I’ve been tardy in writing up Saturday’s final Exon Singers concert, which was the best of the week. A programme of English music from the late 19th century to the present day. Some bombast: the concert started with Parry’s I was glad and ended with Elgar’s pomp and circumstance. Between those were new works by Skempton – which I found much more exciting than the composer’s own recital, Britten’s Hymn to Saint Cecilia, some pieces by Samuel Sebastian Wesley, and some more Elgar.
The high points were the Britten and the Skempton, the latter because it’s new (and exciting), and the Britten because it’s simply wonderful. But the evening was full of pleasant surprises. The exuberance of the Parry overcame its potential naffness. And Wesley was a complete revelation: it’s a name one associates with the utter tedium of the hymn, but this Wesley, despite being from the famous church family, was evidently a real composer, and Saturday’s pieces were well worth it.
As on Wednesday, my critical faculties were at their sharpest in the piece I know best. On Wednesday it was the Vivaldi, on Saturday the Britten, where I was most aware of imperfection, though both were in fact beautifully performed.
After the concert I was able to grab a word with the musical director, Matthew Owens. After congratulating him, I had the cheek to ask whether they ever hold public auditions. The answer was (sadly but unsurprisingly) no. So no question of my making an idiot of myself there. I also spoke briefly to Skempton, who seemed pleased to hear about Cantores (where I was one of two basses, later the only bass) having sung some of his other pieces in Plymouth.
I shall certainly look out for the Exon Singers next time they’re in the area. A must-see.