John McCabe has written much more choral music than is generally realized, and this has been demonstrated at its best in a number of recent outstanding choral concerts.
First up, on 28th June 2014 at St Alfege Church in Greenwich, was the premiere of the organ-accompanied version of his Psalm-Cantata, conducted by Jeremy Jackman. The performance was superlative, as was the singing of the soloists - Polly Jackman (sop) and Bruce Russell (bar), together with the playing of the demanding organ part by Robin Kimber. Altogether the work came across as if it were already a repertoire piece, rather than a premiere, full of certainty and pleasure in singing.
This was followed on 6th July 2014, in the parish church of Wye in Kent, by an outstanding 75th birthday tribute by the well-known Kentish choir, under George Vass. It included, among works by other composers, McCabe’s The Evening Watch, Dormi Jesu, and The Lily-White Rose, with organ solos performed by Edward Kemp-Luck – two Carol-Preludes and the very early Nocturne for organ.
Finally, on July 16th (St Bride’s Church, Fleet St, London) and St Leonard’s, Hythe, Kent, there were two outstanding performances of McCabe’s Songs of the Garden, in its original form, with organ and brass accompaniment. The Mousai Singers, under Daniel Cook, were a revelation in the entire programme (which also included the English premiere of Giles Swayne’s delightful The Yonghy Bonghy Bo). The soloists for the McCabe, also outstanding, were Sky Ingram (sop), Rebecca Afonwy-Jones (mez), Ashley Catling (ten) and Giles Underwood (bar), with Onyx Brass and organist.
These two concerts took place under the auspices of JAM (the John Armitage Memorial), a wonderful organization promoting and commissioning new music, set up in memory of John Armitage by his family, and especially by his son Edward. The performances were part of a new multi-arts festival based mostly in mediaeval churches in Romney Marsh, Kent, entitled JAM on the Marsh. Apart from celebrating John McCabe’s 75th Birthday, it was also a repeat of the original commission, by JAM, in 2004.
In all these four concerts the respective choirs sang with mastery, joy and commitment, and were applauded as they deserved, by an appreciative audience.