OUChorus offers a choral home to members of Oxford University who enjoy singing but do not feel that the rarefied atmosphere of a chapel choir is for them. It is not, therefore, made up of highly trained choral scholars, but instead of all kinds of students brought together through a love of singing. Even though the choral technique could have been more polished on occasion, the choir’s enthusiasm carried them through this performance of ever-popular classics by Handel and Vivaldi, under the engaging direction of conductor Joe Davies.
The evening began with Handel’s age-old favourite Zadok the Priest. The first choral entry, one of the most rousing in the choral repertoire, was powerfully sung, and the choir maintained the same high energy level throughout the piece, with a suitably loud volume and snappy rhythms. Although considerably outnumbered by their female counterparts, the tenors and basses did a fine job of ensuring their parts were not too quiet. The choir were not quite able to sustain the final chord through to a fortissimo close, but were saved by a dramatically timpani roll which brought the piece to a spectacular end.
Three more of Handel’s Coronation Anthems (Let thy Hand be Strengthened, The King shall Rejoice, and My Heart is Inditing) completed the first half. Given the similarity of each of the works, one fewer would have sufficed. In the livelier passages there was more of the dynamism of Zadok, but other less energetic passages exposed some of the choir’s weaknesses. At times the diction was not clear, and the slower passages would have benefitted from a more polished choral sound and greater control in their phrasing. These issues were not widespread, however, and much of the performance had plenty of character and a pleasantly warm sound.
It was a similar story in the second half for Vivaldi’s Gloria. Both the opening and closing choruses were full of verve, making up for passages in between where the choir were singing the notes perfectly competently but somewhat lacking in terms of expression and tone. Of course, the Gloria also features three solo parts, sung here by sopranos Isobel Rose and Sula Cotterell and countertenor Connor Devonish. Isobel Rose was perhaps a little too loud for Cotterell in the duet ‘Laudamus te’, but both had beautiful tones, well-suited in their lightness to this style of music. A wider range of dynamics and articulation from all three soloists would have brought greater interest, but all gave enjoyable and expressive performances nonetheless.
The orchestra were excellent throughout the concert: barely a note out of tune, never too loud for the singers, and playing with plenty of character. Chloe Barnes gave a performance of the oboe solo in the ‘Domine Deus’ that many professionals would have been pleased with, and excellent trumpet playing brought to life many of the programme’s grander moments. The only real issue with the orchestral playing was that the modern instruments sounded a little out of place with their greater volume and heavier tone quality, particularly in the most archetypal baroque moments of the Vivaldi. However, Handel’s Coronation Anthems are so grandiose that the heavier tone of the modern instruments felt more appropriate.
In the end, this was a performance that could have been more lively, more expressive, or more dramatic in places, but had more than enough character to make the evening thoroughly enjoyable. Especially in the faster movements, the performers’ enthusiasm was infectious. The evening ended with a standing ovation and calls of ‘bravo’ and ‘encore’ (which were duly met with a reprise of the Gloria‘s closing chorus), and that is something that can’t be argued with.