International Staff Songsters, Saturday 11th February 2017

There was an expectant buzz as the audience gathered for the visit of the International Staff Songsters to Hadleigh Temple. A few minutes before 7 the members of the brigade drifted into the hall and started introducing themselves. They then formed two rows down the aisles to present the vibrant ‘Boundless in Love’, including an antiphonal section with just drum accompaniment. This was the first of two contributions from Richard Phillips with words by Stephen Pearson.

Sandi Patti’s affirmative ‘In the name of the Lord’ was followed by the more reflective ‘Your grace still amazes me’. After the opening prayer and introductions came the first of the evening’s fun items, a vocalisation by Harold Burgmayer of ‘Just like John’ (Bearcroft). With a combination of slick vocal passages and swingle-singers style, this depiction of an early-day testimony period contrasted with the ethereal beauty of Eric Whitacre’s ‘Lux Aurumque’. Sung in Latin, this was a capella singing of the highest quality.

Richard Phillips’ second choral symphony is entitled ‘Symphony of Psalms’ and comprises four movements. Opening with ‘Courage’, setting out a commitment to Christ in the face of adversity, the full range of the group was heard to good effect as the sopranos soared into the upper octave. ‘Hope’ brought some lovely unison singing from the female voices, with sustained backing from the men, whilst ‘Trust’ opened with unison figures before opening up into lush harmonies. The finale, ‘Triumph’ featured the words ‘O clap your hands now all you people’ in a Jewish dance which would probably have got faster and faster had it not started out at such a brisk tempo.

Two solo items followed, with Rachel Gray singing Handel’s ‘Lascia Ch’io Pianga’ and Richard Phillips’ take on ‘Count your blessings’. The first half closed with an excellent rendition of ‘The Hallelujah Chorus’ that had many in the audience wishing they could have joined in.

Joy Webb’s recordings with the Sunbury Junior Singers had an impact far beyond The Salvation Army with their release on the old Music for Pleasure label, and Richard Phillips’ homage, ‘Songs of Joy’ revived many happy memories. Songs such as ‘Hand me down my silver trumpet’, ‘Rise and shine and give God the glory’ contrasted with the reflective ‘Kumbaya’, with Richard’s gently-rippling accompaniment.

Gemma Hinchcliffe presented Len Ballantine’s delightful ‘I am me’, strangely reminiscent of Benjamin Britten’s cabaret songs, before the rich bass voice of Richard McIntosh was heard in ‘The Holy City’, the first time this has been used with vocal backing.

‘Lux Aeterna’ sets the text to the music of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’ from the ‘Enigma Variations’, and will bring a specifically English touch to the brigade’s tour programmes in New Zealand and Australia’. The long, sustained, overlapping lines were beautifully balanced.

Executive officer Lt Col Paul Main spoke of the origin of ‘Nimrod’ as a tribute to Elgar’s friend Augustus J Jaeger, and went on to remind his listeners that God is the source of both light and life. This led into the singing of the intensely moving ‘Via Dolorosa’ telling of the sorrowful road Jesus trod en route to his crucifixion.

There was a moment of light relief in a swingle-style realisation of Barrie Gott’s ‘Lightwalk’ before former ISS members Anne Whitehead and Colin High joined the brigade to sing ‘More than Wonderful’. The singers then moved into the aisles to share the benediction, John Rutter’s ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’.

Pictures courtesy of Jeffrey Partridge:


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