Crouch End Festival Chorus, Barbican, London <!-- none onestar twostar threestar fourstar fivestar -->

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The Independent Culture

The Crouch End Festival Chorus is among our most adventurous choirs. In this, its latest Barbican programme - as always, under the indefatigable David Temple, and here with a band calling itself the Aurelian Symphony Orchestra - the only work they had not sung before was Britten's Ballad of Heroes. But this concert - given in support of the Medical Foundation for the Care of Victims of Torture - was still eminently worthwhile and evidently much enjoyed.

Ballad of Heroes is early Britten: an occasional work from 1939, written in memory of Republican fighters in the still recent Spanish Civil War. This three-part setting of WH Auden and Randall Swingler is, truth to tell, content mainly to settle for rather obvious, uninspired solutions.

The Crouch Enders brought solid preparation and generally good attack to their performance, though the fast patter of the middle section, "Scherzo: Dance of Death", somewhat taxed them. James Oxley offered an affecting lyric tenor voice in a rather unrewarding role.

James MacMillan's Cantos Sagrados, combining poems concerning political repression in Latin America with liturgical texts in Latin, is surely among the best products of his first flood of inspiration. It is characteristically raw and derivative in places, but also occasionally ravishing, and it has an integrity sometimes lacking in its composer's more recent output. Temple shaped it well, and choir and orchestra realised it with real commitment.

The incessant repetitions and grand choral and orchestral effects of Philip Glass's Itaipu, his homage to the world's largest hydro-electric dam (Latin America again), didn't seem as impressive to me as when this choir did the piece four years ago, and the Aurelian strings looked to be having a tortuous time, though in general the orchestra played well. But the razzmatazz of the third movement's bouncy rhythms and Latin percussion, and its cumulative energy, eventually persuaded me.

I wish the Crouch Enders would one day tackle the "Rome Section" of Glass's the CIVIL warS, an even more powerful example of its composer's uncanny way with epic choral writing.

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