Review: Portsmouth Festival Choir at the Church of the Holy Spirit, Southsea

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On paper it seemed a grand idea: a programme of music inspired by Shakespeare, interspersed with readings from his plays and poems, commemorating the 400th anniversary of his death.

But listeners faced a dilemma: sit at the front for clarity in the readings, or at the back for superior musical balance.

As this was the choir’s gig, I stayed back and in the ripe acoustic missed much of the undoubted merit in the speaking of Bench Theatre leading lights David Penrose and Sally Hartley.

Even so, they made their own potent ‘music’ in the lines of Lorenzo and Jessica in The Merchant of Venice, ‘In such a night.’

The same play gave rise to Serenade To Music, Vaughan Williams’s setting of ‘How sweet the moonlight’. Here conductor Peter Allwood set soloists from the choir a challenge they met with mixed success.

The singers were most consistently effective in the bluesy elements of George Shearing’s suite, Music To Hear; in plumbing the depths of Alexander L’Estrange’s ’Full fathom five’; and in the lively syncopations of John Rutter’s ‘It was a lover and his lass’.