AS an audience member, you often feel that what’s happening on stage is slightly distant, that you’re removed somehow from the nerves, concentration and intensity of the musicians doing their work.

The East Oxford Community Choir turned that separation on its head, starting this New Year’s Concert off by encircling the audience at Iffley Road’s SJE church with its 40-strong choir in an immersive and spellbinding performance of Tallis’ Spem in Alium.

Every single choir member stared intently into the centre of the space, where Peter McMullin stood expertly coordinating this feat of polyphony, and the sense of focus and commitment to the music was palpable, the choir breathing as one and coming off notes together into the rare silences with an admirable precision.

While a bigger church with more space and width would have suited this surround sound effect better, this was nevertheless a unique and captivating start to the concert.

It was a tough act to follow, but Mozart’s Violin Concerto no 5, in which the orchestra were joined by soloist Anna Snesar, showcased the violinist’s choice of intense, full-bodied tone colour, rich at its core with a warm vibrato that effortlessly cut through the appropriately buoyant orchestra, guided here with quiet confidence by Dexter Drown.

While this approach risked weighing down the bright and jovial character of the music, Snesar achieved a subtlety of wit and uplift in her interpretation that allowed her to breeze through the virtuoso passages and took us, and indeed the orchestra, with her through the sometimes unexpected twists and turns of harmony. The humour in this music was evidently not lost on the musicians, Snesar manipulating the phrasing to provoke even the audience into a little collective grin, just audible around the room in the final silence of the Rondeau’s cadenza, and made for an upbeat conclusion to the first half.

Hummel’s Mass in Bb didn’t contain quite the same number of memorable melodies and variation of harmony present in the first half, but the performance was excellent.

The choir and orchestra came together and were joined by an organ to form a huge sound which was very well balanced, the choir never overpowering the orchestra.

Equally well managed was the shaping of the overall arc of the piece. The display here was as much visual as sonic, and one could not help but watch the exceedingly energised Dexter Drown as he provided the drive and charge behind this performance, never switching off the confidence and charisma required by someone conducting this number of musicians.

  • The East Oxford Community Choir next performs at SS Mary & John Cowley Road, Oxford on May 3.