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Wednesday, 10 July 2013

Transports of Delight at Temple Church

In many cathedral style choirs (boys or girls on the top line, adult men on the lower three lines), the men come together on their own to form an ensemble performing generally light music. The Kings Singers has its origins in just such a group and the men of the Temple Church choir are no different. They form an ensemble called the Templars who provide entertainment for dinners at the two Inns of Inner and Middle Temple. For the final concert of the Temple Music Foundations 2012/13 season the Templars, directed by Tom Williams, performed their programme Transports of Delight on Tuesday 9 July 2013 at Temple Church, with contributions on the organ from Greg Morris, associate organists of the Temple Church. 

Transports of Delight was originally devised in 2006 for the vocal ensemble SIX8 by Keith Roberts and Tom Williams, then both Temple Church choirmen. Roberts provided the arrangements for many of the items. The programme mixed madrigals, part-songs and a cappella vocal jazz with music from the 16th century to the present day. The music was themed on journeys, modes of transport, desirable destinations and places of special significance and the title came from the Flanders and Swann song.
There were 12 men in the ensemble, directed by Tom Williams who also sang counter-tenor. They opened with a group of journeys. Bobby Troop's Route 66 in Keith Roberts' slickly delightful close harmony arrangement, Lennon and McCartney's Long and Winding Road arranged by Robert Rice with a solo from baritone Tom Guthrie given a lovely laid-back close harmony backing, and Pierre Manchicourt's Reges Tharsis. The Manchicourt, an Epiphany motet describing the journey of the three Magi, was vigorously performed though the generous acoustic of the Round Church rather muddied the details.

The theme continued with Greg Morris's first organ solo, Theodore Dubois' Marche des Rois Mages. Dubois was a contemporary of Saint-Saens and his rather perky march for the three Kings featured a continuously playing high note, emulating a siphoning stop.

Next came a group themed on modes of transport. Sir Henry Newbolt wrote his poem The Fighting Temeraire after seeing Turner's picture of the great warship being towed to Deptford for scrap. Granville Bantock's setting was very much in the tradition of the English part-song but highly imaginative, especially in the section where we moved from the ship's glory days at Trafalgar to the haunted present. Keith Roberts' arrangement of Michael, Row the Boat Ashore was highly effective and rather eerie. We moved from boats to trains with Harry Warren's Chattanooga Choo Choo, the singers clearly having great fun and delivering Jeremy Warren's a cappella jazz arrangement with great panache.

Each group of songs was introduced by one of the ensemble, each man bringing a distinctive character to their introduction with a great deal of humour, as well as information. The subject of the haiku and the psychopomp both cropped up at some point.

A pair of fairs saw the ensemble split up with each arrangement being sung by a different group of six men. Keith Roberts provided a haunting version of Scarborough Fair which mixed jazz with other influences, whilst Steve Lloyd's arrangement of Brigg Fair had great lyrical charm.

Greg Morris's next organ solo was something of a pun, as he played Messiaen's Transports de Joie and, as one of the singing men said in his introduction to the following item, it was great to hear the newly refurbished organ getting a proper work-out!

The next group of songs involved particular places. Thomas Weelke's madrigal Thule, the period of cosmography received a vivid full-voiced performance, albeit rather defeated by the acoustic of the church. Keith Roberts provided a finely textured close-harmony arrangement of Ralph Carmichael's A Quiet Place. Robert Rice's lovely arrangement of Rogers and Hart's Manhattan was very traditional close harmony, whilst Keith Abs gave Moonlight in Vermont a blissful slow close harmony texture.

We were transported in a different way by Percy Grainger's Handel in the Strand, a clog dance performed nimbly by Greg Morris at the Temple Church organ.

The final group of songs were all arrangements by Keith Roberts. The group started with the title track, Flanders and Swann's A Transport of Delight in a rather lively arrangement giving both performers and audience great fun. It was alarming how much of the lyric is still relevant today.  The spiritual Swing low sweet chariot and Lennon and McCartney's Drive my car  brought the evening to an entertaining close. We were treated to an encore, a lovely rendition of Blue Moon.

Performances throughout were slick, delivered with elan and it was difficult to remember that these were the same men who sing at the Temple Church services, though in fact their ranks included ex-Kings Singers and ex-Swingle Singers. All in all a finely crafted and well thought out programme.

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