Saturday’s “Bach and Bullard Concert” by the Clacton Choral Society was a traditional Passiontide concert but much of the music was quite unfamiliar and startlingly effective. One wonders whether Clacton people really appreciate how fortunate they are to host a choir of this quality in town, led by its charming, confident and always good-humoured conductor Gillian Dulieu.

The first half featured excerpts from Bach’s St John Passion including most of the recitatives and chorales and three of the arias. Beautifully sung as they were by the soprano Heather Atwell-Davis, tenor Daniel Joy and baritone Peter Grevatt, Bach’s arias are perhaps a little too florid for modern taste, but Daniel’s recitatives in his role as Evangelist were masterly; these prose quotations from the gospel  demand such clear diction, accuracy of tuning and sensitive flexibility of rhythm that such a performance is a rare pleasure. Peter Grevatt, a lovely unassuming man has sung for the choir for some years now and his rich deep bass notes were a delight; one wonders why he still calls himself a baritone! Heather is a member of the choir and rose to this occasion with confidence and skill, to the huge admiration of her colleagues and pleasure of the audience. The brilliant organist, Stephen Smith, who is well known to the choir did wonders as usual and it was delightful too that some of the arias were ably accompanied by Francesca Dulieu on flute.

The second half contained the unfamiliar pieces, which really made the audience sit up. Malcolm Williamson’s “The Procession of Palms” is exciting and rhythmical and pretty difficult stuff, but the choir loved it and their commitment to it was so obvious as the work built up to a huge volume of sound.

Alan Bullard’s “Wondrous Cross” uses hymns much as Bach used the chorales in his day and the audience were invited to sing along with these. The work is built round the “seven last words” which Jesus spoke during his passion. Some of this contains recitatives like the Bach and our soloists handled them beautifully.

Both of these  are very substantial works with great emotional impact and were wonderfully appropriate for the days before Palm Sunday. All in all,. A wonderful concert; don’t miss the next one