Wednesday, 4 September 2013

BBC Proms – David Hill directs the BBC Singers and Choristers of the Temple Church with countertenor Iestyn Davies in works by Benjamin Britten and George Lloyd

Last night’s BBC Prom, one of this summer's twelve Late Night Proms, featured works by Benjamin Britten and George Lloyd , whose centenaries are being celebrated this year.

Britten’s A Boy was Born (1933) comes from early on in his compositional career, whilst George Lloyd’s Requiem was the last work that he wrote.

The BBC Singers  and the choristers of the Temple Church were directed by David Hill, arguably one of the finest choral conductors we have today. Their performance of A Boy was Born, a work that in many ways encapsulates much of Britten’s compositional style, was superbly done. What always strikes me about this choir is their consistently individual sound and, indeed, their phenomenally high standards.

In the rhythmic part writing, where the young Britten does not spare his singers, the BBC Singers showed great precision with superb dynamics. The choristers of the Temple Church were no less accomplished with a fine contribution from their solo treble.

For Lloyd’s Requiem (1998), composed in memory of Diana, Princess of Wales, and receiving its London première, the BBC Singers were joined by countertenor Iestyn Davies and organist Greg Morris. Gone is the colourful orchestral writing so familiar in Lloyd’s music - Lloyd knew he would not be able to complete such a work - leaving a strikingly beautiful swansong.

In the often quieter reflective sections, the choir showed immense sensitivity with David Hill and his forces, making much of the more dramatic parts. Greg Morris provided some thrilling playing, particularly in the Dies Irae and the Confutatis, whilst elsewhere achieving a fine balance with the choir in the large acoustic of the Royal Albert Hall.

Davies proved to be an ideal interpreter in a role that calls for a low countertenor voice, reaching the lower notes beautifully and with fine, rich timbres. When he entered at the beginning of the Agnus Dei, it was with singing of great freedom and spontaneity, a magical moment. In the Lux Aeterna, Morris played the gentle, subtle dissonances with the choir beautifully, showing Lloyd, despite his melodic style, to be a composer very much with his finger on the pulse of late 20th Century music.

These two works sat remarkably well together in these performances that reinforced the English choral tradition as refracted through the vision of two distinctive composers. 

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