Back where it all began for choral society

Battle Choral Society came home this month. As part of the Battle Festival, the choir performed in St Mary’s Church in Battle for the first time in nine years.

St Mary’s is actually the choir’s spiritual and historical home. Memorably in 1933, they sang the Mozart Requiem in the BBC’s first ever live outside broadcast of a musical concert.

For logistical reasons now, the choir performs more often in larger venues in the area. Quite apart from its size – over ninety voices at full strength, and often with full orchestra – Battle Choral’s repertoire includes many large-scale works, including the Verdi Requiem, Mozart Requiem, Bach B Minor Mass and Beethoven’s Ninth: more suited to the ringing vaults of, say, Christ Church in St Leonards.

The St Mary’s concert, performed with organ (Nigel Howard), had a rather more intimate feel, and was none the worse for that. Acoustics were just right, with a pleasing clarity and balance.

Buildings and homecoming were quite a theme, around the cornerstones of Parry’s Coronation anthem, I Was Glad, whose majestic architecture resonated, and Brahms’ beautiful How Lovely are Thy Dwellings.

John Langridge is an outstanding choral director. His conducting is broad and bold when necessary, but never military, and he has the knack of drawing singers with him rather than simply dictating tempi and dynamics from the front.

Opening with a Zadok which was sprightly as much as stately, the choir set itself a high standard: this was to be an evening of light and shade, not blare and belt. In some amateur groups the sopranos and altos – often numerically stronger – can turn into quite a “regiment of women”, but Battle Choral’s ladies sang with grace and sensitivity to the music.

Lyrical tenors and rich warm basses were never overshadowed, and had some fine moments especially in two Mendelssohn choruses and in Vivaldi’s Gloria.

Other fine items included a thrillingly operatic Easter Hymn, from Mascagni’s Cavalleria Rusticana – with the fabulous soprano solo of Judith Colman simply taking the breath away.

But – chorally – the high point of the evening was probably Mozart’s Lachrymosa, from his Requiem. The truth of the music simply shone through: achingly, imploringly beautiful.

I did say chorally. But this whole company of singers, and a rapturous audience, had to give a special place to a remarkable solo violinist. Jada Marsh, a Battle Abbey School pupil, is just eleven years old, but her nimble fingers and intuitive understanding turned Beethoven’s Romance in F into a virtuoso performance. That violin simply sang as exquisitely as any voice. Well done, Jada.

Battle Choral next performs on November 28, at St John’s Church in St Leonard’s, in a programme including the Dvorak Stabat Mater. Complimentary drinks from 7.00pm and concert at 800pm. By Kevin Anderson