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Review: Hertfordshire Chorus, Barbican Centre, London

Hertfordshire Chorus draw rapturous applause under Geordie conductor David Temple as Rob Barnes reports

Dr Alan Turing, mathematician and computer scientist
Dr Alan Turing, mathematician and computer scientist

You know you’ve struck concert gold when performers and audience are on their feet, rapturously applauding the composer, within seconds of the conclusion of a world premiere performance.

James McCarthy took the plaudits for his work, Codebreaker, the story in music of Alan Turing, mathematical genius, breaker of the German naval Enigma codes and father of the computer.

Turing’s is one of the great stories of modern times, at long last now in the public domain. He was a victim of an unenlightened age, arrested, tried and chemically castrated for gross indecency before dying in ambiguous circumstances in 1954.

McCarthy focused his Codebreaker story on three key times in Turing’s life – his love for his contemporary, Christopher Morcom, who died from tuberculosis at only 18, his war work and his final hours.

The story was told through the beautiful poetry of (among others) Wilfred Owen, Sara Teasdale, Oscar Wilde and Robert Burns along with the words of the wicked witch in Disney’s Snow White, those of his mother, Sara Turing (who, like everyone else at the time, knew nothing of his war work), the voice of Neville Chamberlain and Gordon Brown’s apology on behalf of the Government in 2009.

Under David Temple, its irrepressible Newcastle-born conductor and musical director, the Hertfordshire Chorus, who commissioned the work, brought passion and pathos to this very substantial performance.

Soprano Naomi Harvey sung Sara Turing’s words with great feeling and the London Orchestra Da Camera also rose to the occasion.

Codebreaker is well deserving of further performances for the sheer theatricality of its story but also as a celebration of the art of one of our great young composers.

The other pieces on the evening’s concert programme worked well with the Codebreaker story, the highlight being an inspired rendition of the Vaughan Williams masterpiece, Towards the Unknown Region.

On July 5, David Temple will be back on home turf with his highly accomplished choir, headlining at Sage Gateshead with another of James McCarthy’s recent works, 17 Days, part of the story of the Chilean mining accident of 2010 which grabbed the attention of the world.

It should resonate in a region which has seen many mining accidents, often with less fortunate consequences than the one in Chile whose victims eventually emerged alive.


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