Review: NORTH LONDON CHORUS, St James s Church Muswell Hill

PUBLISHED: 14:25 08 July 2008 | UPDATED: 15:11 07 September 2010

Three-star rating Even the greatest composers have days when inspiration doesn t knock so loudly on the door, and Benjamin Britten - an unequivocally great composer - was having those sort of d

Review: NORTH LONDON

CHORUS, St James's Church

Muswell Hill

Three-star rating

Even the greatest composers have days when inspiration doesn't knock so loudly on the door, and Benjamin Britten - an unequivocally great composer - was having those sort of days when he wrote his Cantata Misericordium.

The work is a bloodless retelling of the Good Samaritan story in phoney Latin and, commissioned by the Red Cross, it turned out, perhaps appropriately, antisceptic.

That said, it has its moments and, as it's rarely done, I was interested to hear this performance by the North London Chorus as part of an ethically-themed programme in aid of a medical charity.

But as so often with less good music, it takes an extra good performance to make it work.

And although the orchestra here was excellent - led by the four members of the superb young Sacconi Quartet, who rank among the best of their kind in the chamber music world - the choir was not.

Its female voices make a pleasing enough sound. The men, however, need far more weight, definition and - the key ingredient - life in their singing, which dragged terribly for all the efforts of conductor Murray Hipkin to move it forward.

The programme also included Tippett's negro spirituals from A Child Of Our Time and Karl Jenkins's The Armed Man: A Mass

For Peace.

And things picked up for the Tippett spirituals, which packed the odd punch.

The Jenkins, too, was better. But, here again, it was the orchestra that made the performance rather than the voices. With brass players so accomplished, I wondered if they were moonlighting from ENO where Hipkin is on the music staff.

But then the orchestra have a better time in this piece than the voices - because they have better music.

Jenkins is a limited composer who writes doggerel - but he's good at orchestral colour. And the paradox of his Armed Man is that, although it's designated as a mass for peace, its most effective parts are where the instruments let rip with noisy celebrations of the thrill of war.

There was impressive singing, though, from all the soloists - the very English tenor Richard Edgar-Wilson, the fiercely focused baritone Charles Johnstone and the Operatunity winner Denise Leigh, whose bright, bird-like soprano isn't totally secure but has charm. The judges of that TV competition weren't wrong.

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