There are few better venues a chapel choir could ask for than Exeter Cathedral. Or, indeed, the Mary Harris Memorial Chapel on campus, in which the group practice and of which they (figuratively) sung the praises of – its large wooden ceiling providing excellent and unique acoustics. With none of my prospective +1s free on the night, I went solo to listen to the University of Exeter Chapel Choir’s debut album launch: Hail, Gladdening Light.
Beginning strongly with Zadok the Priest, the choir’s opening note took me by surprise and captivated me from the off. The group’s voices seem absolutely at home in the cathedral, each note hanging beautifully in the air. The rest of the first section continued with a well-selected ebb and flow of grandiose, swelling songs like Phillip Stopford’s Magnificat, and more soft songs. This was punctuated nicely with well-humoured talking from the choir’s director, Michael Graham, and a long organ solo from the incredible Timothy Noon, who played Prelude and Fugue in E flat BWV552 by J. S. Bach. This was proceeded by a local composer, Graham Keitch’s song O Magnum Mysterium, written specifically for the University Chapel Choir and indeed specifically for the campus chapel. It sounded equally at home in the cathedral, and as Keitch was present on the night in the audience, he seemed impressed and delighted.
The interlude was a good opportunity for me to stretch my legs and grab a strange but nice mint-lemonade soft drink. The audience flocked to the album table, which seemed to be flying off the proverbial shelf.
The second half of the night begun as we had just seen the last of the light dwindle. Whether this was a happy coincidence or well-planned, the atmosphere of the closing half changed along with the light. Opening with the eponymous Hail, Gladdening Light by Charles Wood, the choir seemed to have really settled in, tackling their parts and solos with effortless ability. Highlights for me came at the end, with a very powerful quintet of songs. Edward Elgar’s Lux Aeterna gave way to another organ solo: Herbet Howells’ Paean. Then, I found myself totally entranced by the choir’s rendition of Jonathan Dove’s Seek him that maketh the seven stars – a different direction to their previous songs but one that, with the virtuosic assistance of Noon’s organ skills, stole the show for me. Closing the concert were creative arrangements of You Are The New Day and And So It Goes, leading to a thoroughly-deserved and long standing ovation.
This concert was the result of a choir that has gone from strength to strength since they reformed only a few short years ago. This carefully-selected and extremely ably performed album surely marks only the beginning of a journey upwards.