REVIEW: Ely Consort’s carols like ‘an old friend’

Edmund Joliffe receiving the composition runners up prize

Edmund Joliffe receiving the composition runners up prize - Credit: Archant

This year, for the first time, Ely Consort set a challenge to composers – to write a new carol for Advent.

Ji Heng Lee receiving the composition winners prize

Ji Heng Lee receiving the composition winners prize - Credit: Archant

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.

The Composers with the Choir

The Composers with the Choir - Credit: Archant

Although new, the carol felt, as all great carols do, like an old friend.

It deserves to find a place in the advent repertoire.

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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 by Graeme Curry