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

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