Concert reviews & photos

In Memoriam

Date: Saturday 1st December, 2018
Venue: Lady Chapel, Ely Cathedral
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd, Piano ~ Charlie Penn

Ely Consort is a name to be reckoned with. This must be one of the best choirs in the district. It isn’t until you hear good quality music produced by an excellent choir like this that you realize what you have been missing. Director Matthew Rudd really knows how to shape and develop a beautiful, well balanced sound and how to vary the pace, rhythm and dynamics to create mesmerising effects.

Russian Orthodox Church music brings to mind deep bass voices singing in open harmony. Tonight we certainly had the gorgeous deep basses and also a well produced tone in each of voice parts. With the gorgeous sound this choir produced echoing round the Lady Chapel it was easy to imagine we were transported into the depths of Russia.

The theme of the evening: remembrance, commemoration and reconciliation was well reflected in the pieces. The programme was based around Rachmaninov’s unaccompanied ‘All Night Vigil’.  The powerful richness of the voices was apparent from the start. Singing in Russian, this choir’s attention to detail, its expressiveness and precision were exceptional.

Other works included David Bednall’s ‘To a Missing Friend and ‘The Soldier’, a delightfully refreshing ’Do not Stand at my Grave and Weep’ by David Jepson, the tumultuous ‘Ring out, Wild Bells’ by Jonathan Dove and the first performance of a commissioned work by Sarah Quartel ‘’Hope’ is the thing with feathers’.

Sarah’s work was undoubtedly one of the highlights of the evening. Her charming lyrical piano accompaniment and the way she coloured the words so adorably and effectively made this piece most effective. The sense of the lightness of a fluttering bird, rising above the storms in life was never lost.

Charlie Penn’s accompaniments were superb. He achieved amazing effects in Jonathan Dove’s ‘Ring out, wild bells’.

This was indeed an excellent concert. The next events to look forward to are concert on Saturday 15th December at All Saints’ Church in Cottenham, on Saturday 16th March in Ely Methodist Church and on Saturday 29th June in St. Mary’s Church, Burwell. For more information contact info@

Review: Rosemary Westwell

Photos: Rachel Barton


Haydn – Heilig Mass

Date: Saturday 23rd June, 2018
Venue: St Andrew’s Church, Sutton-in-the-isle
Programme: Haydn – Heilig Mass
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd, Piano/Organ ~ Charlie Penn & The Con Brio Chamber Orchestra

There is a particular pleasure to be found in sitting in a gothic church listening to music on a summer evening. That is especially true if the music is by Haydn, surely the composer with the sunniest of all dispositions.

Matthew Rudd marshalled the forces of the Ely Consort and The Con Brio Chamber Orchestra in a sparkling account of Haydn’s Missa Sancti Bernardi von Offida, known as the Heiligmesse after the German tune that Haydn uses in the Sanctus.

The performance perfectly captured the different sides of Haydn’s musical personality. In the Agnus Dei, for example, the contemplative first section exploded into noisy life at the words ‘Dona nobis pacem’. Most composers set these words with reverence and yearning, but not Haydn. The singers and players caught Haydn’s confidence, power and wit, the voices alternating with martial trumpets and pizzicato strings. The mass’s solo sections were well taken by members of the choir.

The selection in the first half of the consort gave the choir the chance to demonstrate its versatility. The first UK performance of David Brunner’s High Flight caught the sense of wonder in the poem by John Gillespie Magee Jr, a Spitfire pilot killed in a flying accident in the Second World War at the age of nineteen.

And there was a rapt performance of Robert Chilcott’s take on Orlando Gibbons’s famous madrigal Silver Swan. This experiment, in which Chilcott adds new words and more musical parts to the Gibbons original, was wholly successful. It had the effect of meeting an old friend in a new and surprising outfit.

Review: Graeme Curry


The Passing of the Year

Date: Saturday 11th March, 2018
Venue: Ely Methodist Church
Programme: The Passing of the year
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd, Piano ~ Charlie Penn & Flute ~ Cherry Blanchard

    The Passing of the Year – Ely Consort

Midway through the Ely Consort’s ‘evening of poetic music’ the choir gave a luminous performance of music by Morten Lauridsen – ‘Sure on this shining night, I weep for wonder’. There was plenty for the audience to wonder at in this concert of settings of great poetry, with words by Shakespeare, Byron, Tennyson and others.

The choir has long championed contemporary music, and most of the evening’s pieces were by living British composers. The choir’s elegant performances of works by Malcolm Archer and Alexander L’Estrange placed them in the English cathedral choral tradition, creating a bluesy, yearning melancholy reminiscent of Howells and Vaughan Williams.

The mood of the concert changed in the second half. As well as exploring American repertoire, the choir rose to the challenge of Jonathan Dove’s The Passing of the Year, described by conductor Matthew Rudd as ‘one of the hardest pieces we’ve done’.

Here the singers were split into two four-part choirs, and blocks of sound and intricate rhythms flew between the sets of singers. The music was full of drama – one moment expansive, the next intimate – and the Ely Consort captured these changes of mood with precise and, at times, rapt singing. Dove’s exultant setting of Tennyson’s ‘Ring out, wild bells, to the wild sky’ was a perfect way to send a happy audience out into a calm Ely evening.

Between the choral pieces, flautist Cherry Blanchard and pianist Charlie Penn (who also tackled with ease the virtuosic piano part in the Dove) performed French music by Debussy, Poulenc and Gaubert, a perfect complement to the choral pieces.


Mass in Blue ~ Will Todd & picnic concert

Date: Saturday 2nd July, 2017
Venue: St Marys Church, Burwell
Programme: Mass in Blue
Featuring: Ely Consort with Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd, Piano ~ Charlie Penn & Soprano ~ Eleanor Bowers-Jolley, Double Bass ~ Joel Humann, Drums ~ Derek Scrull, Saxophone ~ Claire Stevenson

The Ely Consort celebrated the summer on a golden evening, singing both inside and outside St Mary’s Church in Burwell.

In the first half, the choir was joined by soprano Elenor Bowers-Jolley and a jazz quartet for a performance of Will Todd’s genre-bending Mass in Blue.

It’s easy to understand why the piece has been performed more than 100 times since its premiere in 2003. The setting of the Latin words of the mass to a blues score is ingenious. In the Gloria, a plainsong chant dissolves into a driven jazz rhythm, while in the Benedictus the higher parts of the choir become members of the band, singing jazz riffs above a ground bass. At other times the saxophone or solo soprano soars high above the choral texture. This constantly shifting relationship between singers and players gave the whole performance a wonderful spontaneity.

The choir displayed its many talents here, negotiating the swung rhythms with ease and producing the beautiful tone needed in the mass’s more reflective sections. At the triumphant conclusion, when the Et Resurrexit section of the Credo returns, the church’s carved medieval roof stayed on, but only just.

The choir moved outside for the second half, serenading the picnicking audience with a selection of part-songs, old and new. During the choir’s close-harmony rendition of Billy Joel’s And so it goes, the church’s ancient stones were suddenly lit up by the honeyed tones of the setting sun. And so it went – a picnic and a feast of music on lovely summer’s evening.


There is Sweet Music

Date: Saturday 19th November, 2016
Venue: Ely Methodist Church
Programme: There is Sweet Music
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd, Piano ~ Charlie Penn & Violin ~ Hannah Mulholland


There’s always a good chance that you’ll make a new musical discovery at an Ely Consort concert. Conductor Matthew Rudd and his singers combine their performances of well-known repertoire with a commitment to exploring contemporary choral music from around the world.

At the group’s latest concert, There is Sweet Music, no less than seven living composers were represented, alongside Elgar and Massenet.

The evening’s performance of Ola Gjeilo’s Unicornis captivator is a perfect example of the pioneering spirit of the choir. Here is a thirty-something Norwegian composer living in Manhattan setting to music Swiss chants from 1400 about, among plenty of other things, a unicorn and a pelican. Performing a piece both rhythmically complicated and harmonically adventurous, the Ely Consort was technically precise and emotionally moving and exciting. Their marvellously clear singing led a rapt audience through the piece.

The group also gave an intensely lyrical performance of Eric Whitacre’s striking Five Hebrew Love Songs. These pieces are clearly inspired by folk music, and have a touching fragility about them. Here the choir was accompanied sensitively by violinist Hannah Mulholland and pianist Charlie Penn. The two instrumentalists also gave ravishing accounts of Massenet’s Meditation from Thais and Elgar’s Chansons (de Matin and de Nuit).

Even the evening’s sole visit to the choral music the early 20th century, Elgar’s There is sweet music, had a surprise up its sleeve. Elgar wrote the piece in two keys at once, the lower parts singing in G while the upper parts sing in A flat. Conductor Matthew Rudd gave the audience a quick music theory lesson to explain how Elgar did this. The performance showed, however, that this was much more than an exercise – it captured perfectly the yearning, elegiac quality of so much of Elgar’s music. It was easy to understand why the composer thought it ‘the best I have done’.

Bob Chilcott’s new Gloria (composed only last year) provided a fitting climax to the evening, the choir’s big, thrilling sound sending the audience out into a dank November night with some warmth in their veins.

Review: Graeme Curry

Group photo: Nick Kerry
Group photo: Nick Kerry


Mass in the time of War

Date: Saturday 2nd July, 2016
Venue: St Andrew’s Church, Sutton-in-the-isle
Programme: Mass in the time of War
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd & Organ/Piano ~ Charlie Penn and the Con Brio Chamber Orchestra with Steve Bingham


A day after the world commemorated those who lost their lives at the Battle of the Somme, the Ely Consort completed its summer concert with an exhilarating performance of Haydn’s Mass in Time of War. Written in 1796, when Austria feared invasion from France, the mass combines defiance with despair, and features the military sounds of trumpets and timpani throughout.

In the extraordinary Agnus Dei, Haydn creates a strong sense of unease. His contemporary biographer Griesinger said that the rumbling timpani in this movement are intended to convey the ominous advance of the enemy. The choir, together with the Con Brio Chamber Orchestra and a strong team of vocal soloists – Sarah Rosewell, Karl Read, Mark Hounsell and Simon Adams – gave a gripping performance of the mass, capturing all of the drama.

In the concert’s first half, the choir and conductor Matthew Rudd used the warm acoustic of the church to give moving performances of a number of contrasting pieces. Throughout, the choir displayed impeccable control of dynamics and line. Particularly beautiful was the Consort’s performance of Faire is the Heaven, William Harris’s stalwart of the English choral tradition. The expressive singing and the piece’s fluid harmonic style caught Spenser’s words perfectly – ‘faire is the heaven where happy soules have place in full enjoyment of felicitie’.

Before the Harris, the audience was treated to a full-blooded, Italianate performance of Summer from Vivaldi’s Four Season’s with solo violinist Steve Bingham. The storm that ends the piece didn’t materialise in the Cambridgeshire countryside – this was a rare, perfect summer evening.

Review: Graeme Curry


If Music be the Food of Love…

Date: Saturday 12th March, 2016
Venue: St Marys Church, Burwell
Programme: If Music be the food of love…
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd & Accompaniment~ Charlie Penn

This year, countries across the world are celebrating the life and work of a jobbing actor and playwright from the Midlands who died in 1616. The reason for this is simple. Shakespeare wrote about the things that make us human – love, death, beauty, sadness, our own ridiculousness. His words are just as relevant now as they were in the seventeenth century.

The Ely Consort, in its concert in St Mary’s, Burwell, found an interesting way of exploring this idea. They performed a series of settings of Shakespeare’s words by living composers. These contemporary musical interpretations were as varied as the plays themselves. They ranged from Owain Park’s beautiful setting of the sonnet Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day, in a performance that captured the yearning and melancholy as well as the joy of love, to Finnish composer Jussi Chydenius’s striking setting of Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun, with words from Cymbeline. Here he pits the altos at the bottom of their range against percussive effects sung by the basses to capture the strangeness of this farewell to a friend believed to be dead.

Perhaps best of all was Cecilia McDowall’s setting of Sigh no more, ladies, a song from Much Ado About Nothing about men’s infidelities. The bluesy swagger of the piece caught Shakespeares’s intentions perfectly and was sung with panache and a clear, full sound by the choir.

A special mention must go to the beautiful setting of Full Fathom Five by one of the choir’s tenors, Dave Bainbridge. Written in 1964 to mark the anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth, the piece had languished in a drawer for 52 years until, in Burwell, it finally received its world premiere. It was worth the wait.

In Hamlet, the prince exhorts Guildenstern to play the recorder. “Give it breath with your mouth and it will discourse most excellent music.” It was fitting, therefore, that the concert also featured recorder player Olivia Petryszak, a previous Cambridge Young Musician of the Year. Her Bach partita, the solo recorder echoing round the beautiful gothic spaces of the church, was memorable.

At the end of the evening, conductor Matthew Rudd, accompanist Charlie Penn and the choir gave a sweet, tender performance of Bob Chilcott’s setting of words from Hamlet, The Bird of Dawning. The song of the bird, played by the recorder, floated down the nave from the back of the church. It was a magical end to a concert that was a perfect prelude to the Shakespeare festivities that lie ahead.

Review: Graeme Curry
Photo: Peter Lancaster




O Come Emmanuel

Date: Saturday 28th November, 2015
Venue: Ely Cathedral Presbytery, Ely
Programme: O Come Emmanuel
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd & Organ ~ Edmund Aldhouse

This year, for the first time, Ely Consort set a challenge to composers – to write a new carol for Advent. After an evening of singing the shortlisted entries, the choir and conductor Matthew Rudd chose a winner and a runner-up. Both carols were given their world premieres at O Come, Emmanuel, the Consort’s recent performance in the magnificent surroundings of Ely Cathedral.

Edmund Jolliffe’s winning carol was a setting of the words of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree. The choir gave a lovely performance of the piece, sustaining the phrases and singing in clear lines, giving the music space to breathe in the vaults of the presbytery. Although brand new, the carol felt, as all great carols do, like an old friend. It deserves to find a place in the advent repertoire.

The competition runner-up, Maranâ Thâ, presented an interesting contrast – a more muscular piece, a questing exploration of the spirit of Advent, taking its name from the Aramaic formula meaning “Come, O Lord”. It needed a different sort of performance, more urgent and dramatic, but again Ely Consort rose to its demands.

The second half of the concert was dedicated to another new work, Alan Bullard’s O Come, Emmanuel, recently premiered by the choir of Selwyn College, Cambridge. Drawing on antiphons and hymns, and combining them with original compositions, the piece was a ravishing celebration of the music and words associated with Advent.

The rest of the programme explored Advent music, familiar and less familiar. It began with Stanford’s setting in C of the Magnificat, well-known in cathedrals and churches across the country. It was fitting that the Virgin Mary’s words to the Angel Gabriel were performed in front of the reredos behind the high altar, the choir singing beneath a small, perfect carving of the annunciation.

Review: Graeme Curry
Photo’s: Nick Kerry



An American Dream ~ 4th July 2015 ~ St Andrew’s, Sutton-in-the-Isle

Date: Saturday 4th July, 2015
Venue: St Andrew’s Church, Sutton-in-the-isle
Programme: An American Dream
Featuring: Ely Consort, Conductor ~ Matthew Rudd & Organ/Piano ~ Jonathan Lilley


The Ely Consort’s entertaining ‘An American dream’ programme celebrated the USA’s Independence Day with a selection of music that explored different aspects of the American character.

A surprise, then, that the concert in St Andrew’s Church, Sutton, opened with a piece by Herbert Howells, a composer most closely associated with the English choral tradition. But Take Him, Earth, for cherishing was written to mark a turning point in American history as it was commissioned for the memorial service of John F Kennedy in Washington Cathedral. The Ely Consort caught the elegiac feel of the piece, but also the anguish that Howells expressed on behalf of a world still reeling from the assassination the American president. The music’s resolution to major chord at the end, executed with perfect intonation by the choir, struck a much-needed final note of optimism for the future.

The choir carried the emotion of the Howells piece into its performance of Morten Lauridsen’s late twentieth-century requiem, Lux Aeterna, written in the year of his mother’s death. Deceptively simple, with the music moving at a steady pulse, the choir’s sustained singing and clear lines drew out the music’s close harmonies and allowed it to breathe. While at times the performance suggested both the wide spaces of the mid-west and the tuneful emotion of a Broadway musical, the music is also deeply reflective. This was an intensely moving performance, this English choir capturing the soul of this very American music. A blackbird singing throughout the piece in the churchyard outside only made the performance more beautiful.

Between these two pieces, organist Jonathan Lilley played Charles Ives’s outrageous variations on ‘America’ (a tune knows to us as the national anthem). He coaxed a panoply of sounds and colours out of the Sutton instrument. At one point it seemed to turn into a Wurlitzer organ, and it would have been no surprise to see both organ and organist descending through the church floor as the piece came to a close.

The concert ended with the pioneering spirit of America, with Eric Whitacre’s Leonardo dreams of his flying machine. Complete with sung percussive effects and members of the choir playing percussion instruments, it made a rousing and dramatic end to a fascinating evening.

Review: Graeme Curry

Photo: Ella Lancaster


Cantate Domino ~ 14th March 2015 ~ Ely Methodist Church

If you weren’t able to attend, then here’s what you missed with our review from Graeme Curry:

In the early seventeenth century, the English traveller Thomas Coryat toured Europe and reported back on the music he heard. The Ely Consort’s audience went on a similar tour of baroque music in Ely Methodist Church on Saturday night, all without having to leave the comfort of their (nicely padded) chairs.
Like Coryat, Saturday night’s programme lingered in Italy, with works by Monteverdi, Viadana, Gabrieli and Lotti. Conductor Matthew Rudd and his choir were always alert to the drama in the music of the Italian baroque. This was particularly evident in the agonised suspensions and shattering climax of Antonio Lotti’s Crucifixus, a setting of the section of the Nicene Creed that describes the crucifixion.

Split into two choirs, the singers also captured to thrilling effect the striking polychoral writing of Giovanni Gabrieli. He composed Jubilate Deo for the vast spaces of St Mark’s, Venice, with his two choirs facing each other from high lofts, and the performance here captured the splendour of that building.

The programme was built around a performance of J S Bach’s monumental motet Singet dem Herrn, ‘Sing to the Lord a new song’. This took the audience from Venice to the Leipzig of a century later. The piece is so demanding, Rudd explained, that amateur choirs across the country are divided into those that have performed Singet and those that haven’t. This choir triumphantly placed itself into the former category. The Ely Consort is well suited to this repertoire. The basses provided warm support for the rest of the lines, and the clear sound of the upper parts brought out the many different textures of Bach’s motet. The spacious acoustic of the church demanded steady tempi, but these gave the singers room to display the virtuosity of Bach’s choral writing.

Two movements of Bach’s double violin concerto, played by Barbara Barker and Hannah Vincent, ably accompanied by John Heley, cello; were an added bonus for the audience and gave the collective larynx of the Ely Consort a well-earned rest.

Coryat’s musical journey ended back in England, and so did this one – here with a rousing performance of Zadok the Priest, written for the 1727 coronation of George II in Westminster Abbey, and sung at every coronation since.


Review: Graeme Curry

Photo: Nick Kerry


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