Concert Review: Wynde, Whirlwinds and Flight, 28 February 2015

Western wind, when wilt thou blow, that the small rain down can rain?
Christ, if my love were in my arms, and I in my bed again!

John Gibbons continues to demonstrate the virtuosity of St Albans Chamber Choir with inspired, adventurous programming. Underpinning their concert on Saturday (28 February), Taverner’s Western Wynde mass was like a steady western breeze, buffeted by violent storms but returning each time unshaken to resume its task of carrying the Spring showers. The choir called up the wind and the whirlwind, accompanied by a stunning array of pyrotechnics from Robert Dixon on the magnificent St Peters organ. First they unleashed Vaughan Williams’ tempestuous account of two dramatic biblical events: the Lord answering Job out of the whirlwind, and Ezekiel’s vision of four living creatures like aeroplanes. This is music that tests performers to the limit and it is to their credit that the audience found it thrilling rather than overwhelming. Not content with this, Robert Dixon treated us to a mind-blowing solo performance of Judith Bingham’s ‘St Bride assisted by Angels’, which built to a shuddering climax that threatened to strip the lead from the roof. The choir calmed us down with an interesting piece by Eric Whitacre, ‘Leonardo dreams of his flying machine. In the second half the thundery storms were regimented into what a forecaster might call ‘organised bands of showers’, with marches by Parry and Walton, and two more contemplative pieces, ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’, arranged by Timothy Salter, and Whitaker’s ‘Lux Aurumque’. The choir admirably met the challenge of switching between so many musical styles throughout, and as they concluded with Vaughan Williams’ moving anthem ‘Valiant-for-Truth, they and Robert Dixon had surely earned their own fanfare of trumpets.

Alan Knott