Concert Reviews

On Saturday 23rd March an expectant crowd returned to Truro cathedral to witness James Anderson-Besant take the podium for the second time as the newly appointed conductor of the Three Spires Singers and Orchestra. Joining him on stage were soloists Helena Moore (soprano), Alasdair Austin (alto), Jack Granby (tenor) and Thomas Butler (bass) to perform J S Bach’s Mass in B Minor, a work not heard in the cathedral since 2018. 
The lead line-up was something of an alumni reunion, both conductor and soloists (Jack Granby aside) having recently studied together or known each other at Cambridge University. 
From the very first bar it became apparent what a tight rein the conductor was holding on the choir: accents, dynamics and diction were all razor-sharp and on point, allowing even the densest counterpoint to bite through the cathedral’s lush but unforgiving reverberation. All four soloists were well-matched, if at times the soprano and tenor lost some power at the end of phrases (and, being sat at the front, I did wonder how satisfactorily the sound was finding its way to the back of the hall). Alto Alasdair Austin delivered a particularly spectacular sound, with a magical purity of tone, precision of pitch (never hidden beneath unwarranted vibrato), lightness of delivery and crisp enunciation. 
The Gloria was taken at lightning speed but remained effective and controlled. Beautiful chamber moments surfaced successively - soprano with solo violin (leader Nick Whiting), tenor with solo flute (Karen Green) and alto with solo oboe (Tamsin Robinson). Finally, with the Gloria approaching its close, bass soloist Thomas Butler entered into dialogue with a fiendishly difficult French horn solo, impressively executed by Jaqueline Kershaw. By the final ‘Cum sancto spiritu’, James Anderson-Besant had the choir all but rushed of its feet, which inevitably sacrificed some detail at the expense of excitement, though sopranos held their own admirably.
 The second half got off to a slightly rocky start but settled in time for the soprano/alto duet ‘Et in unum Dominum Jesum Christum’, a lovely touch here being the close register between the two parts, allowing the alto’s line at times to rise above the soprano’s – a most pleasing sound from Helena and Alasdair. 
The choir followed with ‘Et incarnatus est de Spiritu Sanctus’, one of the work’s most tortuous passages that caused a few intonation issues, male voices tending to drift slightly flat. With so much going on, and being placed so far behind the instrumentalists, the choir doubtless struggled at times to hear the full orchestral texture. 
The chamber-like mood returned with a continuo of cello (Barbara Degener) and bassoon (Sam Gurney) supporting Thomas Butler’s bass solo, the choir then taking us to the Sanctus, with its soaring brass opening. The mood then lightened for a fragile and tender solo from tenor Jack Granby, whose voice well suited this chamber-like scoring, before the choir closed the movement with their exclamatory hosannas. 
And so we arrived at the last part of this extraordinary work, the Agnus Dei: a perfect marriage between solo flute and Alasdair Austin’s angelic voice, from which emerged the hushed tones of the choir’s profoundly moving ‘Dona nobis pacem’ to end the work. 
The concert was another clear success for conductor James Anderson-Besant, for the singers, for the orchestra and for the soloists. But the choir could certainly do with more male voices. If you think you might be interested in joining, please email And do make a note in your diary of their next concert on 6 th July, when works will include Rutter’s Requiem, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and Parry’s Hear My Words, Ye People. Another concert not to be missed. 
Chris Best 21/04/24 Chris Best is a Cornwall based composer and writer. More information can be found at

Three Spires Concert Saturday 8th July 2023: Bach Cantata no 80, Ein Feste Burg, Mozart Clarinet Concerto & Scarlatti St Cecilia Mass


While the Three Spires Singers have always striven to feature top class soloists, the concert on 8th July of works by Scarlatti, Mozart and Bach surpassed itself with a particular wealth of young talent: Jacob Perry performing the solo part in Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, with Katherine Gregory, Hannah Dienes-Williams, Tom Lilburn, Louis Watkins and Simon Grant fronting the choir and orchestra for Scarlatti’s St Cecilia Mass and Bach’s Cantata no. 80, Ein Feste Burg.


Taking the podium for the first time, guest conductor Patrick Bailey steered the ship with clarity and authority. Though the programme had been decided in advance by Christopher Gray before his departure, Patrick embraced the repertoire with enthusiasm and vision both in performance and during the course of choir and orchestral rehearsals.


The concert opened with the Bach Cantata. At once Patrick stamped his mark on proceedings with some unorthodox performer choreography. After the choir’s opening chorus, bass soloist Simon Grant adopted his standard position to the front left of the conductor for the ensuing duet while soprano Katherine Gregory’s divine voice emerged unseen from behind the string section, her presence only revealed via the TV monitor. She then processed forward through the players for the recitative that followed.


Orchestral forces were stripped back for this work to chamber size, ably supported by basso continuo of solo cello (Danielle Jones) and chamber organ and harpsichord (Paul Comeau). Other chamber groupings followed: solo violin (leader Philip Montgomery-Smith) and oboe (Tamsin Robinson) joining alto Tom Lilburn and tenor Louis Watkins for the duet ‘Wie selig sind doch sie’. The choreography again worked its magic here - Tamsin somehow appearing at the leader’s side before slipping away again for the final chorale.


All singers gave strong performances in this piece, with well controlled phrasing, pristine vibrato and razor-sharp diction. The male alto occasionally struggled to balance the more penetrating tenor voice and the bass could not quite achieve the expressive levels of his fellow singers. The outstanding voice among the group, Katherine Gregory seemed totally attuned both to the Baroque style and to the acoustics and scale of the building. The choir took a moment to settle into the work, but easily cut through the reduced orchestral forces, though the difficult acoustic tended to leave them slightly behind the beat for much of the time, something that in the past Christopher Gray had largely managed to address.


Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto in A Major completed the first half of the evening. Soloist Jacob Perry gave an exceptional performance, his tone full and rounded, his entries perfectly controlled and his phrasing deeply considered and artfully rendered. Music, soloist, orchestra and space united here to produce a magical experience. Perry clearly took the utmost delight in live playing, his presence at times verging on the theatrical as his expressions captured every nuance of the music, both when playing and when awaiting his next entry. In response, the orchestra gave an assured performance of this no doubt tried, tested and much-loved work.


The concert’s second half was taken up with just one work, Alessandro Scarlatti’s little known St Cecilia Mass. This is arguably a somewhat problematic piece, with few opportunities for the choir to engage in any extended singing and little in the way of memorable material or dynamic contrast. Patrick Bailey managed nonetheless to bring a sense of excitement to the work by pushing the tempi changes and emphasising the shifts of texture. It also introduced us to the last of the soloists: second soprano Hannah Dienes-Williams. Her voice was characterful, though less powerful than that of fellow soprano Katherine Gregory, the balance therefore working better when she had the top line. Tom Lilburn’s alto voice sat much more comfortably within this work’s five-part voicing than within the four-part Bach; it worked especially well when set simply against cello. The first chance the choir had to shine came at the close of the Gloria with the ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’. From here, the work passes through some intricate interchanges between the soloists in the Credo, leading to an angelic, beautifully sung choir Amen before the Sanctus. For many composers, the Sanctus, like the Gloria before it, is an opportunity to add weight and brilliance to a scoring of the mass. For Scarlatti, it becomes more a continued winding down towards the closing Agnus Dei, giving a quiet, considered close to the evening’s music-making.


Patrick Bailey now passes the baton over to new Musical Director James Anderson-Besant, who will present more Mozart and Bach over the coming months, the next Three Spires concert being on Saturday 18th November with Bach’s Magnificat and Mozart’s Horn Concerto and Requiem.


Chris Best 28/07/23

Chris Best is a Cornwall based composer and writer. More information can be found at









 Click on the links for a selection of  reviews from earlier concerts.

Review of Christopher Gray's final concert with Three Spires Singers

Graham Fitkin, Humphry Davy The Age of Aspiration ( Ist performance) Poulenc Gloria, Ravel Piano Concerto
Elgar, The Kingdom concert
Kingdom review Nov 2019.docx

Bach, Handel, Buxtehude, July 2019

Bach Handel and Buxtehude.docx 

 Prokovief, Rutter and Vaughan Williams Concert

 Prokovief Rutter Vaughan Williams.docx

Review of WWI Centenary Concert

WWI Centenary Concert review.pdf

 Bach: Mass in B Minor concert

2018 March Bach B Minor Mass.pdf

Dvorak and Schumann, November 2017

Stabat Mater Nov 2017 review.pdf

Mendelsohn Elijah, April 2017- a joint concert with Truro Choral Society

Philip Buttall TSS TCS Elijah

Handel Messiah, December 2106 - we were joined on this occasion by choristers from Truro School Chamber Choir

Rachel Beaumont: Messiah

Brahms German Requiem, July 2016

 Philip Buttall: Brahms Requiem

Finzi, Tchaikovsky, Elgar and Mendelssohn, November 2016

Philip Buttall: Finzi and others

Elgar The Kingdom,with Truro Choral Society, April 2014 

Judith Whitehouse: Elgar The Kingdom

Russell Pascoe, Secular Requiem; Strauss, Four Last Songs March 2013 

Judith Whitehouse: Russell Pascoe Secular Requiem



Mobile logo