Review: In Communion With Cecilia McDowall, St Mary’s Church, Portsmouth

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Here was a fruitful celebration of composer Cecilia McDowall, whose relationship with Portsmouth began in 2001 when she wrote a Remembrance anthem for the Grammar School and was sealed when the university awarded her an honorary doctorate last year.

The university choir and orchestra, conducted by George Burrows, who also chatted with the composer before each item, began with that Remembrance piece, Ave Maris Stella.

It remains one of her finest scores, grateful to sing and hear without ever sounding cloying in its harmonies, and this performance caught both its soaring beauty and the earthy drama of ‘They That Go Down To The Sea’.

Also powerfully affecting was Ad Lucem: A Canticle Of Light, inspired by the Amnesty International motto, ‘Better to light a candle than curse the darkness.’

The performers rose admirably to its challenges, including repeated time-signature changes.

Laudate was notable for the dramatic solo performance of mezzo-soprano Angela Simkin, and both the composer and soprano Joanna Weeks achieved particular success in catching Mary’s girlish delight in a harmonically and emotionally challenging Magnificat.