REVIEW: Cambridge Voices in Ely Cathedral offered a breath-taking, inpsired performance under the direction of Ian de Massini

Ian de Massini (director, conductor, composer and arranger).

Ian de Massini (director, conductor, composer and arranger). - Credit: Archant

AdeC’s annual presentation of ‘Cambridge Voices’ in Ely Cathedral is always a major event of amazing quality and musicality.

Last Thursday night’s performance in the Lady Chapel was certainly no exception. These highly accomplished singers gave a breath-taking, inspired performance under the direction of our Cambridge musical genius, Ian de Massini.

Ian has an incredible intuitive understanding of the essence of ‘real’ music, so much so, that he has the know-how and assurance to reach inside the thinking of great composers like Johann Sebastian Bach and Mahler and arrange their instrumental works for this fantastic choir to sing unaccompanied.

In quiet, unassuming confidence, the choir not only sang superbly, holding a phenomenal number of different parts together from different areas in the Lady Chapel, but they reshaped their groups constantly and effectively, presenting works of considerable diversity. The listeners were spellbound and there was hardly a movement or sound from them as the programme flowed meaningfully from one work to another.

Highlights for me were Ian’s own composition ‘I sing of a maiden’ and his arrangements of: Robert Wylkynson’s ‘Jesus autem transiens/Credo in Deum’ , Gibbon’s ‘Drop, drop slow tears’ and Ian’s arrangement of the finale from Mahler’s Third symphony.

’ I sing of a maiden’ was a beautiful, soft and contemplative piece, with exquisitely sustained melodies and harmonies that simply melted the heart. In the Mahler’s composition, with the orchestral version still in mind, I couldn’t help marvelling at how Ian was able to capture exactly the same emotional potency in Mahler’s soul-wrenching climaxes. With this work and his arrangements of instrumental works by Bach, Ian not only caught the nature and style of the compositions but he also took advantage of how voices can express more personal, subtle nuances that many of their instrumental counterparts cannot.

The other works enjoyed were a prayer of King Henry V1 sung in the Cathedral at first and then repeated in the Lady Chapel as an encore, a number of plainsong settings that helped bridge items in this thoughtfully- produced programme and a work of considerable dramatic impact: Herbert Howell’s ‘Gloria Patri’ .

Most Read

There were also John Harvey’s ‘The Angels’, Knut Nysted’s ‘Immortal Bach’ and Rutti’s ‘Psalm 150’. Carl Rutti was present in the audience and gave a delightful performance of Bach’s ‘Sinfonia no. 11 in G minor’ on the chamber organ before Ian’s vocal arrangement of the same piece – an intriguing effect.

Other gems included Ian’s vocal arrangement of Bach’s ‘Perpetual Canon for 4 Instruments’ and Bach’s compilation of orchestral accompaniment to Kuhnau’s ‘Triste est anima mea’. Ian also expertly arranged ‘Crucifixus’ from Bach’s ‘Mass in B minor’, and the joyful third movement from Bach’s first Brandenburg Concerto (sung to one word: ‘Hallelujah’!).

This was indeed a highly captivating and enjoyable evening. It was a privilege to witness such musical genius!