Review: Stanford University Chamber Chorale in Portsmouth

Stanford Chamber Chorale,  Portsmouth Cathedral, Jul 1

Horace, Andrew Marvell and Robert Herrick are among those best known for encouraging us to ‘carpe diem’, seize the day, to get on with it.

On a day of piled-up fixture congestion across the region today, I was lucky enough to be able to fit in two of the many attractive concerts available. If I was insanely keen I could possibly be at another one now but I only just thought of that. But if Phil Collins could manage to play in Live Aid events on both sides of the Atlantic in different time zones on his budget then me getting from Guildhall Square to Old Portsmouth in BST is no big deal.

I’m not quite such a fan of the acoustic in the nave of Portsmouth’s St. Thomas Cathedral as its custodian, David Price. I think it depends where the listener is sitting and what sort of sound it is they are listening to.

But it’s certainly tremendous for any sound that can get into all its corners and fill it. That much became apparent as soon as the Stanford University sopranos filled it with their Bruckner, Os Justi.

Bruckner, indeed. One of the names more likely to dissuade me from going in the first place but prejudice is only ever there to be corrected and, to be fair, it didn’t say ‘symphony’. Music Director, Stephen Sano explained that the choir was under-powered due to illnesses contracted on tour, of which this was the last of nine performances in ten days. 

What they are like at full power Portsmouth will only be left to imagine. There were 19 of them today and one thing that takes no imagining at all is that the auditions to get into this choir must be rigorous.

Soprano, Jin-Hee Lee, is the spotlighted star with Oscar O’Rahilly, tenor, taking other solo parts which is not to say that such a tight, disciplined group can afford to have anybody that isn’t flawless. They were entirely concentrated on what they were about.

Part of their mission is to ‘honor the choral traditions in the places we visit’ which they did in a modernist way in Portsmouth with music by Jonathan Dove and Jonathan Harvey. Perhaps Ely Cathedral got the Byrd and Vaughan-Williams but these are some Americans, from that California that once did represent some kind of paradise, and the deeply soulful Deep River and the Hawaiian song, Sanoe, written by the last Queen of Hawaii, Queen Lili’uokalani, were of more interest, and gorgeous, than having our confident, sun-drenched friends giving us their version of our introspection.

Organist Robert Huw Morgan introited with some Tallis, then later extorted some ferocious fireworks from the keyboard and pedals in a Prelude and Fugue byMarcel Dupré that exploded onto the subsequent C20th, Meredith Monk-like, stillness and mesmerism of plainchant in a piece by Wolfram Buchenberg before the finale was, not for the first time, a very smart choir but augmented by the clattering blast of the organ in the Dove Gloria from his Missa Brevis. 

That was a class act and no mistake.

David Green

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