One of the great things about St Anne’s is that we often welcome many visiting choirs throughout the year – as seen this week when we welcomed the Elder Glee Club from Ohio, USA. We cannot however escape the amazing talent that lies on our own doorstep here in Belfast! As the Dean reports, day two of our 2017 Music Festival saw Conor Breen treat us to a musical delight 

Another superb recital rounded of day 2 of the Music Festival.  Conor Breen, who was formerly a lay clerk of the Choir and quite often still sings with us, created his performance around the thoughts that come to poets and musicians when considering the idea of silence.  Consequently, the musical offerings touched on a variety of concepts, beginning with the question: “Can the notion of soundlessness be conveyed through sound?”

In Conor’s very helpful programme notes he led his audience (as with the previous night, small but attentive) through fear, insecurity, respect, communion, creativity, comfort, relief, sleep and death. This was always going to make for an evening that it is tempting to use the word ‘interesting’ to describe, but really it was far too engaging to imagine in such a dispassionate way.  We were drawn into a recital of principally English music, every piece of which was atmospheric and thought provoking.

That said, afterwards, there was plenty of the “I loved the…” and “I thought the highlight was…” maybe reflecting that this was more than a musical evening, but one that stirred deep thoughts as to how we approach, or are subconsciously affected by, the very notions that the songs ever so gentle unpicked within us.

Once again, before extolling Conor’s fine delivery of these songs, let us pay tribute to another evening of amazing accompaniment by David Stevens.  There were moments that the piano and voice were duet rather than solo and accompaniment.  Especially this seemed to be the case in Butterworth’s Requiescat and Ivor Gurney’s Sleep.  Thank you David.

 Speaking of duets, Conor was joined, for what was by some way the longest piece, namely Britten’s Canticle II, by the soprano Laura McFall.  This rendering of the Abraham/Isaac sacrifice scene is a powerful expression of one of the Bible’s most challenging moments.  Tenor as Abraham, soprano as Isaac, together as the voice of God, they achieved the right balance of human tenderness with the seriousness of the whole story.

This was not an evening to take with half an eye of one’s watch and needing to dash on.  Conor led us into patiently considering, through some beautiful music, deeply important matters for our day, and for every day.  It was with careful attention to all aspects of the performance that this recital worked at every level.  Conor’s, and indeed Laura’s, singing was superb, but so was their interpretation and timing, gentle touches of humour lifting what might have become quite an intense performance – which it avoided.

As Conor concluded the evening, each piece ending with a few seconds of silence that seemed entirely appropriate, the audience gathered to chat and congratulate him on what will be long remembered. And, possibly, a few of those there will be brushing up their Britten and Finzi, and giving some consideration to the ideas that Conor so thoughtfully wove through the whole recital.