I’ve often written that the heart of a community choir is in the spirit that they evoke, that sense of collective endeavour and of joy. Actually Gay Men’s Chorus (AGMC) has always shown that spirit and that intention but this time with their vocal tribute to the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee at St Mary’s Church in Kemptown what was really clear was that the choir has come of age. This was a concert of quality in every sense. The programme was well judged, the presentation was stylish and the music… well let’s take a closer look.
Opening with Parry’s arrangement of I Was Glad was a stunning and powerful start to the evening and my god, they delivered it with heart, demonstrating that the chorus has both power and balance. That power and balance continued to be demonstrated in Anthem from the musical Chess and then a medley of Lloyd Webber hits culminating in the first of an evening of excellent solos as Andrew Whitlaw came forward to perform Sunset Boulevard. Whitlaw’s voice is excellent but he can also perform a song with the skill of an actor, a couple of simple and understated gestures brought the whole thing to life.
I also love the fact that AGMC use the whole choir in the arrangement of their solo choices adding real depth to each.
It’s at this point that I am struck by three things they are displaying – dynamics, precision and phrasing; the third lifting the evening above the a bar that they are already setting high. Phrasing to me is the element that makes all the difference, the acknowledgement that delivering the notes is not quite enough when looking to achieve a really stellar performance. Bring Him Home does just this, Les Mis done with style and with quality, and This Is The Hour does much the same.
Compère for the evening John Borthwick then adds his voice to Lionel Bart’s Oom Pah Pah, adding a suitable moment of levity at this point and nailing it.
I’m no fan of Hushabye Mountain but the solo from Ian Groves is good and the choir really achieves that lush cinematic sound to the performance.
The first half concludes with a trio of Bond themes: Chris Tippett gives us Skyfall, a challenge that he rises to; Chris Jones and Michael Wates make a duet of Diamonds Are Forever; as do Gavin Bennet-Mason and James McFarlane with Nobody Does It Better, and I dare say few could have done it much better.
After the interval, and with a stylish change of costumes, they return with World in Union led by Ian Hollands. This popularised anthem, taken from Holst, is moving stuff to be sure and AGMC get it spine tinglingly right.
John Borthwick then comes forward to punch out the Tom Jones hit Delila, showing a very fine upper register and excellent diction too, there’s nothing ‘karaoke’ about any of this evening to be sure.
Next a slice of Queen for the Queen with a cleverly constructed arrangement of their hits, culminating of course with a slab of Bohemian Rhapsody. Again the section delivered with punch and precision.
Then taking things gently down Nick Paget gives us Elton John’s Your Song in a charmingly delicate performance that is followed by Carl Jenkins’ Benedictus, again a quality rendition. The penultimate offering, Read All About It led by Philip Davis, was stirring stuff.
The finale arrives with a readily recognised theme, a spot of Sweet Dreams that leads into a smile inducing medley of British Eurovision hits (thankfully resisting that saucy reveal when it comes to Making Your Mind Up, or maybe not…).
The whole evening is a triumph, the musical accompaniment from Simon Gray, Maria Dunn and Huw Jones are well thought through and performed, and Samuel Cousins‘ role as both musical director and arranger is very fine indeed, taking this accomplished chorus to a level of professionalism that deserves the standing ovation they received. I look forward to where they go next after seeing and hearing this first class, five-star performance.