Saturday, 22 September 2018

Review: Reading Phoenix Choir, From The Flames

READING concert hall is one of the jewels in the Thames Valley crown: with its sumptuously-decorated ceiling and grandiose chandeliers one is instantly transported to the kind of ambience expected from the music room of a Viennese court, or the grand baroque hall of a Bavarian castle.

Review: Reading Phoenix Choir, From The Flames, Concert Hall, Reading, Saturday January 26

READING concert hall is one of the jewels in the Thames Valley crown: with its sumptuously-decorated ceiling and grandiose chandeliers one is instantly transported to the kind of ambience expected from the music room of a Viennese court, or the grand baroque hall of a Bavarian castle.

This was the atmospheric setting on Saturday night for Reading Phoenix Choir?s annual concert, From The Flames, the second time the choir has sung here since it was set up back in the Sixties.

The Phoenix is reputed to be one of the best amateur choirs in the country, and although this is difficult to quantify, their singing is beautiful and faultless. The evening opened with an empty stage, and the choristers filed through the auditorium singing Holst?s I Vow To Thee My Country unaccompanied.

This was an impressive way to start. The singers, all dressed in black, have an aura of professionalism about them, and their movements about the stage are as practised and slick as their harmonies.

Musical director David Crown, a dapper young man in shiny patent winklepickers, seems to have breathed new life into the choir, with a new website and logo, and new events coming up including a "Come and Sing" event this summer. They have also just released a new CD.

He introduced the coronation anthem, Handel?s Zadok The Priest, as one of those pieces that everyone has always known and loved, and the Phoenix?s version was as uplifting as any I?ve heard. This piece also gave us the chance to listen to the Father Willis organ which, restored to its original pitch when the concert hall was revamped in 2000, is not often heard. (It has always seemed a pity that such a magnificent instrument could not be adjusted to concert pitch and therefor get more outings.)

This year, the choir was joined by two young musicians, Bartosz Woroch on violin and Robert Thompson on piano, who showed their considerable skill in a rendition of Bach?s Violin Sonata In E. It was Rachmaninov?s Deux Morceaux De Salon, however, in the second half, that really gave them ? particularly the violinist ? the chance to display their virtuosity. The first piece was sombre and broody, the second fast and furious, reminiscent of a Slavic folk dance.

It is always a great pleasure to listen to live music of any kind, but your appreciation of different types of music on any particular night seems to depend very much on your mood. Despite being a great fan of classical choral music, it was the more jazzy numbers at the end that really made the show take off for me, particularly What A Wonderful World. The singers ? particularly the men ? had been warned by their MD not to take off Louis Armstrong, and they didn?t. The Phoenix made this arrangement their own, and in so doing made us remember what a truly wonderful piece of music this is.

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