Review: Historic Maze Music event in build up to London 2012 Festival was ‘truly memorable’

ST Mary’s Saffron Walden was filled to overflowing on Saturday evening for the gala concert celebrating the town’s history and present musical strength and as part of the London 2012 Festival.

Titled ‘Maze Music’ on account of the Turf Maze and the Hedge Maze in the town, the concert proved to be a total inspiration for performers and audience alike, bringing together children and adults in a glorious outpouring of music.

The organisers had had the vision and foresight to combine three locally based choirs and the internationally renowned Britten Sinfonia, thus giving the younger musicians a chance to make music of a high standard with experienced top class musicians.

The whole concert was directed by Janet Wheeler and the town is indeed fortunate to have such a gifted and inspiring musician in their midst, for she has the ability to produce the very best out of her forces.

The Choral Society sang with its usual vitality and precision, opening the concert with that great favourite Let all the world in every corner sing by Vaughan Williams, followed by a stirring performance of the gospel song The storm is passing over.

The young musicians of SignuptoSing delighted the audience with their clear, bright tone, excellent diction and intonation. It was good to hear them performing with such obvious enjoyment and confidence.

Amongst the most exciting items in the concert were the three compositions written by the County High School musicians, the results of a composition project run by the composer Elspeth Brooke in conjunction with members of the Britten Sinfonia. The three pieces showed real imagination, with a feel for musical colour and shape. It must have been a real thrill for these young composers to hear their music so expertly played by members of the Sinfonia.

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The chamber choir, Granta Chorale showed real musicianship and a beautiful blend in works by William Byrd, Paul Mealor and Gustav Holst, demonstrating again what a fine choir trainer they have in Janet Wheeler.

After sensitive performances of movements from Michael Tippet’s Divertimento on the Elizabethan dance tune Sellinger’s Round by the Britten Sinfonia, the concert ended with the cantata Maze, written specially for the occasion by Janet Wheeler with words by Nick Warburton. The work presents the journey through a maze in a series of stages in “a mixture of narration and almost recitative-like singing, interspersed with songs and semi-dramatic episodes”. The cantata is scored for choir, narrator (Mark Brignal), soprano soloist (Lydia White), baritone soloist (Edward Price) and orchestra, and included some beautifully choreographed dancing from members of the Kate Plummer School of dance. The whole performance had tremendous conviction and drive and was a spectacular success.

A truly memorable and exciting concert which did Saffron Walden proud.

Richard Latham