Crouch End Festival Chorus, Barbican, review: ‘A masterclass in understanding Mozart’

Crouch End Festival Chorus conductor David Temple. Picture: Nigel Sutton

Crouch End Festival Chorus conductor David Temple. Picture: Nigel Sutton - Credit: Nigel Sutton

The chorus joined in with children’s choir to sing about St Nicholas to great effect, reports David Winskill.

The sublime (but incomplete) Mass in C Minor was the opener to the Crouch End Festival Chorus’ lastest Barbican concert.

A monumental piece, when listened to in conjunction with Stephen Barber’s terrifically helpful programme notes, it became a master-class in understanding Mozart’s musical influences.

The opening Kyrie gave an opportunity to Grace Davidson, the first of four soloists, to show off her magnificent crystal soprano against the powerful and dynamic background of the chorus who, unusually, seemed slightly off their game, taking a while to get going.

Perhaps working with a new orchestra (the excellent London Mozart Players) had wrong-footed them. But by the Qui Tollis they were back on track. Scored for a double chorus in eight parts it is in part robustly loud with other sections whispered and mysterious. Conductor David Temple (pictured) was like a military general marshalling his army as he impelled each part of the choir to deliver this great work: the Qui Sede was simply awesome.

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Britten’s Saint Nicolas followed the interval but first there was hymn practice: the audience would be joining in with the children’s choirs from Finchley, St Michael’s Catholic Grammar School and Rhodes Avenue Primary.

St Nicholas is an unusual piece – oratorio-like with ample opportunity for performance by amateur and school choirs - telling the story of the 4th century man who became Santa. Like so many of these stories it is not without its fantastic and gruesome elements.

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Part the Seventh is entitled Nicholas and the Pickled Boys and takes for its central theme infantile cannibalism.

Hats off to the three young lads who processed through the auditorium as Ed Lyon’s impassioned tenor, St Nick himself, impelled them to “... put your fleshy garments on!” Back on would have been more accurate. The children were terrific: attentive, confident and nuanced. Credit must also go to their teachers and conductors on the night for producing a warm and professional sound that was hugely enjoyed by parents and friends; an ingenious and successful way to get a new audience people into the concert hall.

David Winskill

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