Skip to main content

Portsmouth Festival Choir
Portsmouth Festival Choir


Spring Concert 1st April 2017 Portsmouth Cathedral

With Dvorak’s Mass in D major as the centrepiece, Portsmouth Festival Choir– in its first concert with new musical director Thomas Neal fully at the helm – presented a programme of Czech and Russian music.
Sacred works by near contemporaries Labinski, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Janacek were juxtaposed in the first half, including three contrasting versions of The Lord’s Prayer. It was an interesting idea and there were pleasing moments. 
For the Dvorak, the choir was joined by four impressive young performers from the Royal College of Music, who blended beautifully in the Benedictus and Agnus Dei. 
Achieving a balance of voice parts is a perennial challenge for choirs, so attracting new members must surely be a priority for the Festival Choir. What bodes well for its future, however, is Neal’s obvious rapport with the singers and determination to bring out their best.

Autumn Concert 2016 – Confidence and exciting imagination

An enterprising programme: the main attraction was the latest version of a work in progress by Adrian Bawtree, former director of music at St Mary’s in Portsmouth. Entitled Remembrance, it draws in part on music of the First World War. The instrumental writing shows confidence and imagination, and the opening was played with flair by the Portsmouth Festival Orchestra.  A melancholy viola solo in the final movement, answered by a serene violin, showed expressive subtlety. Austin Gunn was a forthright heroic tenor here and in Britten’s cantata Saint Nicolas, where the soloist’s virtues included a refusal to ape the quirky style of the composer’s favourite, Peter Pears. And the men’s chorus produced a dramatic crescendo for “Lightning split the waves”.

Mike Allen

Spring Concert March 2016 - A feast of French music

In drawing out the warm tone of the choir, Peter Allwood effectively emphasised the contemplative and essentially devotional aspects of the Fauré Requiem. Fauré’s charming and unjustly neglected Messe Basse for female voices, and Saint-Saëns’ setting of Quam Dilecta, which featured Peter Allwood’s own very effective orchestration, completed the evening.

Christopher Burgess

Autumn Concert November 2015

This choir showcases much unusual repertoire with enthusiasm and for that they are to be commended. There was much to savour in this varied choral concert, some of which was a vehicle to support their outstanding young soloist, Spanish soprano Amaia Azcona. The choir voices blended beautifully in the homophonic sections and the tuning was well centred throughout. A notable highlight was the moving Ave Maris Stella by Cecilia McDowall.

Peter Rhodes

Summer concert June 25th 2015 - Portsmouth Festival Choir’s all-Purcell concert

Dido and Aeneas, forming the second half of the concert, has an important dramatic role for the chorus, especially so in this semi-staged performance. The choir were by turns expressive, dramatic and lamenting. They sang with alertness and good rhythmic attack, helped in no small part by Peter Allwood’s clear, encouraging direction. Throughout the evening, they were stylishly accompanied by Portsmouth Festival Baroque Ensemble.

Ian Schofield

Spring Concert March 2015 - Conductor is true maestro

Portsmouth Festival Choir proved themselves to be well-prepared for their performance of Bach’s St John Passion in Portsmouth Anglican Cathedral. They possess a very strong, clear and straight-toned soprano line, and considering the cathedral acoustic, remarkably good diction from all voices. There was a well-paced interplay between the Evangelist’s recitatives and incisive choral interjections, allowing the drama and narrative to move forward without ever sounding hurried. Conductor Peter Allwood is to be commended for this thoughtful, expressive interpretation.

Ian Schofield

Autumn Concert November 2014 - Reflection and Remembrance

The Spirit of England, although not the best of Elgar, is inspired in the sequence beginning “They shall grow not old” – as the Festival Choir ably demonstrated. Composer Adrian Bawtree has a fascinating First World War centenary project in his “1914. . . And They Went To War” which begins with a reference to Kitchener’s army and takes in government slogans, period song, an agonised snatch of the Latin requiem and an echo of Elgar’s Nimrod. The contrasts were well realised by the choir and orchestra under Peter Allwood’s direction.

Mike Allen (Portsmouth News)

Summer Concert June 2014

Excellent pianists Emilie Capulet and Mark Dancer, with feisty percussion ensemble, filled the orchestral role effectively in both Lambert’s Rio Grande and Carl Orff’s popular Carmina Burana. This featured an outstanding trio of soloists – soar-away soprano Kate Trethewey, rip-roaring baritone Timothy Connor and not least Adrian Green (tenor), a lay-clerk at Portsmouth Cathedral who was mighty in characterising the cruel comedy of the roasting swan. Peter Allwood and the choir achieved good atmosphere in the main Middle High German sequence in particular.

Mike Allen (Portsmouth News)

Spring Concert April 2014 - Brahms Requiem and Liebeslieder Waltzes

A performance that was not only meticulously prepared but distinguished by soprano soloist Natasha Day.

Mike Allen (Portsmouth News)

Autumn Concert November 2013 - Concert bristles with life throughout

From the very first word of Bach's setting of the Magnificat it was evident that Portsmouth Festival Choir continues to flourish under Peter Allwood's direction. The word Magnificat itself bristled with life, and that quality was to permeate for the rest of the concert. It was apparent not only in the choral and solo singing, in the Bach and in Haydn's Nelson Mass, but in the playing of the high-calibre Portsmouth Festival Orchestra.

Mike Allen (Portsmouth News)

Spring Concert March 2013 - Portsmouth Festival Choir & University of Portsmouth Choir

The combination of choirs was delightful. Peter Allwood directed Duruflé's haunting Requiem with sensitivity, the chorus singing energetically in the Hosanna. The excellent baritone soloist, Alexander Poulton, lent a suitably operatic drama to the Day of Judgment section. After the interval the University Chorus joined the Festival Choir. Under the baton of George Burrows they sang with real enthusiasm, and it was a treat to hear the rarely heard vocal version of Fauré's celebrated Pavane.

Peter Rhodes 

December 2011- A Baroque Christmas

It was back to the future for the choir that won the News Guide Award for classical music last month: back to the baroque era for its debut with new conductor Peter Allwood. He certainly seemed at home in that era - establishing lithe rhythms and securing crisp attack in music by Handel, Purcell and Corelli. The greatest pleasure was to be had in a Handel setting of the Gloria, believed to have been composed around 1707 but discovered only 10 years ago. Corelli's Christmas Concerto highlighted the talents of orchestra leader Kirstie Robertson; in the same composer's Dixit Dominus the conductor's capacity for drawing vivid word-colouring was particularly evident.

Mike Allen

Summer Concert June 2011 - Portsmouth Festival Choir 40th anniversary

A satisfying and yet sad occasion. Satisfying in quality of programming and performance, sad in being music director Andrew Cleary's farewell to the choir. It was fitting that a world premiere, commissioned from Cecilia McDowall, should be included in this finale, and it did not disappoint. Called "Shipping Forecast" and using names such as Fisher, Dogger and German Bight from that BBC institution, the music has some distinctly modernist harmonies but is always approachable and effective in evoking the sea's moods, before reaching a surprise ending. The performance reflected the choir's massive development in expressive quality under Mr Cleary.

Mike Allen

March 2011 - Messiah

The well-blended, mature voices of Portsmouth Festival Choir gave a spirited performance of Handel's Messiah at Portsmouth Cathedral. Andrew Cleary set excellent tempi and the silken-toned choir showed they were easily agile enough for the difficult choruses. The soloists were all visitors save for Nick Pepin (alto) who sings for Portsmouth Cathedral: the star was undoubtedly Jimmy Holiday (bass) whose sonorously powerful voice made for an extraordinary performance.

George Burrows