Review: Choir of Merton College, Oxford, at the Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral

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This was a model of what a festival concert should be: largely unusual repertoire, imaginatively presented, and performed by artists relishing the adventure of what they do.

So well done, Portsmouth Festivities, for engaging one of the outstanding all-adult, mixed-gender Oxbridge choirs – one with outstanding soloists in its ranks, too. Clearly it was no coincidence that its members include a former cathedral chorister, Phoebe Pexton.

It was evident from the start that the Merton choir can make a rich, explosive sound under conductor Benjamin Nicholas, but heightened skills were to emerge.

In music by Tudor composer John Taverner, the sound soared to the rafters, and the first half’s closing sequence was masterfully constructed, with haunting music by Latvian Eriks Esenvalds giving way to works by 21st century composers Jonathan Harvey and Matthew Martin.

These were sung at the nave’s west end, with the performers split either side of the audience, heightening the dramatic effect as they took Gregorian chant into modern harmonic sequences and back again. Stunning.

Durufle’s Requiem closed the programme powerfully, its impact heightened by acute contrasts of ecstasy and darkness.