AN ultimate choral pinnacle, Thomas Tallis’ masterpiece Spem in Alium, is always a draw and Durham Cathedral was packed for The Durham Singers’ much-anticipated performance of the work.

The build-up to the main event saw the recital of other pieces by Tallis and English composers who drew inspiration from him.

The first half of the concert, under the direction of Francesca Massey, set the scene with Tallis’ radiant Salvator Mundi, with heavenly sopranos warmly embraced by the basses and altos.

One of Herbert Howells’ influences was Gloucester Cathedral with its immense vaulted spaces and glorious east window and he consciously set out to mirror these architectural elements.

Massey shaped a impressive account of his Requiem, with its long arching phrases reaching a zenith in a heartfelt account of the last movement.

Professor Julian Wright then took over the reigns with Vaughan Williams’ brooding Silence and Music, harking to Tallis’ Sancte Deus which followed.

Vaughan Williams’ partsong Rest was exquisite, while Valiant-for-Truth was magnificently opened by the altos and featured powerful singing from the basses.

Tallis’ Spem in Alium was written for 40 parts, divided into eight choirs of five singers, with each voice part having its own distinct character.

Beginning with a solo voice, the singers gradually joined in as they scaled its heights, creating a seamless and shimmering overall effect of shifting colour.

The last impassioned line resonated around the cathedral long after the singing had stopped. A magical and moving experience.

Gavin Engelbrecht