It was a double celebration at the Temple Church. Both the 150th birthday of Ralph Vaughan Williams and the 50th of the Collegium Musicum of London were marked to a high musical standard that compensated for some poor concert management.

Thomas Guthrie
© Theresa Pewal

With no clue as to where the audience should sit, no ushers on hand and seats unreserved, the pre-concert experience was unfortunate. It was anybody’s guess how the performers would be arrayed so, unsurprisingly, half the audience had to be moved from one side of the chancel to the other. Personally I thought I’d found a sensible perch but it turned out to be anything but, therefore I can report nothing about the choir’s physical aspect because I couldn’t see it. I could hear it, though, and enjoyed what I heard.

If that previous paragraph seems like carping over trivia, it is not. A lack of professionalism in the way a concert is presented unsettles the spectators and diminishes its impact, and an intractable space like the 13th-century Temple edifice needs all the help it can get.

Once past an early stumble and some hazy alto intonation during the Mass in G minor, the choir (who sounded to be about 18-20 in number) seldom put a foot wrong. Greg Morris conducted with a sure hand and once he’d reached the Credo, the work’s most elaborate movement, his singers prospered. The tenor line was especially robust and not every choir can boast that.

Four excellent soloists played a major part in the evening’s success, especially Augusta Hebbert (soprano) and Jessica Gillingwater (mezzo-soprano), neither of whom had enough to do but both of whose voices rang forth radiantly beneath the broad vaultings. Gareth Treseder was the resonant tenor and Thomas Guthrie, talented musical polymath that he is, traded directing for singing and shouldered the substantial baritone solo in the Five Mystical Songs.

Organist Greg Morris, who showed complete mastery of the instrument made famous through most of the last century by George Thalben-Ball, was joined by violinist Ian Belton of the Brodsky Quartet for a lyrically eloquent account of the work that probably attracted more casual spectators to this concert than the rest put together, The Lark Ascending. Their partnership did not disappoint, despite Belton’s curious decision to play with his back to the larger slab of audience members.

The pair were joined by the choir and soloists for a ravishing, immaculately balanced account of the Serenade to Music in its version for four soloists and choir, but with organ and violin imported from alternative versions to sweeten the texture – a move that worked superbly as the assembled company touched the heart and rendered the concert’s final offering, Lord, Thou Hast Been Our Refuge, a touch superfluous.

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