All posts by Admin

Latest tweets


Rutter’s Magnificat

Saturday 9 December 2017, 7.30pm, St Mary’s Church, Kippington, Sevenoaks

Poster for Cantate Choir's Christmas Concert in 2017, Rutter's MagnificatOur next concert is on Saturday 9 December at St. Mary’s Church, Kippington, Sevenoaks. This is a Christmas concert including John Rutter’s Magnificat, and music by Poulenc, Bach, Mendelssohn and more.  The Magnificat is an uplifting piece, combining many colourful styles, from sections full of lively energy to moments of peaceful reflection; and it includes the lovely setting of the old English poem ‘Of a Rose’.  Robin Walker will conduct and our organist for the evening will be Riccardo Bonci.

Trevor Eliot-Bowes

Trevor performed with the Cantate Choir in the Handel’s Messiah in January 2016.

TrevorEliotBowes2015Colour300W

Bass-baritone Trevor Eliot Bowes was born in Victoria, Canada and studied at the University of Toronto and RSAMD. He made his British debut as Trulove in The Rake’s Progress at the Aldeburgh Festival where he has also performed Purcell’s King Arthur and The Faerie Queen. Trevor has performed in St. Petersburg, Moscow and Hamburg as Fedro in Mattheson’s Boris Goudenow for Early Music Russia and in Strasbourg for Le Parlement de Musique. Concert performances include the Thief in Grieg’s Peer Gynt with the RSNO, Bach Cantatas under Helmuth Rilling in Toronto and Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem at the Usher Hall, Edinburgh. Trevor was formerly a full-time member of Opera North, where highlights include Talbot in Maria Stuarda opposite Sarah Connolly, and the drum-maker in Jonathan Dove’s The Adventures of Pinocchio. Recent engagements include Marschallin’s Footman/Boots in Der Rosenkavalier at Glyndebourne, Castro in La Fanciulla del West at English National Opera and a recording of Balfe’s Satanella (Arimanes) under Richard Bonynge to be released on Naxos in 2016. Trevor is now a full-time member of English National Opera.

Tom Randle

Tom performed with the Cantate Choir in the Handel’s Messiah in January 2016.

Tom Randle, TenorPhotograph: Clare Park

Tom Randle began early studies in conducting and composition, but a scholarship to study voice soon meant a change in career direction. He made his début with the English National Opera as Tamino in The Magic Flute and has repeated the role with great success at Deutsche Oper Berlin, Glyndebourne Festival Opera, Hamburg, New Zealand and the Covent Garden Festival. Well known for his vivid and committed stage portrayals and a unique ability to embrace a wide variety of repertoire, Tom has emerged as one of the most exciting and versatile artists of his generation.

This Season, Tom Randle will partake in the world premiere of Marta, a new opera written by Wolfgang Mitterer, under the baton of Clement Power at Opéra de Lille followed by Die Soldaten with the Teatro Colon. Future engagements will include Elecktra with Berlin Staatsoper (co production with Aix) followed by Gran Teatre del Liceu.

Tom Randle made his Royal Opera House début as Essex in Phyllida Lloyd’s highly acclaimed production of Gloriana, which was later released as a feature film for BBC Television. Other appearances for the Royal Opera include Johnny Inkslinger in Paul Bunyan and the Fool in Gawain. Tom Randle is very active in the field of contemporary music with several world premières to his credit, many of which were written especially for him. This includes the role of Dionysus in John Buller’s opera The Bacchae for ENO, the world première of Peter Schat’s opera Symposium for the Netherlands Opera, and the world première of John Taverner’s oratorio The Apocalypse for the BBC Proms. He also created the role of Nunez in Mark-Anthony Turnage’s opera The Country of the Blind, written for the 50th Anniversary of the Aldeburgh Festival, and premiered and recorded Penderecki’s oratorio Credo for the Oregon Bach Festival. His intense portrayal of Judas in the world première of Birtwistle’s Last Supper under Daniel Barenboim at the Staatsoper Berlin (as well as Glyndebourne) won him outstanding critical acclaim.

Mr Randle devotes equal time to an active concert career, singing with many of the world’s leading orchestras including the Boston and Chicago Symphony Orchestra, Los Angeles Philharmonic, The London Symphony, Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras, the Israel Philharmonic, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France, The English Concert with conductors such as Daniel Barenboim, Michael Tilson Thomas, Sir Colin Davis, Myung-Whung Chung, Yan-Pascal Tortelier, Ghennadi Rozhdestvensky, Richard Hickox, Harry Christophers, Trevor Pinnock, and Ivan Fischer. Amongst his recordings are the title role in Handel’s Samson with Harry Christophers on Collins Classics, Vaughan Williams’ A Cotswold Romance with the London Symphony Orchestra and Hickox for Chandos (both premiere recordings) and orchestral works by Luigi Nono on the EMI label. Tom also appeared as Molqui in the ground-breaking film version of John Adams’ Death of Klinghoffer for Channel 4, released on DVD, and as Monostatos in Kenneth Branagh’s The Magic Flute.

As a composer, his works have been performed in the UK, Europe and the US, including the Buxton and Presteigne Festivals, Lille Opera and the Broad Stage concert hall in Los Angeles. His latest opera ‘A telephone Call’ premieres this spring with Second Movement, and will later form part of the Tètè Opera Festival.

Francesco Ghelardini

Francesco performed with the Cantate Choir in the Handel’s Messiah in January 2016.

Francesco Gheraldini, Countertenor

Francesco Ghelardini was born in Florence and has studied Singing with Kathleen Lafferty at the Conservatorio Luigi Cherubini, where he also studied Recorder with David Bellugi. He attended classes in baroque performance with Rossana Bertini, Jill Feldmann, Gloria Banditelli and Christophe Rousset.

He has sung with such recognized conductors as Rinaldo Alessandrini, Peter Phillips, Andrew Lawrence-King, Alan Curtis and has been regularly invited to many leading festivals in Italy and abroad, such as Festival Monteverdiano di Cremona, Festival Pucciniano di Torre del Lago, Festival di Spoleto, Accademia Chigiana, Auditòrio Nacional de Musica de Madrid, Maggio Musicale Fiorentino, Milano Classica, Barocktage Stift Melk. He has sung the main part in Alessandro Melani’s Il Sacrificio d’Abel with Concerto Italiano under conductor Rinaldo Alessandrini at the early music festival Trigonale in Klagenfurt (Austria) and in Cuenca (Spain) at the Semàna Musica Religiosa. He has sung the title role in Carissimi’s Historia di Job at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London and at Festival Barocco in Viterbo. In Florence at the Teatro della Pergola he has played the role of Amore Divino in A. Scarlatti’s Trionfo della Vergine SS with the baroque orchestra Il Rossignolo and the roles of Secrecy, Mopsa and Chinese Man in Purcell’s Fairy Queen at the Teatro Goldoni with Maggio Fiorentino Baroque Orchestra. Most recently he has been Cornelia in Scarlatti’s Il Trionfo dell’Onore at the Teatro Verdi in Pisa.

His recordings, for labels like Opus111, Divox Antiqua and Tactus, include Monteverdi’s Vespro della Beata Vergine for OPUS111 with Concerto Italiano and Cesti’s Le Disgrazie d’Amore for Hyperion with Auser Musici (The Courtier).

Programme Notes – Handel’s Messiah

I know that my Redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth. And though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.   Book of Job xix:25-26

Poster for Handel's Messiah concert given by Cantate Choir in January 2016

These words, which begin Part III of the mighty oratorio ‘Messiah’, were inscribed on George Frideric Handel’s tomb in Poets’ Corner in Westminster Abbey when he died in 1759. This aria, written in the optimistic, bright and certain key of E major, opens with two notes (dominant rising to tonic) and sums up for me the entire piece; without any shadow of a doubt, with no possibility for confusion, Handel says, ‘I believe’. He genuinely felt that the whole piece was given to him by God. As Patrick Kavenaugh records in his Spiritual Lives of the Great Composers, Handel said to his bemused servant “I did think I did see all Heaven before me, and the great God Himself.” Handel had just finished writing a movement that would take its place in history as the Hallelujah Chorus.

How fitting it is that tonight’s performance is in aid of The Hospice in the Weald. In 1741, two letters arrived, which changed Handel’s position and musical history forever. First came an invitation from the Duke of Devonshire to come to Dublin and provide a series of benefit concerts ‘For the relief of the prisoners in the several gaols, and for the support of Mercer’s Hospital in Stephen Street, and of the Charitable Infirmary on the Inn’s Quay’. Then, a letter arrived from Charles Jennens, a literary scholar and editor of Shakespeare’s plays, who had previously written libretti for Handel. The letter contained Old and New Testament texts, which Handel read and re-read and was so moved that he immediately embarked on writing a sacred opera using them. Messiah premiered on April 13, 1742 in Dublin as a charitable benefit, raising 400 pounds and freeing 142 men from debtor’s prison. It has not been out of performance for a single year since, a record unsurpassed by any other classical work. It was performed again and again for charitable concerts and Handel would not take a penny from the ticket sales, believing that God, not he, had written the piece. At his death, he bequeathed the manuscript and parts to the Foundling Hospital, founded by Thomas Coram in 1739, which continues to benefit to this day from performances of Messiah. Charles Burney, the 18th century music historian, remarked that Handel’s Messiah “fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and fostered the orphan.”

Why then, is Messiah such an enduring and monumental piece? Why is it performed every year all over the world? Why are there choral societies committed to performing nothing else? It is not a typical oratorio; there are no named characters, no plot and no narrative. There is no drama of action or personalities and no dialogue. Our usual thirst for soap opera shenanigans will not be satisfied here. So why do we keep coming back for more?

For one thing, it is a work, whose three parts, take in the entire sweep of the traditions and beliefs of the Christian faith and follows the liturgical year:

  • Part I- Prophecy of Salvation, the birth of Christ Jesus (Advent, Christmas)
  • Part II- Crucifixion and Death (Lent, Easter, Ascension, Pentecost)
  • Part III- Resurrection and the promise of eternal life for believers (End of year and end of time)

The second reason for its recurrent popularity is that it is simply full of good tunes and rousing choruses, which enable us as Everyman to grasp something of the ineffable mysteries of these sacred texts and to go away feeling spiritually uplifted regardless of our beliefs and understandings.

The main reason, however, has to be the sheer genius of the man (or perhaps it really was his divine inspiration). Handel paints the texts so vividly and gloriously that it seems impossible not to be profoundly moved by each and every aria, chorus and instrumental interlude.

The libretto by Jennens is also monumental and scholarly. The texts are compiled from the Bible: mostly from the Old Testament of the King James Bible, but with several psalms taken from the Book of Common Prayer. He takes lines from here and there to construct ‘scenes’ of meditation upon aspects of the Messiah. We perform Part I complete, which takes us through the surprisingly restrained prophecies and announcements of Christ’s coming, through the excitement of the birth (For unto us a child is born), the appearance of angels before the shepherds (Glory to God) and on to the great optimism of the believers (Rejoice greatly, He shall feed his flocks).

Part II deals with Christ’s sufferings and betrayal. We cut numbers 27-37, which deal with the actual crucifixion and reception into Heaven, and take up the scene with the moving reaction to his death (How beautiful are the feet) and the gradual spreading of the gospel despite the world’s rejection (Hallelujah). Part III is also shortened to focus on the certainty of believers that the Redeemer is still very much alive in men’s hearts and that when ‘The Trumpet shall sound’ death and sin will be conquered and we will find ourselves with God. The final chorus maintains the focus solely on the Messiah, not the unworthy mortals who usually receive some absolution at the end of such works. “Worthy is the Lamb that was slain and hath redeemed us to God by His blood, to receive power, and riches, and wisdom, and strength, and honour, and glory, and blessing. Blessing, and honour, and glory, and power, be unto him who sitteth upon the throne and unto the lamb for ever and ever, Amen.”

Sara Kemsley

Review of Handel’s Messiah concert by Graeme Fife

23rd January 2016
Pamoja Hall – Sevenoaks School

Poster for Handel's Messiah concert given by Cantate Choir in January 2016Handel composed the music for Messiah in twenty four days in August, 1741 – a speed of writing not unusual for him. Its first performance was given in Dublin – for reasons which need not detain us here – and takings for the concert benefited three charities. It was entirely appropriate, then, that Cantate chose this great oratorio for their showpiece concert and made it a benefit performance for Hospice in the Weald. Their target: £10,000.

The choir which sang that first night in Dublin comprised 32 singers, about the same as the forces on which Cantate’s energetic conductor, Robin Walker, can call. The excellent instrumental ensemble Vivace!, with whom the choir collaborates from time to time, is also small in number but large and generous in music.

The wood-lined, open barn-like structure of the Pamoja Hall at Sevenoaks School (the word is Swahili, meaning ‘together’) has a feel of the Snape Maltings and this evening the combined forces of choir and small, elite orchestra filled it with a glorious diapason.

For this gala occasion, Walker secured the services of four soloists of singular distinction: Gillian Keith (soprano), Francesco Ghelardini (counter-tenor), Tom Randle (tenor) and Trevor Eliot Bowes (bass). Each of them sang with wonderful clarity of tone and diction, and a pure musicality which, allied to the verve and sonority of the Cantate choir, and the crisp and rounded playing of Vivace! made for a fine and memorable performance.

From the very opening, Walker conducting from the continuo console, the level of singing and playing was of the highest quality. (Handel had his own organ shipped to Ireland.) It was good to watch, too – never overlook the small drama of two Baroque trumpeters and timpanist gliding in noiselessly through a side door like stealthy autograph hunters during one movement to take up position for their contribution in the next number.

Fugal passages are where most choirs falter, if they lack cohesion, but Cantate have a choral discipline second to none. Moreover, they exhibit a fluent control of dynamic, tone and vocal coherence which comes only from alert intelligence, thorough-going rehearsal ethic and excellent pitching of notes.

There is no evidence that king George II was even present at the first performance of Messiah in London and the earliest mention of the audience standing during the Hallelujah chorus dates to 1756. However, when the audience in Pamoja stood up together this evening, there was a palpable thrill in the hall.

At the end of the interval – glasses of English vineyard fizz and a second visitation of raffle ticket sellers in the foyer – the choir master triggered another thrill in the hall: the evening had raised more than £10,000. Hallelujah.

When Handel reached Fishguard en route to Ireland, he dined at an inn where he ordered ‘dinner for two’. When the landlord asked him where his dining companion was, the composer replied: ‘I am der two.’ Gargantuan appetite, superabundant musical genius and sponsor of another triumph for Cantate.

Graeme Fife

Thomas Tallis – Spem in Alium – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 22 March 2014 – St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks

Poster for Spem in Alium concert, March 2014

Rejoice in the Lord alway, and again I say rejoice. Philippians 4:4-7

There can be no doubt that much of the greatest western music ever conceived has been done so in affirmation of Christian beliefs and never more so than in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. All over Europe and Britain, composers and performers were learning from each other and competing with each other to pay greater homage to God, to his son Jesus and his mother Mary.

Our musical journey tonight takes us through Italy, into Slovenia and Germany and thence to the Netherlands. From there, we cross the channel to devote the whole of the second half to English pieces and rightly so. The Europeans were good at this time but arguably the English were better. This period under Mary I, Elizabeth I and James I was prosperous but fraught with religious tensions as Catholic and Anglican loyalties were tested beyond the very limits of endurance. Not until the twentieth century does Britain again boast so many composers to equal those of Europe.

Joining us on our journey are the illustrious period instrumentalists, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts. The cornett, put simply, is a wooden trumpet with finger-holes. It is very versatile and capable of great flexibility. This is also true of the narrow-bored sackbut with its slide mechanism. Both could play many more notes than other wind instruments of the time and so were very popular with composers to supplement and complement music for human voices, the pre-eminent medium of the day. Players would often embellish the vocal parts and improvise variations (divisions) in between. Bottrigari in his instrumental treatise of 1594 in Venice said “Cornetts and trombones…play divisions that are neither scrappy, nor so wild and involved that they spoil the underlying melody and the composer’s design: but are introduced at such moments and with such vivacity and charm that they give the music the greatest beauty and spirit.” HMSC have chosen pieces which perfectly complement our programme and also play with us in four pieces after the custom of the day.

Our opening set from Italy demonstrates the extraordinary creative range of the period; Gabrieli effervesces, Palestrina is more thoughtful and considered, Gesualdo you will recall from our last concert is pretty weird for the times but wait until you hear the highly chromatic instrumental piece by Guami!

Moving then to central and northern Europe, you will probably notice a heavier tread and thicker accent, if I may risk such stereotyping! Jacob Handl from Slovenia was a counter-reformation Catholic and therefore the words he set had to be crystal clear. This setting of the Lord’s Prayer is unusual in juxtaposing a high choir with a low one. The German composers (Hassler, Scheidt, Schütz) were familiar with the work of the Italians but their focus on text is keener and they more often point an important phrase or sentence by using homophonic (chordal) music. The Italians perhaps sought to express the emotion of the text more than the meaning. We finish the half with Laudate Dominum by the Dutch organist and keyboard composer Sweelinck. This piece is the best-known of his vocal pieces and it has recognizably keyboard features, especially in the Amen section. The complications in the vocal parts could more easily be rendered by 5-fingered organists!

In England, the great patrons of the arts were the monarch and the cathedrals, which outlived the abbeys and monasteries abolished by Henry VIII. There was a hunger for music which glorified God and Monarch (though not necessarily in that order!) in a style which was recognisably English, for the split from Rome was still recent and, for many, painful. William Byrd and Thomas Tallis were both esteemed members of the Chapel Royal whose music graced every possible royal occasion. Peter Philips was a devout Catholic who therefore spent most of his adult life abroad where he learned from both the Dutch and the Italian composers. Thomas Weelkes spent most of his career at Chichester Cathedral. His writing harks back at times to the old and in the case of this piece about a father mourning the death of his son the medieval false relations (‘wrong notes’) give added poignancy to the expression of grief.

Matthew Locke is the latest of our composers, heading towards the Baroque style but an important composer in England not least in his appointment as composer for ‘the King’s sackbutts and cornets’, the king by now being Charles I. And so we reach the jewel in the crown, Spem in Alium in 40 parts by Thomas Tallis.

It is not known exactly when and why Tallis wrote this piece for eight 5-part choirs mixing voices and instruments at will. The various theories are, however, interesting and give more insights into composing and performing practices of the period. There have been other similarly massive pieces and almost certainly Tallis heard the 40-part motet by Alessandro Striggio when he visited London in 1567. He may well have liked the challenge of doing something similar and better. It could have been written for the 40th birthday of the monarch, Mary in 1556 or Elizabeth in 1573.

Forty is also a symbolic number. It is mentioned 146 times in Scripture and points to or symbolises trial and testing, or probation. Five (voices) and eight (choirs) point to ‘actions through grace’ leading to ‘renewal and redemption’.

Musicologist Denis Stevens believes it was first performed at the Duke of Norfolk’s London home in 1570 or 1571. Norfolk had catholic leanings and the text chosen by Tallis, also still a member of the Catholic Church, makes a point about sin, redemption and humility. This could have been covertly aimed at the queen who was involved in the suppression of Catholics at the time.

Wherefore ever it came into being, this is no hubristic intellectual exercise but a masterclass in controlled polyphony and well-judged homophony. The eight choirs perform separately, in groups and together, and the sheer power of the massive texture is exhilarating. This is how we English, in quires and places where they sing, ‘rejoice in the Lord alway’.

Sara Kemsley

Music for a Summer Evening – Programme Notes

7.00pm, Saturday 14 June – St Martin’s Church, Brasted

Front cover

Soloists

Robin WalkerConductor
Iestyn EvansOrgan

Programme

T. Campion 1557—1620 – Never weather-beaten sail
J. Bartlet fl. 1606—10 – Of all the birds that I do know
R. Jones fl. 1597—1615 – Farewell, dear love
G. Finzi 1901—56 – My spirit sang all day
E. Elgar 1857—1934 – As torrents in summer
C.H.H. Parry 1848—1918 – Music, when soft voices die
C.V. Stanford 1852—1924 – The blue bird
F. Delius 1862—1934 – To be sung of a summer night on the water (two unaccompanied part-songs)
G.B. Pergolesi 1710—1736 – Magnificat
A. Hollins 1865—1942 – A Trumpet Minuet
J. Jongen 1873—1953 – Petite Prélude
M. Lanquetuit 1894—1985 – Toccata
Eric Whitaker b. 1970 – Sleep
G.F. Handel 1685—1759 – My heart is inditing

Programme notes

Music, when soft voices die, vibrates in the memory Percy Bysshe Shelley

The theme of this poem, set to music by Parry among several others, is the ability of sounds, sights, smells and emotions to linger and be stirred in the memory long after the fact. In some ways a thread of memories is stirred by tonight’s programme but it is an uncertain and discontinuous one. It is a trail which we now lose and then rediscover in another place and another time.

The first half may be said to encompass two periods of English Renaissance, the first in the 16th and 17th century with the flowering of madrigals, ayres and anthems and the second in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, when composers stepped once more into the light of European recognition. England under Elizabeth I and James I provided a period of peace and encouragement for the arts. In a list of 67 composers from this time, 24 of them are names you will probably know or who made pieces you would recognise if you heard them. Then the land fell largely silent.

In 1904, the German critic Oskar Schmitz described Britain as a ‘land without music’. However, there was already a revival afoot in music making at all levels. There was huge growth in amateur and professional choirs and orchestras and we remain unsurpassed in our national quality of performance to this day. The Royal College of Music was expressly set up ‘to rival the Germans’ and produced the leaders of this new movement in Parry and Stanford. What they started, the likes of Elgar, Finzi, Vaughan Williams, Holst, Walton and even Delius continued. ‘Fritz’ Delius was considered too German to count but ironically it is his music which captures the idyllic English countryside and lazy summer days better than anyone’s.

In the first English Renaissance, you could argue that the poetry was not great but the musical settings often were. Do we remember George Gascoigne, the poet Thomas Campion or anon.? Unlikely! The words are often obscure and susceptible to erotic interpretation as with John Bartlet’s Philip the sparrow, who cries yet, yet, yet, yet…..! By the time of the second Renaissance, English Literature is a major world subject with a long unbroken tradition. Parry and Stanford moved in the same circles as Robert Bridges, Mary Coleridge, Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Christina Rossetti and Alfred Lord Tennyson.

Tackling their poetry must have been both privileged and intimidating. Later generations of composers like Finzi and Delius had some latent memory for word setting built into their DNA, which makes their songs generally more fluid and natural. ‘My spirit sang all day’ is No.3 of Finzi’s Seven Poems by Robert Bridges. It captures the emotional arc of the lover’s joy in just 44 bars of sublime music. ‘The Blue Bird’ is a setting by Stanford of a Mary Coleridge poem. She was grand-niece to Samuel Taylor Coleridge and her father Arthur Duke Coleridge founded the London Bach Choir with Jenny Lind in 1875. Robert Bridges, the Poet Laureate, described her poems as ‘wondrously beautiful… but mystical rather and enigmatic’. Stanford’s setting still seems experimental today and hard to pull off but it paints the most wonderful image of summer blue all around you.

For the second half of our concert, we step in from the fertile territory of our green and pleasant land – quite literally if weather has permitted the first half to be outdoors. We have already seen that pupils will usually surpass their teachers but it comes to something when a pupil passes off his teacher’s piece as his own. Well, in fairness, it was not Pergolesi himself but a much more recent musicologist who wrongly ascribed Francisco Durante’s ‘Magnificat in Bb major’ to Pergolesi and the myth persists despite most scholars disagreeing. Whoever wrote it, it is typical of the School of Naples in the seventeenth century, where both men worked. Technically competent, it is an unsentimental setting of Mary’s song of gratitude, once she has come to terms with being single, pregnant, poor and homeless. She realizes that she has effectively been crowned the queen of heaven, mother of God, ‘from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed’.

Eric Whitacre is an American composer and something of a Gareth Malone of the internet. His choral pieces draw on the long back catalogue of English language word setting. They are understated, direct, yet with a personal voice. What he does with his pieces is to use cutting-edge technology to bring ordinary people together from around the world in performance. Do visit his website www.ericwhitacre.com and experience his virtual choir performances of ‘Sleep’ and other works or listen to him on the global TED website (www.ted.com), which brings ideas together from Technology, Entertainment and Design.

This piece started out as a setting of Robert Frost’s poem ‘Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening’ but copyright issues meant he could not use the words so he asked a friend to write new lyrics and, personally, I think they are better.

And so we come to the one strong voice in the Land without Music, which sang out between one renaissance and the next and, blow me down, he was German and this piece was written for the coronation of a German! Of course, another strong theme for this land of ours is to welcome immigrants and adopt them as our own. It is therefore entirely fitting for Handel to take words set by Purcell at the Coronation of James II in 1685 (the year of Handel’s birth but that is nothing to do with anything) and use them for his own setting at the Coronation of George II in 1727. ‘My heart is inditing’ is the fourth Coronation Anthem and the last in the ceremony when the queen is crowned, in this case Charlotte. The words from Psalm 45 and Isaiah 49 extol the virtues and rank of women. ‘Kings’ daughters were among thy honourable women’ and the queen is as ‘a nursing mother’ to the nation. The Cantate Choir sang Purcell’s version in June 2009 alongside Parry’s Songs of Farewell, settings of English poets including Thomas Campion….. ah, there go those vibrations again!

Sara Kemsley

Linsay Martin

Linsay read for the choir during its A Gala Christmas concert in December 2014

LinsayMartin300W

Linsay trained at Aberystwyth University, earning a joint honours B.A. in English and Drama. She has participated in many amateur and semi-professional productions: plays, musicals, operas, cabarets and reviews. Highlights include Nellie Forbush in ‘South Pacific’, both Joyce Harper and Miss Gossage in different productions of ‘The Happiest Days of Your Life’ and Third Priest in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ – a professional production which she also choreographed (and understudied Caiaphas and Herod!). Linsay worked as a theatrical dresser and (briefly) wardrobe mistress at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre in Guildford.

Linsay has also worked in television as a Producer’s Assistant at Euston Films (productions including ‘Capital City’, ‘Selling Hitler’ and ‘Anglo-Saxon Attitudes’), P.A. to the Controller of Drama at London Weekend Television and a Drama Script Editor at the BBC (‘Silent Witness’ series 2 and ‘The Hello Girls’). She re-trained after having her two children and is now a primary school teacher who dabbles in voice-over work, when the opportunity arises.

Lawrence Thornbury

Lawrence read for the choir during its A Gala Christmas concert in December 2014

LawrenceThornbury300W

Lawrence trained at Guildford School of Acting graduating in 1983. While working in Theatre and television, he was offered a job at Tonbridge School in 1989 as an Actor in Residence and this was to be the start of his longest run.

He continued to work as an Actor for the first few years whilst visiting Tonbridge to work with pupils and staff on a wide range of projects ranging from House Plays, GCSE and A Level performance work as well as major school productions. Eventually, having been asked to join the school as Head of Drama, Lawrence settled into the role of a school master and has been at Tonbridge ever since.

Theatre work includes: John Bull, Bristol Old Vic; Candida, Redgrave Theatre Farnham; Hay Fever, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford; Oklahoma!, Yvonne Arnaud Theatre Guildford; Married Love, Wyndhams Theatre West End.

Television includes: Selling Hitler, ITV; The Camomile Lawn, C4; Kavanagh QC, ITV. Voice over work includes Dick and Dom Diddy Movies! and The Slammer both for CBBC.

A Gala Christmas – Programme Notes

7.30pm, Saturday 13 December – St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks

A Gala Christmas concert poster

Soloists

Robin WalkerConductor
Mardi BrassBrass quintet
Riccardo BonciOrgan
Linsay MartinReader
Lawrence ThornburyReader

Programme

Carol arr. Robin Walker – Once in Royal David’s city
Reading John Milton – The Invocation from Paradise Lost
Choir Boris Ord – Adam lay ybounden
Carol arr. David Willcocks – Of the Father’s heart begotten
Reading Rainer Mari Rilke – Annunciation to Mary translated by Mary Dows Herter Norton
Choir Villette – Hymne à la Vierge
Carol John Goss, arr. David Willcocks – See amid the winter’s snow
Reading Henry Vaughan – Christ’s Nativity
Choir Praetorius – In dulci jubilo
Choir A. Pärt – Bogoroditse dyevo
Carol, adapted by Arthuer Sullivan – It came upon the midnight clear
Reading Sidney Godolphin – Hymn
Brass solo G.F. Handel – Symphony from Messiah
Choir Anon (ed. Stevens) – There is no rose - 15th C.
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – O little town of Bethlehem
Choir F. Mendelssohn – Rejoice and be glad all ye nations
Choir arr. Poston – The Boar’s head carol
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – Ding dong merrily on high
Reading John Betjeman – Christmas
Choir arr. Mardi Brass – God rest ye merry gentlemen
Choir arr. J. Magnussen – My heart will always wander trad. Norwegian
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – Silent night
Reading Ted Hughes – Minstral’s Song
Choir arr. Mardi Brass – The First nowell
Reading T.S. Elliot – The Cultivation of Christmas Trees
Brass solo – Let it Blow
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – Hark the Herald

Programme notes

Though wise men better know the way, It seems no honest heart can stray.” Sidney Godolphin, Hymn

I find it endlessly fascinating how differently people respond to Christmastide. You have the ‘it’s just for the children’ brigade who love all the presents and games but don’t like to admit it. There’s the ‘Bah! Humbug!’ fraternity who, like Scrooge himself, love it really when they get involved. Then there are the crusading spirits who like nothing better than to spend the time in a soup kitchen or the superior thinkers who pontificate on the true meaning of Christmas, while nipping at their port and mince pie. And let’s not forget the (British?) view that it does not really matter as long as it snows!

Sidney, Lord Godolphin wrote his Hymn in the 17th century. He was a Royalist MP for Helston in Cornwall at the time of the Civil War. His response, his Hymn, is an intelligent discussion of how the Wise Men, despite their knowledge and wealth, needed the input of the shepherds, the poor, ignorant working people, to find their way to the manger. The message is surely clear and as pertinent today as it was then and indeed two centuries ago, when Roman rule kept the poor firmly under the military and administrative boot. He suggests that, providing your heart and your intentions are sincere, then you cannot go far wrong.

So it is our intention to represent the many and varied responses to the Christmas season through our music and readings. We have the medievalism of Adam lay y-bounden to start the inevitable, pre-ordained journey from the Garden of Eden to the Crucifixion and the modernism of Arvo Pärt, whose 1990 hymn, Bogoróditse Djévo (Mother of God and Virgin), leans heavily on ancient Russian Orthodox chanting.

We have the scholarly and very French understatement of the Hymne à la Vierge by Pierre Villette. He was born in 1926 and studied with Maurice Duruflé. They shared influences from medieval music through to the melodic worlds of Fauré and Debussy. Contrast with this the far-from-erudite ‘Boar’s Head Carol’, which, despite the attempt to impress us with Latin phrases, is essentially an endorsement of the ‘eat and drink more than is good for you’ rule of Christmastide.

Michael Praetorius was a German composer and musicologist active in the early 17th century. From 1605 to 1610, he edited Musae Sioniae, a collection of 1244 arrangements of songs and hymns in nine volumes. You might assume that ‘In dulci jubilo’ from Part II would be a rather serious affair but in fact it is a dancing, imitative setting of the traditional tune with some additional harmonisations for brass by J S Bach. Our preconceptions about T S Eliot as an imposing, somewhat impenetrable poet (The only “method,” Eliot once wrote, is “to be very intelligent.”) are also confounded in his poem ‘The Cultivation of Christmas Trees’. He wrote this as a contribution to a literary project wherein very illustrious writers contributed holiday-themed works to a collection published in Britain in 1927. He wishes that we hang on throughout our lives to the sense of wonder that the young child has at the sights and smells of Christmas. He cites St Lucy, whose day on December 13th is widely observed in Nordic countries.

A young girl with crown of flaming candles is processed through the town. It is a time for eating, drinking and giving of gifts and is the Christian version of Yol or Yule, which marked the winter solstice.

The traditional carols, which we invite the audience to sing with us, are definitely given a dusting of snow, courtesy of the Mardi Brass arrangements. These are skilfully and wittily put together by Edward Maxwell (trumpet) and Adam Wolff (trombone). They are published under the title ‘Hark’ by Mardi Brass Publishing and we are grateful to the group for the use of them tonight. “Let it Blow” is a humorous romp through modern American Christmas songs in a medley arranged by Richard Hammond, not as far as I know a mad driver, but sometime trumpeter with Mardi Brass. I apologise to Superior Thinkers for the use of the word medley but that is what it is and this is another essential Christmas element, which can cover any facet of the season. According to the BBC Good Food guide you should make a ‘honey-mustard steamed green vegetable medley’ for Christmas but this is just posh sprouts to the Crusading Spirits. Or my favourite: Chocolate-covered fruit medley from Dilettante.com. ‘Chocolate is high in antioxidants and … include dried fruits that are also high in antioxidants.’ Healthy? No! It is just more of the ‘eat and drink more than is good for you’ rule. And what’s more, 36oz is not ‘perfect size for parties or get togethers’, it is a portion for one!

Yes, I do sit firmly with the ‘Bah! Humbug!’ fraternity but I still love the music of Christmas, be it the simplicity of ‘There is no rose of such virtue’ in this medieval setting or the full-throated Christmas motet ‘Rejoice and be glad’ by Felix Mendelssohn. There is something heartening in midwinter to revisit these ideas and revelations every year and to perform them and enjoy them with an honest heart. I am with T S Eliot on this one and sincerely hope that I can still marvel if only at the music of the season when I am eighty.

Sara Kemsley

Coffee Concert in Canterbury

In the photos below, you can see us rehearsing ready for our concert in October at the Canterbury Festival. We had a great time performing in the exotic Spiegeltent – a marquee set up at the Kent Cricket ground providing a very interesting, though at times challenging, venue for our concert.

With a setting feeling like something out of the Manet painting, Bar at the Folies-Begere, or maybe a Viennese Kafehaus, the glass and mirrors together with the burgundy awnings made the place very atmospheric, but, as might be expected, the acoustic was difficult.

However the concert was very well received and we enjoyed performing a range of different music, building on our winning programme for the Top Choir Kent finals which included Gabrieli’s Jubilate Deo and Over the Rainbow. To these we added some madrigals and folk songs and drew on favourites from our wide ranging repertoire including Standford and Bruckner as well as  jazz songs like Tea for Two. All in all a memorable occasion. Our thanks go to all those who made the trek to Canterbury to support us!

Rehearsing for the Spiegeltent at the Canterbury Festival

We are currently rehearsing for our next concert on the 25th October at 11 am at the Spiegeltent as part of the Canterbury Festival, Following the choir’s success at the Top Choir Kent competition last year we are honoured to be performing at the festival this year. Our one hour programme will feature some of our favourite folk songs, madrigals, classics and jazz pieces.

Canterbury Festival logo

Why not start your weekend with us and make a day of it at the festival, there is plenty going on throughout the day:  Accompanied walks (these are popular so worth booking now), comedy performance by Simon Evans, an evening concert by acclaimed choral group ‘Voces 8’ in Canterbury cathedral, performance artists  Finding the Silence and much more. Check out canterburyfestival.co.uk for details of programme and box office.

The Spiegeltent is a unique location – part baroque ballroom part exotic marquee – fantastic for an intimate and exciting concert . The Spitfire ground is a 2 minute drive or 10 minute walk from the centre of town, postcode CT1 3NZ . Tickets are only £5 from the festival box office and will be available on the door. It would be great to see some familiar faces in the audience, you will not be disappointed.

Spiegeltent

Wow, we won Top Choir Kent!

Top Choir Kent logo

The Cantate Choir performed at the finals of Top Choir Kent in Canterbury last night – 12th April 2014.  We had a fantastic time, enjoying the music from all the other wonderful and high quality competitors, and from the guests for the evening – the P&O choir – winners of the BBC programme Sing While you Work.  Music ranged from William Byrd to Coldplay, with many different styles and moods in between, and we were impressed by how smoothly the whole event went, providing as it did a great opportunity to raise money for charity.

Our own performances of Gabrieli, Somewhere over the Rainbow and Bobby Shaftoe we felt went well – a ‘demanding’ repertoire was the comment from the judges but, as they said, we were fully up to doing it justice.

Then that heart-stopping moment as they announced we were the winners! We were able to provide the grand finale with one last ringing rendition of Jubilate Deo.

We now will have the opportunity to perform as part of the Canterbury Festival in the Autumn and as part of the BBC Radio Kent Carol service at Rochester Cathedral.

If you weren’t able to make it or if you would like to relive the whole experience you can tune into BBC Radio Kent at 6 on Easter Morning (or follow up on iplayer for the following seven days at a more leisurely time!)

http://www.topchoirkent.org/

Photos taken at the Final of Top Choir Kent 2014. © Guy Gardener and the Rotary Club of Canterbury (all apart from trophy and certificate photo)

Latest concert breaks our box office record!

On Saturday March 22nd we performed our concert Spem in Alium. This turned out to be record breaking concert – the audience was the largest we have ever had, attracted no doubt by the wonderful music of Thomas Tallis as well as by His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts with whom we collaborated to bring this concert together.

The box office success was not the only record: for the first time we performed in 40 parts; to do this we invited additional friends to come along and augment our choir for the performance of Spem in Alium and His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts also took some of the parts – a common feature of Renaissance performance as the Cornett, a wooden wind instrument, was held to be the closest in sound to the human voice.

The rest of the programme provided a wonderful range of music from the Southern and Northern Renaissance with pieces of great poignancy combined with those of joyous celebration. Our conductor Robin Walker, as always, designed a varied and exciting programme, combining well-loved pieces with those less well-known – helping us to discover beautiful new repertoire.

His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts played a series of pieces that displayed the subtlety and range of their instruments to great effect, from fantastically rich chromatic music to with lively dances and stately suites. This leads us to yet another record as one of the pieces  was a newly edited work by Guami – and quite possibly had not been performed in public for at least 400 years before our concert!

Audience members commented on the thrilling range of music as well as the quality of the performances while the Spem in Alium mesmerised many. It was remarked that having the choir ranged round in a huge arc meant that the experience was entirely different from hearing a recording and the resulting surround sound was tremendous. We too were blown away by the standing ovation at the end!

Thank you especially to our friend Her Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts. We had a wonderful time with them.

Top Kent Choir finalists!

We are through to the Top Choir Kent 2014 finals! Our CD submission was reviewed and we are now through to join five other choirs from across Kent at the final which takes place in Canterbury in April. The event is run by the Canterbury Rotary Club and supported by Belmont Insurance, BBC Radio Kent and the Canterbury Festival. All finalists will have their CD performances played on BBC Radio Kent and opportunities for the winners to take part in a some exciting choral events. Top Choir Kent raises money to support various charities and last year was able to make donations totalling over £7000.

Tickets to attend the final performances sell fast, so get on to them straight away! Tickets now available to buy via the website. http://www.topchoirkent.org/ where you’ll find lots more information about the event.

Mardi Brass

Mardi Brass performed with the choir in their Christmas concert in December 2014

Mardi Brass, brass quintetMardi Brass is a versatile and dynamic brass quintet which performs music in a plethora of musical styles spanning six centuries. Since its founding in 1992, the group has performed throughout Britain, thrilling audiences with its blend of music and humour.

Mardi Brass has performed at the Edinburgh Fringe and made an appearance on BBC2’s Edinburgh Nights, playing for the Perrier Comedy Award presentation. Other broadcasts have included In Tune on BBC Radio 3, a cameo appearance on BBC1’s Panorama and numerous features on local radio stations. In 1993 Mardi Brass took part in ClassicFM’s first birthday celebrations. The group has performed at prestigious venues such as the Purcell Room on London’s South Bank and has undertaken several tours of Britain and the Channel Islands.

Fauré’s Requiem

7.30pm, Saturday 28th February 2015 – St. Mary’s Kippington, Sevenoaks

Poster for Faure Requiem concert in February 2015The choir performed this compelling Requiem together with a programme including mezzo soprano and baritone solos,  other choral works and an organ work by John Ellis as well as his choral piece, The Mass of the Grove.

Top Kent Choir, 2015

Top Choir Kent logo

Top Choir Kent logo

Saturday 28th March 2015, Canterbury

As winners of Top Kent Choir, 2014, we performed at a special celebration in March to mark five years of this competition which does so much to raise money for charity. We joined six other choirs, all past finalists or runners up, each performing a 15 minute repertoire in the Shirley Hall in Canterbury. The evening culminated in a special performance by all the choirs and audience together of a special arrangement of ‘Help’ – the song by the Beatles – to mark its fiftieth anniversary. The whole event celebrated live music and singing, and we were delighted to be able to take part. See photos of us performing by following this link.

A Gala Christmas

7.30pm, Saturday 13 December – St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks

A Gala Christmas concert poster

Soloists

Robin WalkerConductor
Mardi BrassBrass quintet
Riccardo BonciOrgan
Linsay MartinReader
Lawrence ThornburyReader

Programme

Carol arr. Robin Walker – Once in Royal David’s city
Reading John Milton – The Invocation from Paradise Lost
Choir Boris Ord – Adam lay ybounden
Carol arr. David Willcocks – Of the Father’s heart begotten
Reading Rainer Mari Rilke – Annunciation to Mary translated by Mary Dows Herter Norton
Choir Villette – Hymne à la Vierge
Carol John Goss, arr. David Willcocks – See amid the winter’s snow
Reading Henry Vaughan – Christ’s Nativity
Choir Praetorius – In dulci jubilo
Choir A. Pärt – Bogoroditse dyevo
Carol, adapted by Arthur Sullivan – It came upon the midnight clear
Reading Sidney Godolphin – Hymn
Brass solo G.F. Handel – Symphony from Messiah
Choir Anon (ed. Stevens) – There is no rose - 15th C.
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – O little town of Bethlehem
Choir F. Mendelssohn – Rejoice and be glad all ye nations
Choir arr. Poston – The Boar’s head carol
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – Ding dong merrily on high
Reading John Betjeman – Christmas
Choir arr. Mardi Brass – God rest ye merry gentlemen
Choir arr. J. Magnussen – My heart will always wander trad. Norwegian
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – Silent night
Reading Ted Hughes – Minstral’s Song
Choir arr. Mardi Brass – The First nowell
Reading T.S. Elliot – The Cultivation of Christmas Trees
Brass soloLet it Blow
Carol arr. Mardi Brass – Hark the Herald

Programme notes

View programme notes

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts joined the Cantate Choir for its Spem in Alium concert in March 2014

Patron: Sir John Eliot Gardiner

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts

Having celebrated its 30th birthday in 2012, His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts (“the pre-eminent group of its kind” born 1982) continues in the same spirit as always: aiming to bring the sound of its noble instruments, through pan-European repertoire from the 16th and 17th centuries to the 21st century, attracting new audiences via recordings, radio, television and (best of the lot!) live performance.

The group’s illustrious-sounding name is taken from Matthew Locke’s “five-part things for His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts” that were probably played during the coronation celebrations for King Charles II in 1661. Essentially a recital group comprising two cornetts, three sagbutts and chamber organ/harpsichord, HMSC often joins with singers and string players, and is frequently asked to take part in projects with choirs: Sir John Eliot Gardiner’s Monteverdi Choir, the BBC Singers, Ex Cathedra, the choirs of Trinity, King’s and St John’s Colleges, Cambridge, as well as those of Westminster Abbey, St Paul’s and Westminster Cathedrals, London.

Activities over the group’s thiry year history have been diverse, ranging from sound and vision recordings for the BBC comedy The Two Ronnies, to appearances in the Salzburg Festival, St. Mark’s, Venice, the Sydney Opera House and at the BBC Proms in the Royal Albert Hall.

Individual members of HMSC teach at conservatoires and universities throughout the UK and Europe and the group is often invited to give masterclasses and workshops as a part of its educational activities.

His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts has more than twenty recordings to its credit, among them A Bach Album (Hyperion) which was honoured “recording of the year” in Gramophone Magazine, December 2002; and 2007 marked the launch of the group’s own recording label, sfzmusic. HMSC’s first recording with this new and exciting label, to most encouraging critical acclaim, was the complete instrumental works of Giovanni Battista Grillo; The Twelve Days of Christmas, Buccaneer, an Anglo-Spanish celebration, and Canzone per sonare, a collection of music by Giovanni Gabrieli and his contemporaries, have since followed. For His Majestys Pleasure, a 65 minute opera without words by the English composer Martyn Harry, was released in 2012.

In 2012 His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts celebrated the life and inspirational work of Giovanni Gabrieli (died 1612) in a unique collaboration with Concerto Palatino and Ex Cathedra. This was marked with a new recording on Hyperion as well as performances in England and Germany and at the Edinburgh International Festival.

As a true and lasting celebration of HMSC’s first 30 years, For His Majestys Pleasure is the group’s first ever commission from a living composer, made possible by funding from the Performing Rights Society (UK). University of Oxford-based composer, Martyn Harry, has written this full-length work (c.65 minutes) for the group and playing it is, to quote founder member Jeremy West, “the most exciting single project that His Majestys has undertaken in its 30 year history”.

For further information on His Majestys Sagbutts & Cornetts, visit their website.

Ian Shaw

Ian performed with the Cantate Choir in it’s Royal Celebrations concert in June 2012

Ian Shaw (organist), regularly performs with the choir.

Ian Shaw

Ian Shaw studied at Cambridge, where he was Organ Scholar of St John’s College. He was also a John Stewart of Rannoch Scholar in Sacred Music at the Sweelinck Conservatorium in Amsterdam and at Goldsmiths College in London. He has been Sub-Organist at Durham Cathedral and Director of Music at St Peter’s, Eaton Square.

As a pianist, he has worked with many companies including Opera North, Northern Ballet Theatre, English National Opera, BBC SSO and Scotish Opera, where he was responsible for eleven national tours. He has been repetiteur for Music Theatre Wales, whose production of Mark-Anthony Turnage’s Greek won the 2011 Theatre Award UK for Outstanding Achievement in Opera.

Recent compositions include a song cycle for Rebecca Bottone, A Breath of Nothing, and a commission for Magdalen College, Oxford. His work has been described as ‘redoubtable’ by The Scotsman and ‘sometimes amusing’ by the Dean or Durham.

Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 9 March 2013 – St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks

Poster from Cantate Choir's Handel's Judas Maccabaeus concert

Soloists

Hazel BrooksLeader
Sofia LarssonSoprano
Rose SettenAlto
Iain MilneTenor
Edward BallardBass

Review

Graham FifeReviewer

Programme

Handel – Judas Maccabaeus

Programme notes

Toughness found fertile soil in the hearts of Palestinians, and the grains of resistance embedded themselves in their skin. Susan Abulhawa, Mornings in Jenin.

For more than three thousand years, the area of modern Israel and Palestine has been divided, disputed, conquered and restored again and again and again. This ancient land of the ‘12 tribes of Israel’ became the two kingdoms of David and Solomon in the 10th century BC. When Alexander the Great died in 323 BC, his empire was divided and Ptolemy took Egypt and the lower regions, while Seleucis gained Babylon and Syria. By 198 BC the Syrians had taken Palestine and with it Jerusalem. The Jews suffered much hardship as Antiochus IV sought to impose Hellenistic culture and religion on the people. By 167 BC, all Jewish rites were forbidden and the Temple sacked.

Mattatias, a priest from Jerusalem, led the first rebellion, which was continued by his sons the Maccabees: John, Simon, Judas, Eleazer and Jonathan. Morell’s libretto for Handel’s oratorio starts here, with the death of Mattatias; “Mourn, ye afflicted children, your sanguine hopes of liberty give o’er” sings the chorus to a weary and resigned C minor accompaniment.

Part One deals with the aftermath of Mattatias’ death. Simon urges the Israelites to put their faith in God and seek a new leader. He then claims that God has chosen his brother Judas for the job. Judas steps up immediately and calls on the people to take inspiration from the struggles of their forefathers and their just cause. The Israelites offer prayers for their new leader and for the return of liberty. ‘Disdainful of danger’ they prepare for battle, ‘resolved on conquest or a glorious fall’.

Like all the best dramas of the past, the action then takes place offstage and out of sight. Would that modern film makers could show similar restraint! Part Two opens with the Israelites returning from battle pumped up with their victory, “Fall’n is the foe!” they shriek in every possible permutation of this little phrase. Like a returning football crowd they are full of Judas’ performance on the field. Judas accepts their tributes, while modestly thanking God for his triumph. But news arrives from a Messenger that “new scenes of bloody war in all their horrors rise”. General Georgias is marching from Egypt. Immediately, the people are thrown back into despondency and the Israelitish Woman, a device used throughout to represent the mood of the people, sings “Ah, wretched Israel” in C minor again – back to square one! Once again, Simon exhorts them to have faith in God and Judas calls on them to fight. He promises to restore the temple and the people vow never to worship heathen idols, “We never will bow down to the rude stock of sculptured stone”.

Part Three opens with a Festival of Thanksgiving, for the Temple has been regained and reconsecrated. This first festival has continued down the years as Hanukkah, the Festival of Lights, in the Jewish tradition. The Messenger returns with more news of Judas’ victories, this time at Capharsalama. Judas returns in triumph and is greeted enthusiastically by his fellow people. The famous choruses “See, the conqu’ring hero comes” were not in Handel’s original 1747 score but he borrowed them from his oratorio Joshua for his 1758 revision. Judas asks the Israelites to remember the fallen heroes, especially his brother Eleazer who was killed when a war elephant fell on him. In the final scene, Eupolemus, their ambassador, returns from Rome with a treaty, which guarantees the protection of Judea as an independent nation. At last, the people can look forward to “Endless fame” as says the Israelitish Man and “O Lovely Peace” as sings the Israelitish Woman. “Hallelujah”, of course, says Handel.

Fame certainly came to the Maccabees. For over one hundred years, scholars have searched for the lost tombs of the Maccabees and in 2012 using latest radar techniques, they think they may have found them. The city of Mod’in, now in Israel and once home of the Maccabees, celebrates Hanukkah every year with particular fervour. And Handel has certainly done justice to their story in this superb oratorio. But lasting peace, as we all know, still seems a long way off for this troubled land.

Handel composed this oratorio in 1746 based on a libretto written by Thomas Morell. The oratorio was devised as a compliment to the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, upon his return from the Battle of Culloden (16 April 1746), the last pitched battle on British soil. It was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Covent Garden. Morell was a saddler’s son but educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge. He was a religious scholar and provided several libretti for Handel. Both Handel and Morell moved in illustrious circles at this time having royal, artistic and literary connections. It was intended that the public saw parallels between Judas’ story and the heroism of the Duke.

Handel has always been revered by other composers even though his popularity with audiences has waxed and waned over the centuries. J S Bach desperately wanted to meet him and Mozart said of him “Handel understands affect better than any of us. When he chooses, he strikes like a thunder bolt.” Beethoven emphasised above all the simplicity and popular appeal of Handel’s music when he said, “Go to him to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means”. Handel, as a successful society composer, could afford the luxury of experimentation with his orchestras and introduced many new and varied instruments and combinations into both his operas and oratorios. In Judas Maccabeus he uses both recorders and flutes, even though the Baroque flute was wooden and softly spoken too. Horns and trumpets are used sparingly despite the themes of battle and rebellion. Brass instruments are designed for celebration and triumph in Handel’s view. Bassoons are increasingly becoming permanent fixtures and allowed more independence than simply copying the bass line in the loud bits.

Our performance tonight with Vivace will be at Baroque pitch since the instruments they play are originals or replicas of that time. But what is ‘Baroque pitch’? Pitch is measured in hertz and is standardized purely for convenience. Around the world today the A in the treble stave is fixed at 440Hz so that performances and recordings will be the same wherever you go. This is known as Concert Pitch. However, in the Baroque Era, pitch levels as high as A-465 (17th century Venice) and as low as A-392 (18th century France) are known to have existed. String players could easily re-tune but wind players could be limited to playing only with people from their own area. Modern ‘Baroque pitch’ is generally standardized as 415hz, which is about a semitone below Concert pitch. The sopranos and tenors love it but the altos and basses can find themselves going down where they have rarely been before!

Sara Kemsley

Music for a summer evening

7.00pm, Saturday 14 June – St Martin’s Church, Brasted

Front cover

Soloists

Robin WalkerConductor
Iestyn EvansOrgan

Programme

T. Campion 1557—1620 – Never weather-beaten sail
J. Bartlet fl. 1606—10 – Of all the birds that I do know
R. Jones fl. 1597—1615 – Farewell, dear love
G. Finzi 1901—56 – My spirit sang all day
E. Elgar 1857—1934 – As torrents in summer
C.H.H. Parry 1848—1918 – Music, when soft voices die
C.V. Stanford 1852—1924 – The blue bird
F. Delius 1862—1934 – To be sung of a summer night on the water (two unaccompanied part-songs)
G.B. Pergolesi 1710—1736 – Magnificat
A. Hollins 1865—1942 – A Trumpet Minuet
J. Jongen 1873—1953 – Petite Prélude
M. Lanquetuit 1894—1985 – Toccata
Eric Whitaker b. 1970 – Sleep
G.F. Handel 1685—1759 – My heart is inditing

Programme notes

View programme notes

Thomas Tallis – Spem in alium

7.30pm, Saturday 22 March 2014 – St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks

Poster for Spem in Alium concert, March 2014

In March 2014, Cantate were joined for the first time by one of the world’s leading period ensembles, His Majestys Sagbutts and Cornetts, who have for many years been a highlight of the early music scene through their many recordings, radio performances and concerts. They delivered a wonderful programme of Renaissance music from Italy, Germany and Britain.

Cantate and HMSC performed alone and together in music by great composers of the period and the concert will build to a climax with Thomas Tallis’ extraordinary Spem in alium, a motet written in 40 parts, and a landmark piece in musical history.

View Programme Notes

Christmas with Cantate

7.30pm, Saturday 14 December 2013 – St Mary’s Platt Parish Church

Poster for The Cantate Choir's Christmas concert in December 2013

Soloist

Jemima Stephensonorgan

Programme

Audience carol – O come, o come, Emmanuel
16th French tune Arr. Willcocks – Ding Dong! Merrily on high
14th century carol Arr. Willcocks – Resonemus laudibus
H. Berlioz 1803 – 69 – The Sepherd’s Farewell
Organ solo J.S. Bach 1685 – 1750 – Nun komm der heiden heiland BWV 659
J.G. Ebeling 1637? – 76 – All my heart this night rejoices
Audience carol – Good King Wenceslas
J.S. Bach 1685 – 1750 – Singet dem Herrn
Audience carol – Once in royal David’s city
W.J. Kirkpatrick 1838 – 1921 – Away in a manger
J. Rutter b. 1945 – Nativity Carol
J. Rutter – What sweeter music
Audience carol – O little town of Bethlehem
Organ solo O. Messiaen 1908 – 1992 – La Nativité du Seigneur – Les Bergers (the shepherds)
M. Lauridsen b. 1943 – O Magnum mysterium
W. Mathias 1934 – 92 – Sir Christèmas
Audience Carol – Hark the Herald angels sing

Programme notes

View programme notes

Christmas with Cantate – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 14 December 2013 – St Mary’s Platt Parish Church

Poster for The Cantate Choir's Christmas concert in December 2013

Soloist

Jemima Stephensonorgan

Programme

Audience carol – O come, o come, Emmanuel
16th French tune Arr. Willcocks – Ding Dong! Merrily on high
14th century carol Arr. Willcocks – Resonemus laudibus
H. Berlioz 1803 – 69 – The Sepherd’s Farewell
Organ solo J.S. Bach 1685 – 1750 – Nun komm der heiden heiland BWV 659
J.G. Ebeling 1637? – 76 – All my heart this night rejoices
Audience carol – Good King Wenceslas
J.S. Bach 1685 – 1750 – Singet dem Herrn
Audience carol – Once in royal David’s city
W.J. Kirkpatrick 1838 – 1921 – Away in a manger
J. Rutter b. 1945 – Nativity Carol
J. Rutter – What sweeter music
Audience carol – O little town of Bethlehem
Organ solo O. Messiaen 1908 – 1992 – La Nativité du Seigneur – Les Bergers (the shepherds)
M. Lauridsen b. 1943 – O Magnum mysterium
W. Mathias 1934 – 92 – Sir Christèmas
Audience Carol – Hark the Herald angels sing

Programme notes

What sweeter music can we bring than a carol, for to sing the birth of this our heavenly King? John Rutter

This year’s programme is very much celebrating the season with songs of rejoicing. The heavens resound with jubilant praise and we sing to the Lord a new song with timbrel and harp. Church bells ding dong merrily and Sir Christémas bids us joyfully sing nowell, nowell.

However, the tradition of special songs for Christmas is not as old as we like to think. The word carol refers originally to dancing songs or circle dances, which could be used at any time of the year. The earliest known were in Latin and hence deeply unpopular with ordinary people. It was St. Francis of Assisi who restored the popularity of Christmas with his nativity plays, which told the story through song, dance and theatrics. The development of rhyming verse in the Middle Ages led to songs with verse and refrain and this remains a dominant structure for popular seasonal songs.

Resonemus Laudibus is an excellent example of this. The 14th century Latin carol has delicious regular rhymes but the refrain based on plainchant ends up with seven and six beats in a bar. David Willcocks’ arrangement brings a modern excitement to the piece, which would not have been out of place all those centuries ago.

1. Resonemus laudibus cum jocunditatibus ecclesiam fidelibus. Let us make the church resound with the joyful praises of the faithful.
Apparuit quem genuit Maria He whom Mary bore has appeared.
2. Deus fecit hominem ad suam imaginem et similitudinem. God made man in his own image and likeness.
3. Deus fecit omnia caelum, terram, maria cunctaque nascentia. God made all things, heaven, earth, the seas and all creation.
4. Ergo nostra concio in chordis et organo benedicat Domino. Therefore let our congregation praise God with strings and organ.
5. Et Deo qui venias donat et laetitias nos eidem gratias. And to God, who gives favours and happiness, we give thanks.

The church remained unhappy with such unauthorised and doctrinally suspect songs, especially as the common folk seemed to like them! The tradition of groups of carol singers in the streets came about because the songs were banned in church. The waits, often led by a civic dignitary, were groups of singers who were allowed to collect money in the street without the fear of arrest for beggary. They sang on Christmas Eve, which is ‘watchnight’ or ‘waitsnight’, remembering the shepherds who were watching in the fields and saw the star.

Music was banned completely by the Puritans in the 17th century and it was the Victorians who restored and developed Christmas as we know it today. Many of our best-loved carols were written at this time; Hark the Herald Angels Sing, Away in a Manger and Once in Royal David’s City almost certainly were popularised in the 19th century.

In among the popular carolling, we have absolute jewels of art music written by many of the greatest composers, who take some aspect of the doctrine of God made Man, which is at the heart of the Christmas story. Hector Berlioz was a French composer well-known for his massive works for orchestra and singers. The Shepherds’ Farewell from his oratorio L’Enfance du Christ is such a slight and tender piece that it could easily have been overlooked. It is probably this very simplicity and charm that has ensured its lasting place in choral programmes.

The simple hymn All my heart this night rejoices by Johann Georg Ebeling is probably a Lutheran carol, written for a service. It would have disappeared along with many other earlier works but for the efforts of editors, composers and arrangers like William Sandys and Davis Gilbert in the 19th century, Vaughan Williams and William Matthias in the early 20th and John Rutter and David Willcocks in the present period.

The motet Singet dem Herrn was written by J S Bach in about 1726 and may originally have been a funeral piece. Another theory is that he wrote his six motets as demonstration pieces for his students, “here’s one I did earlier!” If true, the complexity of this one in particular would, I suggest, have sent all but the most determined student looking up alternative professions in the Leipzig Situations Vacant pages! Written for double choir in three sections, it elaborates the words from psalms 149 and 150 and a poem by Johann Gramann. It is a virtuoso tour-de-force both in terms of composition and the performers. More than once one choir develops the text in fugal form, which the other choir accompanies. This had never been done before. When Mozart visited Leipzig in 1789, a performance of Singet dem Herrn was put on for him. Afterwards, he is said to have exclaimed, “That is really something from which one can learn a great deal!”

Part 1 psalm 149 vv. 1-3
Singet dem Herrn ein neues Lied, die Gemeine der Heiligen sollen ihn loben. Sing unto the Lord a new song, and his praise in the congregation of saints.
Israel freue sich des, der ihn gemacht hat. Die Kinder Zion sei’n fröhlich über ihrem Könige, Let Israel rejoice in him that made him: let the children of Zion be joyful in their King.
Sie sollen loben seinen Namen im Reihen; mit Pauken und mit Harfen sollen sie ihm spielen. Let them praise his name in the dance: let them sing praises unto him with the timbrel and harp.

Part 2 words by Johan Gramann
Wie sich ein Vater erbarmet Gott, Like a father, may God have mercy on us
Nimm dich ferner unser an, And comfort us further,
Über seine junge Kinderlein, Just as with his young child,
So tut der Herr uns Armen, So the Lord acts for us poor people,
So wir ihn kindlich fürchten rein. And, pure and childlike, we fear him.
Er kennt das arm Gemächte, He knows us poor beings,
Gott weiß, wir sind nur Staub, God knows we are like dust,
Denn ohne dich ist nichts getan For without You is nothing done
Mit allen unsern Sachen. With all our affairs.
Gleichwie das Gras vom Rechen, Just as grass loses its flower and leaf
Ein Blum und fallend Laub. By the rake.
Der Wind nur drüber wehet, The wind just blows over it
So ist es nicht mehr da, And it is no longer there.
Drum sei du unser Schirm und Licht, Therefore, be our protection and light
Und trügt uns unsre Hoffnung nicht, And let not our hope be deceived,
So wirst du’s ferner machen. That thus will you do in the future.
Also der Mensch vergehet, Therefore does man pass,
Sein End, das ist ihm nah. His end is near.
Wohl dem, der sich nur steif und fest Happy is he who strongly and firmly
Auf dich und deine Huld verlässt. Relies on you and your grace.

Part 3 Psalm 150 vv.2 and 6
Lobet den Herrn in seinen Taten, lobet ihn in seiner großen Herrlichkeit! Praise him for his mighty acts: praise him according to his excellent greatness.
Alles, was Odem hat, lobe den Herrn Halleluja! Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord. Alleluia.

Morten Lauridsen is the most-performed, living American composer. He is sometimes described as a mystic for his works, particularly his sacred choral pieces, seem to conjure up an other-worldly, meditative state. O magnum mysterium is possibly his best-known. His skill lies in fusing the simplest lines of melody and harmony (almost like medieval plainchant) with enough modernity to engage the listener in his sound world. And listen you must, for the nuances are so quiet and slight that, if you even breathe, you may miss them.

O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum, O great mystery and wondrous sacrament,
Ut animalia viderunt Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio! That animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in their manger!
Beata virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum. Alleluia! Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear the Lord Jesus Christ. Alleluia!

If Sir David Willcocks has had a profound effect on the musical life of choirs in this country, then we can safely say that John Rutter CBE has done so around the world. A quick tally of the index of Carols for Choirs Bk.2 alone (known in choir circles as ‘the orange one’) shows them on 23 apiece out of the 50 in the book. However, John Rutter is not just a skilled arranger but a composer of original words and music too. Willcocks described him as the most gifted composer of his generation. What sweeter music and Nativity carol are two contrasting but very typical pieces from his considerable oeuvre. Sweetness and sentimentality characterise the modern Christmas season and so does his music – to perfection!

Happy Christémas!

Sara Kemsley