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What the critics say

This page contains highlights of reviews of live performances, in reverse chronological order. In most cases the full review can be read here.

Reviews of recordings can be found on individual recording pages, under Album details.

Mahler: Symphony No.8, 'Symphony of a Thousand'

Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Philharmonia Chorus, City of London Choir, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, Tiffin Boys' Choir, Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan School, cond. Vasily Petrenko

22nd October 2022, Royal Albert Hall

"This symphony traverses all life and ends, via the closing scene of Goethe’s Faust, in heaven. From the gargantuan crash of organ at the start, voices launching into “Veni creator spiritus”, to the phenomenal final climax, this is music of powerful physicality. Every member of every choir was drilled to the highest standards: the Philharmonia Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus, City of London Choir, Tiffin Boys’ Choir and School Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School... For anyone mourning the loss of large-scale, mind-shattering events in the past two years, this was redemption."

**** Fiona Maddocks, Observer

"Several of its best moments are big and visceral: take the thundering organ and vast walls of choral sound in the Veni, Creator Spiritus or the brass blazing from up high, behind the choir. That’s music you need to feel in your bones. Petrenko let those sonic spectacular passages soar, driving Part I forward and brilliantly landing Part II’s transcendent, redemptive conclusion 90 minutes later... The RPO was on agile, focused form. But really, this symphony is about the voice...."

The Times

"Fortune favours the bold, and it certainly favoured the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra on Sunday night. While post-pandemic nerves and imminent recession are persuading some outfits to play safe, the RPO booked the biggest venue in town to play the biggest symphony ever written, Gustav Mahler’s Eighth, the so-called “Symphony of a Thousand”. They were rewarded with a near sell-out house and a standing ovation.... At the very end, the massed voices of the Philharmonia Chorus, Bournemouth Symphony Chorus and City of London Choir first almost whispered and then sang at full volume Goethe’s famous lines about the Eternal Feminine leading us upward. Lord knows what they actually mean, but the joy and splendour of that final affirmation were overwhelming."

***** Ivan Hewett, Daily Telegraph

"The [Royal Albert] hall... is practically purpose-built for Mahler’s Eighth. Equipped with a thunderous organ and outlying balconies on which to place offstage instruments, it embraces the opening roar of Veni, Creator spritus (come, creative spirit) with expansive ease. Bring it on, says the hall, and that’s just what Vasily Petrenko and the Royal Philharmonic did, before a house that was packed, rapt and ecstatic. Almost as if Covid never happened... Of the half-dozen Mahler Eighths I have heard in concert, Tennstedt, Solti and Chailly stand out. Today’s was a performance in that elevated class, maybe even a bit more. A Mahler Eighth and a half. Otto e mezzo, as Fellini would have said." 

Slipped Disc

"It’s one of the few works in the repertory that’s ideally suited to the dimensions of the RAH, and, from the massive organ chord that launches the opening Veni Creator Spiritus hymn, the RPO’s imposing performance, with around 400 voices in the chorus, seven soloists and an orchestra of more than 100 players, certainly sounded as if it belonged there... The choral singing (the combined forces of the Philharmonia and Bournemouth Symphony choruses, City of London and Tiffin Boys’ choirs and the Schola Cantorum of the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School) was massive and glorious, the soloists utterly secure."

**** Andrew Clements, The Guardian

"...a glorious experience that nobody is going to forget in a hurry."

****The i 

Vaughan Williams 150th anniversary year: A Sea Symphony with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

3rd May 2022, Barbican

".... somehow the Barbican seems to offer a much “closer” experience for concertgoers; closer to the music and performers: the platform design being such that an orchestra seems to be almost within arm’s reach, or extending into the heart of the front stalls, with ample seating at angles on either extremity of the stage. Such proximity allowed the Barbican audience that night to savour the soft, silvery string sound of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra; the darting detail of woodwind in the shanty-like passages and RVW’s noble writing for horns, which the ensemble’s players clearly relished. Hilary Davan Wetton has been a presence on the conducting podium for many years... this conductor was certainly right for the great distances, moods and English visionary romanticism of A Sea Symphony

The maestro inspired some fine singing from the excellent City of London Choir, a formation of choral artists who provided some spine-tingling, hushed moments in the great final movement, 'The Explorers' – and in the work’s extraordinary scherzo movement – 'The Waves' – in which, on the edge of our seat (or deck) we experience tricky, treacherous tides and stormy waves splashing against the sides of our vessel, only for the ship to triumphantly steer through the wind and water...

And in the Barbican concert hall, with its razor-edged sound-clarity, the audience emerged exhilarated as if they had been walking along a coastal path – the “ceaseless flow” of the ocean and the blown spume, just a few precarious footsteps away." 

Stuart Millson,The Quarterly Review: Endnotes   

***To see the full review, please click here***

"Although many orchestras and musical organisations are marking the 150th anniversary of Vaughan Williams, the concert at the Barbican on May 3rd by the RPO and the City of London Choir, under the commanding figure of Hilary Davan Wetton, with soloists Sophie Bevan and Roderick Williams in the Sea Symphony, and the very rarely heard Fantasia on the Old 104th for solo piano, chorus and orchestra with Mark Bebbington, set standards in programming and performance it would be hard to beat. The programme began with the familiar overture to The Wasps, crisply and sensitively played, followed by the rarely-heard Norfolk Rhapsody No 1... Great interest lay in the Fantasia, dating from 1950, doubtless planned as a companion to Beethoven’s rarely heard Opus 80 for the same forces. In the challenging solo part Mark Bebbington proved ideal, his fine musicianship maintaining high technical and intellectual standards throughout. The City of London Choir was fully integrated in this challenging work, with intonation and diction admirably sustained. Davan Wetton’s grasp of this music was total, as it was in the nobly fine performance of the Sea Symphony. With soloists of this calibre, and the Choir fired up, as it were, by the Fantasia, the result was truly memorable, burnished by flawless and very moving contributions from Sophie Bevan, most especially in ‘Token of all brave captains’ and from Roderick Williams, whose phrasing, diction and musicianship in ‘On the beach at night’ were exceptional, flawlessly partnered throughout by Hilary Davan Wetton." 

James Palmer - Musical Opinion, July 2022   

***To see the full review, please click here***

"...The Overture to The Wasps is irresistible and it was given a sparkling outing here. Conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, who has just announced his retirement from the City of London Choir next year, had the energy of someone half his age, lithe and engaged and – at one climax in the second half – even flinging his baton into the second violins. Christopher Gough’s horn solo was a thing of understated beauty but the whole RPO line-up shone.
The Norfolk Rhapsody No. 1 was a change of mood, a world away from the rumbustious Wasps. Abigail Fenna’s beguiling viola solo was a cousin of RVW’s famous lark but darker in colour and Katherine Lacey’s clarinet at the other end of the piece was both reassuring and unsettling. In between Davan Wetton led a beautifully-paced build up and joyful folk dance section. It was a very winning performance. The second half consisted of A Sea Symphony... there was no questioning the commitment of this performance, or denying there were many wonderful moments. I always enjoy hearing Roderick Williams and this was no exception: his ability to switch on a sixpence from a grand oratorio manner (“O Thou transcendent”) to a conversational lieder-style (“To-day a rude brief recitative”) was wonderful. Sophie Bevan was delicate in duet with Williams, but occasionally took off the handbrake and soared. Likewise the choir were up for the big moments, but also revelled in the hushed a cappella passages, “bound where mariner has not yet dared to go”." 

Bernard Hughes, The Arts Desk   

***To see the full review, please click here***

Prom 2:  Ravel’s Daphnis et Chloé with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
Saturday, July 14, 2018 Royal Albert Hall


"...the combined choirs brought an otherworldly element of Ravel’s score as well as youthful ardour and virile power... The final ‘Bacchanal’ exuded electrifying energy and excitement."
Brian Barford, Classical Source    

***To see the full review, please click here***

Summer Music in City Churches: Storm and Refuge
Thursday 21 June, 2018, St Giles Cripplegate

“...It included settings of Psalm 29 and 48 by Elgar [Great is the Lord and Give unto the Lord], which actually date from the beginning of the War, or just before, and aren’t yet touched by it. But already one detects an elegiac feeling, alongside the outbursts of fervour, and at times – in the second – a strange harmonic unease, as if the music has temporarily lost its moorings. All these feelings were beautifully caught by the choir under their artistic director Hilary Davan Wetton. They summoned a terrific intensity of tone in the final tumultuous lines of Psalm 48, but even this was topped by the incandescent ending of the evening prayer Nunc Dimittis by Gustav Holst... After the interval we heard the Requiem by Maurice Duruflé... The performers, including baritone soloist John Lee caught the music’s seraphic calm, while the incisive playing of organist Mark Williams made sure the music’s radiance never seemed becalmed, which is always a danger with this piece. Occasionally the rapture was disturbed, as in the tragic Pie Jesu, which was thrillingly sung by mezzo soprano Marta Fontanals-Simmons. In all it was a fine start to the festival, which promises many good things over the coming week.” 

Ivan Hewett, The Daily Telegraph   

***To see the full review, please click here***

Summer Music in City Churches: Flowers of the Field with the London Mozart Players
Friday June 29, 2018 St Giles Cripplegate

“The bucolic dream continued in Gerald Finzi’s Requiem da Camera, haunted by strains of Butterworth and also Housman’s melancholy, especially in the opening section where ‘Loveliest of Trees’ and the bugle-call of battle are quoted. The setting of nine stanzas of Masefield’s August 1914 is quiet and close and was conveyed with light simplicity by the City of London Choir; hushed and profoundly moving. The baritone solo found [Roderick] Williams’s bass notes resonant with Finzi’s distinctive chromatic turns and triplets, and the final verse “We who are left” evokes the despair of the bereaved and the hope enshrined in renewal and birdsong, part of a performance to be treasured under Hilary Davan Wetton.”

***** Amanda-Jane Doran, Classical Source   

***To see the full review, please click here***

Mendelssohn: Elijah with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra
13 February 2018, Barbican

"...Hilary Davan Wetton directed a finely-shaped and commanding account of this great masterpiece with the City of London Choir consistently impressive in terms of weight, sensitivity ad tonal colour – the drama and intimacy of the work, a rare combination, were well conveyed in Davan-Wetton’s control of his large forces... it was the City of London Choir that won the plaudits for their finely-balanced tones throughout. An admirable evening."

James Palmer, Musical Opinion   

***To see the full review, please click here***

Haydn's Mass in Time of War with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

12 April 2016, Cadogan Hall

"....we heard a lovely account of the most celebrated ‘number’, ‘Laudate Dominum’. Grace Davidson offered a clean, honest, stylishly ornamented performance of the soprano part, her bell-like voice ideally suited. Warm playing and choral singing from the City of London Choir were equally appreciated… Haydn’s Missa in tempore belli received an equally fine performance. Its opening ‘Kyrie’ already seemed to speak both of the composer’s warm humanity and of his symphonic-developmental genius. Davidson’s soprano entry presented us with a change of tempo and mood, with all the virtues of her solo performance. Davan Wetton took the movement at quite a lick, yet without hurrying, let alone harrying, it. And how could one not fall in love, were one not already, with the composer of those responsorial (now soprano/alto to tenor/bass, now vice versa) eleisons? The ‘Gloria’ likewise had a proper sense of Haydn’s gloriously civilised eighteenth-century nature, with serious symphonic backbone lest one fall back on clichés of ‘Papa’. Davan Wetton’s choral experience was very clear – and welcome, as was the discipline of the singers themselves. The cello solo for the ‘Qui tollis’ section had its richness matched – sorry about another unintended pun – by that of the bass-baritone of Ashley Riches. Clarity and warmth were, again, shown to be anything but antithetical. There was a gloriously rich choral sound too on ‘suscipe’, followed by hushed by ‘deprecationem nostram’ premonitions of the Missa solemnis, also to be heard upon the imprecation ‘miserere nobis’. Highly convincingly, the ‘Quoniam’ section was taken at the tempo of a typical Haydn symphonic finale. Those ‘Amens’: again, how could one not adore them? ...Choral consolation was as real as it was lovable. We all need more Haydn in our lives; we all need more choral Haydn in our lives." 

Mark Berry, Boulezian   

***To see the full review, please click here***

Haydn’s Nelson Mass with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

November 2015, Cadogan Hall

"The City of London Choir impressed immediately in this exuberant and festive setting… This was a notable account, Davan Wetton the master of the music, energising it, caring for it while ensuring strength of purpose. Whatever was needed Davan Wetton judged it just-so, and with minimal pauses between sections an onward flow (but never rush or impatience) created an unbreakable experience. The City of London Choir was outstanding – honed and committed – the RPO consistently neat and stylish... the ‘Credo’ was sung (and swung) with true belief, and fugal writing was brought off with brisk clarity. Trumpets play a significant part in the scoring, adding exhilaration or sounding a warning, and (here from on-high) enhancing the dramatic interruption to the ‘Benedictus’. Of the other vocal soloists, Rachel Nicholls, with much to do, was fearless and uninhibited.

Conducted with conviction and insight, and unflappable co-ordination, Hilary Davan Wetton brought out the inspiring and consolatory nature of this music, the final words, “Dona nobis pacem” (Grant us peace), made uplifting. This was excellent. Amen!" 

Colin Anderson, Classical Source
***Full text available here***

Finzi Requiem da Camera: Music in Time of War with the London Mozart Players

November 2014, St John’s Smith Square

"It is not so often that new or little-known items by the composer Gerald Finzi (1901-56) emerge... There was surprise and delight, therefore, in discovering that the City of London Choir, under its conductor, Hilary Davan Wetton, has not only readdressed, but also recorded, Finzi’s early Requiem da Camera, a 20-minute work evolved scarcely five years after the Great War, but not heard till the 1990s.

It was inspired by the death in battle of Finzi’s beloved teacher Ernest Farrar (1885-1918), and into it Finzi injects the sadness of war, not by echoing Owen’s “monstrous anger of the guns”, but by implying war while underlining the rural idyll from which military service in the trenches separated the men.... Every small detail of Finzi’s writing – woodwind, chuntering horn, or the sad echo in a lulling, unfife-like flute of the Last Post – tells a story.

This was a noble performance that captured the yearning, mixed with enchantment, of this rare work: not quite mature in design, but absorbing in its honesty."
Church Times  

***To see the full review, please click here***

Finzi Requiem da Camera  (**UK premiere of new completion by Christian Alexander**): English Music Festival
May 2014, Dorchester Abbey


‘It was Farrar, Lewisham-born and later the Harrogate-based teacher of Gerald Finzi, killed near Le Cateau two months before the Armistice, to whom Finzi dedicated his post-war indictment – but also commemoration – of conflict, Requiem da Camera (“War’s annals will cloud into night Ere their story die”), roughly coinciding with Vaughan Williams’s elegiac Third Symphony. The City of London Choir under Hilary Davan Wetton gave a stirring performance of the Finzi as a culmination to that evening’s richly rewarding concert.’

Church Times

John Gardner Stabat Mater; Britten Rejoice in the Lamb; Vaughan Williams Five Mystical Songs
May 2013, Dorchester Abbey, English Music Festival 


‘Davan Wetton’s well-drilled City of London Choir, stalwarts of the festival, worked wonders with the late John Gardner’s (1917-2011) Stabat Mater – especially haunting for the soprano Lucy Hall’s Ariel-like high tessitura and dwelling on the agonised cry “Filius”; for the expressive choir words; and for the lucid organ registrations from Lichfield Cathedral’s former organist Philip Scriven… The highlight of the whole extended weekend, for me – though there was much I did not hear – was a performance of Britten’s Rejoice in the Lamb, his Christopher Smart cantata commissioned for St Matthew’s, Northampton. The voice of the 23-year-old tenor Edward Leach (“For the flowers are peculiarly The Poetry of Christ”) shone through like a beacon; and Vaughan Williams’s George Herbert setting, Five Mystical Songs, in which the young baritone Thomas Humphreys touched nerves one would associate with a John Shirley-Quirk or a Bryn Terfel. With such talent feeding through, and artists of such ravishing quality, what need the English Music Festival, or the English music scene, fear?’

Church Times

Holst’s Two Psalms and The Coming of Christ with the London Mozart Players

November 2010, St John’s Smith Square

"… the performers, the youthful City of London Choir under its director Hilary Davan Wetton (himself a long-standing champion of Holst’s work) proved that magic could be kindled there…"  

BBC Music Magazine blog 

"…The City of London Choir, under the energetic leadership of Hilary Davan Wetton, maintains close links to the English Music Festival (based in Dorchester on Thames); and the two share a laudable commitment to ensuring that less well known English repertoire, especially of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is given a chance to be heard, and now also recorded… In the late “Host of Heaven” section, the SATB choir came alive, prising out the colour from “the first blackbird’s cry Come, with the dripping of the new-shaken From twigs where yellowing leaves and reddening berries lie”, and achieving a perfectly timed, stilled effect from the quizzical, almost Eliot-like “and how night goes, but, on a sudden, is not, even… The finest, subtlest singing from the City of London Choir came at the very start: Holst’s setting of a 17th-century paraphrase of Psalm 86, in which the unison pianissimo lead-in by altos and basses was magical, and the ensuing tenor solo, first unaccompanied and then sus­tained by female voices, was won­der­fully atmospheric. The choral tutti that concluded was likewise uplifting and first-rate…" 

Church Times

‘‘The first is mystical and the second exuberant, and the choir responded to both with, by turns, singing of quiet ecstasy and jubilant exuberance. In both Holst works soloists from the chorus gave solid and distinguished performances… Quite why this work has languished in obscurity for so long is a mystery to me for it is very approachable and makes an appealing addition to the few great works which are heard every Christmas. The City of London Choir did Holst proud tonight, with their vibrant advocacy which conveyed their obvious delight in the music … an occasion to be relished and the City of London Choir is to be applauded – as it was, for over 2 minutes! – for giving us this opportunity to hear this wonderful music." 

MusicWeb International 

Britten’s St Nicolas Cantata with the London Mozart Players

November 2010, St John’s Smith Square

"the City of London Choir’s contri­bu­­tions were vital and galvanised, and the work came over particularly well as a vivid dramatic entity, not least in the vigorous storm scene and at Nicolas’s farewell, touchingly offset by the Nunc Dimittis."  

Church Times 

"…Using all the forces in the hall, the four trebles, as the baby Nicholas and the Pickled Boys were excellent, the small, but significant, contribution from the St Paul’s Girls School Chamber Choir, placed in the gallery, was most welcome, and with Justin Lavender a fine soloist, totally in command of the music, and delivering a muscular and insightful account of his part… Davan Wetton directed a fine performance which raised the work onto a higher plain than that on which it actually resides. But the evening was most memorable for the fine singing of the City of London Choir, and full praise to them and their director Hilary Davan Wetton for such an inspired programme…" 

MusicWeb International

Beethoven’s Der Glorreiche Augenblick with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

March 2010, Barbican

"In this extremely rare performance, the City of London Choir, under conductor Hilary Davan Wetton, sang a partial rewrite by the German conductor Hermann Scherchen… the best of the 40-minute piece expresses the same kind of humane optimism Beethoven would fully explore in his Ninth Symphony. The final section, in which a children’s choir and Turkish instruments add to the general rejoicing, achieves a genuine sense of celebration. The City of London Choir and the Royal Philharmonic were on impressive form throughout." 

The Guardian 

Vaughan Williams’s Hodie and Finzi’s In Terra Pax with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

November 2008, Barbican

"Singing with consoling warmth here, the choir found full-throated power where needed in Hodie… Marshalling the Royal Philharmonic, the boys of Westminster Under School and a trio of soloists along with his well-blended choir, Hilary Davan Wetton was the commanding conductor. I don’t expect to hear better Christmas music this season."  

Sunday Telegraph 

Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy with the London Mozart Players and narrator Timothy West

May 2008, Queen Elizabeth Hall

"the singers… supplied an idyllic soundscape, and the ripe-toned speaker etched in all the poetic detail. Conducted with nuance by Hilary Davan Wetton, this programme (with the London Mozart Players) also featured the violinist So-Ock Kim in Vaughan Williams’s The Lark Ascending, a poised performance that took gentle flight, plus rare choral treasures by Holst and Bliss." 

Sunday Telegraph 

Carols for choir and audience, December 2007

"A carol concert with bells on, this annual appearance [at the Queen Elizabeth Hall] by the City of London Choir – one of the country’s leading amateur outfits – does away with stiff British reserve." 

The Guardian 


Arthur Bliss’s Pastoral: Lie Strewn the White Flocks

March 2007, St John’s Smith Square

"…the conductor Hilary Davan Wetton unlocked its elusive beauty. The choir sang with well-blended tone throughout, most memorably in ‘The Naiads’ Music’, where the women’s voices had gossamer lightness …another of the City of London Choir’s enterprising programmes." 

Sunday Telegraph 

Vaughan Williams's An Oxford Elegy: the inaugural English Music Festival, with Milton Keynes City Orchestra and narrator Jeremy Irons

October 2006, Dorchester Abbey

"The orchestra was joined by the excellent City of London Choir for the two works that framed the concert [Holst’s Two Psalms and Vaughan Williams’s An Oxford Elegy]. The orchestra, chorus and narrator all caught the melancholic mood of the piece… The choir and orchestra excelled under the adroit direction of Davan Wetton. Together, they were able to demonstrate what great English musical treasures have been allowed to gather dust, and to show what a great shame it is that they have been allowed to do so." 

The Independent 

Janácek’s Otce nás

April 2006, St John’s Smith Square

"this mosaic-like score came across with flow and propulsion thanks to the sympathetic conducting of Hilary Davan Wetton. The choral singing was richly detailed, and softly floated textures contrasted effectively with episodes of full-voiced power." 

Sunday Telegraph

Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine and Requiem

April 2006, St John’s Smith Square

"Pleasure is exactly what this performance generated." 

Sunday Telegraph 

Haydn’s Mass in Time of War and Vaughan Williams’s Dona nobis pacem with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra

November 2003, Barbican

"the choir’s handling of the Vaughan Williams, the difficult chromatic lines tackled with secure intonation and clear, confident articulation, was an achievement of which it can be proud." 

The Guardian 

Bach’s St John Passion with Florilegium

April 2003, St John’s Smith Square

"This performance of the St. John Passion certainly stood out, with the City of London Choir confirming its reputation as a leader among non-professional choruses. Next season sees the choir’s fortieth anniversary, but few of its members would have been born when the group was founded: the choir sings with fresh vitality. Under the baton of its music director, Hilary Davan Wetton, the opening chorus rolled out majestically, yet there was also a lightness of attack essential in this music. Though the choir is hardly small, it can sing with soft control. There was a strong sense of performance pleasure here, making for musical results a far cry from those rooted in maudlin routine. Such a lively, responsive chorus is well suited to this work, characterised as it is by dramatic interventions. The restrained drama of the rush to Golgotha, where the chorus joins the bass soloist, was superbly managed. And the consoling final chorus was sung with expressive warmth." 

The Times

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