Crouch End Festival Chorus: 'An astonishing choral display'

The Crouch End Festival Chorus performed a programme of work by siblings Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn at Alexandra Palace

The Crouch End Festival Chorus performed a programme of work by siblings Felix and Fanny Mendelssohn at Alexandra Palace Theatre - Credit: David Winskill

Crouch End Festival Chorus 

Alexandra Palace Theatre

*****

Fanny Mendelssohn has been the subject of much recent interest to restore the reputation she was denied in her lifetime.

Some of her works were originally published under brother Felix's name, so it's welcome to see the siblings' music brought together in a celebration of both talents.

CEFC concerts sometimes open with a warm up piece, but here a packed house was treated to a charged-up chorus delivering the full-on majesty of Felix’s Bach-inspired Christmas Cantata Vom Himmel Hoch (From heaven above to earth I come) soon joined by Julia Doyle's excellent soprano and Ashley Riches’ bass-baritone.

Crouch End Festival Chorus director and conductor David Temple at Alexandra Palace Theatre January 2022

Crouch End Festival Chorus director and conductor David Temple at Alexandra Palace Theatre - Credit: David Winskill

Lockung was the first of 17 part-songs composed by Fanny in 1846 – a beautiful, evocative pastoral acapella piece with charming interplay between male and female voices, clearly relished by the chorus.

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After Felix’s Psalm 42 - the final chorus “Why art thou cast down" a moving and defiant proclamation of hope and faith in God - came Fanny’s grimly appropriate Job. Written to mark the passing of a cholera outbreak, it's both beautiful and optimistic. Attention was demanded by the soloists - tenor Ronald Samm and mezzo Rebecca Afonwy-Jones were sensational -  before the choir finished with a gloriously triumphant flourish.

Julia Doyle

Julia Doyle - Credit: David Winskill

After paying homage to Bach, Felix’s final piece, Die Erste Walpurgisnacht seemed an anticipation of Wagner. Based on a Goethe poem, this magnificent secular work, set in the mystical Harz mountains, deals with the age old conflict between witchcraft and Christianity with Christians as the bad guys.

The Overture gave the outstanding London Mozart Players an opportunity to shine and their thrashing percussion and evocation of forest hunts heralded an astonishing choral display; monumental: powerful, resonant and passionate.

Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (left) and Julia Doyle

Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (left) and Julia Doyle - Credit: David Winskill

Director and conductor David Temple promised the audience thoughts of "boring Mendelssohn" would be dispelled. He let the chorus off the leash and from the stuttered, whispered Chorus of Watchers to the unbelievable Chorus of Druids, they turned in one of their best ever performances. The applause, long and loud proved he was true to his word.