their work is being performed. A short but beautiful anthem, Souls of the Righteous by Bristol-based composer David Bednall was connected with St. Paul’s Cathedral through its similarities to the Nunc Dimittis and Benedictus from the Mass for St. Paul’s Cathedral by Parry. These movements were a favourite of Bednall’s dedicatee, and the feeling throughout Souls of the Righteous is described by the composer as one of ‘warm luminescence’. It was emotionally conveyed by the Exultate singers.

David Ogden is a professional conductor and composer, conducting several choirs and also acting as Director of Music at Holy Trinity Church, Westbury-Upon Trym. He used the space in St George’s to envelop the audience in beautiful music, with singers standing around the balcony. And what a perfect place to do it, as St George’s is well known for its unique and sensitive acoustics. The idea had been taken from the original 1567 performance of Tallis’ Spem in Alium (the showpiece of the evening), for which eight separate choirs performed the piece from the eight different sides of a balcony surrounding an octagonal banqueting hall. All this was explained to us before the piece was performed and it has to be said that David Ogden had done a healthy amount of research on the entire programme, giving the audience factual titbits with which to digest the music. The lights in St George’s were dimmed for the Tallis and the effect was truly magical.

Some of the other pieces kept a simple arrangement of the choir on stage, such as Thou knowest, Lord by Purcell, which was written for Queen Mary II’s funeral. The Exultate singers grasped the peaceful opening with passion and grace. Another notable performance was the Gloria from Vaughan Williams’ Mass in G minor, where four soloists (Josephine Stephenson, Jenna Cooper, Oliver Condy and Martin Le Poidevin) brought the piece to life with a climactic denouement. Talking of climactic endings, the last piece of the night was Norman Leyden’s arrangement of ‘Who Will Buy?’ from Oliver! This involved three soloists, (Barbara Rusbridge, Sue Green and Alice Tyler, playing the market sellers) spread out on the balcony, and the choir spread out on stage. The best surprise of the night was a fantastic encore, of Gustav Holst’s Nunc Dimittis. Overall, a marvellous and informative concert that would be well worth seeing again – truly ‘A Sense of the Divine’.