Concert reviews & photos

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


Carmina Burana ~ 29th March 2014

Date: Saturday 29th March, 2014
Venue: The Hayward Theatre, The King’s School, Ely
Programme: Tippett, Negro Sprituals & Carmina Burana
Featuring: Ely Consort, conducted by Matthew Rudd with….

Claire & Antoinette Cann ~ international duo-pianists
Clare Lloyd-Griffiths ~ soprano
Ashley Harries ~ counter-tenor
Ricardo Panela ~ baritone
Sam Mitchell ~ bass & Martin Kenward ~ tenor
Will Sivier & King’s School Ely ~ Percussion
Hazel Laws – Musical Director & Ely St Mary’s CofE Junior School Choir

The powerful opening of Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana is one of the most instantly recognisable pieces of music of all time. The complete work was performed by the combined forces of Ely Consort, St Mary’s Primary School Choir, percussionists from the King’s School, and a star line up of soloists: Clare Lloyd Griffiths (soprano), Ashley Harries (alto) and Ricardo Panela (baritone), all accompanied by the brilliant international duo-pianists Antoinette and Claire Cann. The cast of one hundred musicians brought this most vivid of choral pieces to life in spectacular fashion.

In the first half of the concert, Ely Consort sang Tippett’s moving arrangement of spirituals from A Child of our Time; and repeating their recentperformance at London’s Barbican Centre in the Barnardo’s National Choir Competition, St Mary’s Choir sang their two competition songs. Antoinette and Claire also performed Lutosławski’s their dazzling Variations on a theme of Paganini.


Photographs: Meleah Reardon


Music for Anniversaries & Advent ~ 30th November 2013 ~ St Andrew’s Church, Soham

Date: Saturday 30th November, 2013
Venue: St Andrew’s Church, Soham
Programme: Music for Anniversaries & Advent
Featuring: Ely Consort with Edmund Aldhouse & the brand new organ of St. Andrew’s, Soham

Matthew Rudd (Director), Ely Consort and Edmund Aldhouse (organist) presented a magnificent concert on Saturday. The programme was packed with appropriate works for the season. Usually, the word ‘challenging’ denotes pieces that are too difficult for the performers, but on this occasion, the challenging works chosen for the first half of the programme were beautifully handled by these fine musicians.

Choir, conductor and organist were of one mind and throughout the evening their music was exquisitely shaped, the parts clear and well-balanced, the tonal quality first-rate, the dynamics (louds and softs) effective, and rests and detached notes wonderfully controlled. The vocal technique of these fine singers was constantly apparent.

The first pieces were highly appropriate: works by Britten (for his 100th anniversary) ‘Hymn to St. Cecilia’ (choir) and ‘Prelude and Fugue on a theme of Vittoria (organ). ‘Andreas Christi famulus’ by Crecquillon marked St. Andrew’s Day. Works by Howells included ‘Sarabande in modo elegiac’ (organ) and ‘Take him, earth, for cherishing’ (choir). Of this first group of pieces, the highlight for me was the very moving ‘Take him, earth, for cherishing’ commissioned for the memorial service for President Kennedy after his untimely and sudden death. The words were keenly expressed with moments of great anguish and agitation contrasted by very moving episodes of prayerful application.

It was in the second part of the programme that the choir really let its hair down and we revelled in more traditional favourites. These were very musically and movingly expressed beginning with a wonderful rendition of ‘O come, O come Immanuel’ arranged by John Rutter. Other delights featured work by Michael Praetorius, Stanley Vann, Carter, Mendelssohn, Bach, Vaughan Williams and Poulenc. One notable extra was a moving composition by Edward Skelton (previously a key member of the choir).

Edmund Aldhouse supported the singers admirably as well as performing a number of solo items that balanced the programme well. The one that appealed to me most was ‘Toccata on Veni Emmanuel’ by Andrew Carter. Edmund let rip on the new organ in St. Andrew’s Church and performed this rousing work with a real sense of drama and panache.

Overall, this was indeed a magical evening of high quality music and the encore, ‘Nova, Nova’ by Bob Chilcott ended the evening perfectly.


Rosemary Westwell


Zimbe! with Burwell Village College and Stephen Perse Foundation

Date: Saturday 9th March, 2013
Venue: St Mary’s Church, Burwell
Programme: American Music & Zimbe!, Alexander L’Estrange
Featuring: Ely Consort with Children from Burwell Village College Year 6, Junior Choir and musicians from Stephen Perse Foundation, and Jonathan Lilley on piano.

Rosemary Westwell: Review of a concert by Ely Consort , Burwell Village College Year 6 Singers and Perse Girls Junior School Choir in St. Mary’s Church, Burwell on Saturday 9th March 2013

Ely Consort , Burwell Village College Year 6 Singers and Perse Girls Junior School Choir warmed the hearts of a packed audience on a chilly night in St. Mary’s Church, Burwell on Saturday 9th March 2013. These fine singers presented a host of entertaining and beautifully produced material. With Matthew Rudd directing, Ely Consort opened the event with some splendid American numbers arranged by Daryl Runswick: ‘Yankee Doodle’ and ‘Shenandoah’. ‘Yankee Doodle’ was a lively and spirited performance which was followed by a deliciously smooth, nostalgic ‘Shenandoah’.

In memory of Dave Brubeck who died last year, an instrumental group consisting of Claire Stevenson (saxophone), Daphna Sadeh Neu (bass), Jonathan Lilley (piano) and Roger Bett (drums) had us tapping our toes to ‘Take Five’. The contributions by Claire Stevenson and Jonathan Lilley were particularly impressive.

Tonal beauty and well-shaped phrasing by Ely Consort endeared us to a lovely performance of ‘Sure on this shining Light’ by Morten Laurisden which was followed by a highly charismatic series of songs from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’. John Simmons (solo bass) was particularly good, revelling in the role.

After interval the full choir brightened up the church with a stimulating performance of Alexander L’Estrange’s ‘Zimbe’, an exciting collection of songs from Africa. This composition suits a large choir and sounds from Ely Consort were well matched with the junior singers. The flow of rhythmic chants, the melodious full harmonies of the native African styles and the joyful involvement of the singers captivated the audience.

This was indeed a wonderful concert and you should book early for Ely Consort’s celebration of its 25th Silver Jubilee Anniversary concert on Saturday 22nd June at St. Andrews in Sutton.

Rosemary Westwell




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