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Songs of the Isles - Ipswich Chamber Choir

Songs of the Isles - Ipswich Chamber Choir

St Andrew's Church, Rushmere

27th May 2017

Being a 90 minute interval-less performance, the audience was invited to come and go during the latest concert by the Ipswich Chamber Choir.  But nobody got up from their seats. I imagine, like me, they were afraid they might miss something quite wonderful.

Songs of the Isles, a concert of contemporary Scottish music and traditional folk songs, was inspired by a visit to the Iona Community, in the Scottish Isles, by the choir’s Assistant Musical Director, Emma Haggar.

St Andrew’s Church, in Rushmere-St-Andrew’s, just outside Ipswich, was the perfect venue for this teatime performance.  And a warm, sunny Saturday afternoon in May was the perfect time.

The cool, cavernous interior of the church resounded with the haunting sounds of James MacMillan’s beautifully crafted The Gallant Weaver.  The harmonies of this a cappella piece wound in and out of each other like a bobbin weaving between the warp on a loom.   I had not heard MacMillan’s music before but I have most certainly been converted.  The concert officially began and ended with his haunting music and there was plenty to enjoy in between. 

Unusually for non-professional ensembles The Ipswich Chamber Choir boasts a good balance of male and female voices that work extremely well together.  There were a number of fine solos, most notably from tenor, Owen Butcher, who beautifully executed John Cameron’s arrangement of Robert Burn’s My Love is Like a Red, Red Rose, while Rhiannon Humphreys’ clear and crisp voice did justice to Paul Mealor’s arrangement of the Scottish folk song, Ae Fond Kiss.

The music was well complemented by the poetry of Scottish born James Knox Whittet, who now lives and works in Norfolk.   Much of his work harks back to his Hebridean childhood and his readings evoked the sights, sounds and smells of pastoral Scotland on a bonny summer’s day.  I could almost hear the sheep bleating in far off meadows as I listened to his soothing tones.

Although it was only the second time Emma Haggar has conducted an Ipswich Chamber Choir concert, she must be commended for putting together such an outstanding production.  The audience seemed delighted and were more than happy to join in with a few folk songs.    I feel this was a very bold thing for Ms Haggar to ask as the arrangements were not the easiest to sing along to.  However, it all came together beautifully and made the whole afternoon even more enjoyable. One of the folk songs we were invited to sing along with was Loch Lomond, written during the Jacobite Rebellion.  I had no idea the lyric ‘I’ll tak the low road’ refers to the dead, killed in the fighting, and made to return home via the ‘low road’ of the Underworld.

There was a short break from the vocals as William Baldry skilfully played Peter Maxwell’s deceptively simple and uncomplicated work for piano, Farewell to Stromness.  This gentle piece was greeted with general cooing and oohs and aahs of appreciation from the audience. 

 Once the performance was officially over, I was delighted – as was everyone else – to hear an encore would be performed.  The choir continued with a stirring rendition of Will ye no come back? a Scottish folk song, arranged by Ken Johnston. 

Once the concert was over, we were all invited to join the choir for tea and cake in the church hall – what a wonderful end to a delightful performance.

The Ipswich Chamber Choir is absolutely worth seeing and I’m eagerly anticipating their next concert of music by Howells, Rutter, Elgar and Duruflé, at St Mary-le-Tower Church, Ipswich, at 7.30pm on November 18th.

Review by Lara Ding, Suffolk Writers' Group

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