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Jemima Stephenson

Jemima performed with the choir at its Christmas with Cantate concert in December 2013

Jemima Stephenson, Organ

As a chorister at Sheffield Cathedral, Jemima Stephenson developed a fascination with the organ in choral accompaniment, the liturgy and solo performance. Now 23, Jemima is Assistant Director of Music and Sir George Thalben-Ball Memorial Organ Scholar at St Michael’s Cornhill whilst undertaking postgraduate studies at the Royal Academy of Music. This follows two years as Organ Scholar of Peterborough Cathedral, and three as an Organ Scholar at Queens’ College Cambridge.

Jemima currently studies organ with Susan Landale, having previously been a pupil of William Whitehead and David Sanger, and won prizes in both the Fellowship and Associateship diploma exams of the Royal College of Organists.

When not immersed in music, Jemima enjoys good food, good wine and taking other people’s dogs for walks.

Birthdays, Bubbly and Berries – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 22 June 2013 – Kippington Church, Sevenoaks

Poster from Cantate Choir's June 2013 concert - Birthdays, bubbly and berries

Soloist

Iestyn EvansOrgan

Programme

John Dowland – Come again! Sweet love doth now invite
John Dowland – O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness
John Dowland – Flow not so fast ye fountains
John Dowland – Fine knacks for ladies
Benjamin Britten – Rejoice in the Lamb
Giuseppe Verdi – Ave Maria
Giuseppe Verdi – Stabat Mater
Giuseppe Verdi – Laudi Alla Vergine Madre
Giuseppe Verdi – Te Deum

Programme notes

The only thing better than singing is more singing.” Ella Fitzgerald

When the only connection between the composers in a programme is the accident of their births, the challenge is on to find a harmonious way through for the listener. John Dowland was born 450 years ago in 1563, Giuseppe Verdi 200 years ago in 1813 and Benjamin Britten in 1913, a century later. Birthdays are always something to celebrate and the fact that they are all dead does not deter us from this celebration with ‘Berries and Bubbles’. Perhaps that is a good image to have in our heads; each of the pieces tonight involves curious words or curious settings of words in short bursts. Some perhaps are persimmon, bringing an unusual taste and texture, while others, like cranberry, explode in a short, effervescent puff.

The Composers

John Dowland was probably born in London but not much is known about his early life. As a Roman Catholic he was not comfortable to accept a post with the Royal Court and instead spent many years on the continent working in Paris, in Germany and for several years for the King of Denmark. He was a skilled lutenist and singer and absorbed many developments from Europe. He is primarily known for his works for lute and for his songs, many of which have a melancholic character.

Giuseppe Verdi is ranked alongside Richard Wagner, born in the same year, as the most influential operatic composer of the nineteenth century. All his music is dramatic and theatrical, including his best-known sacred work, the Requiem, written upon the death of his political friend Manzoni. He said of himself that he was the least learned of composers but this lack of formal training allowed him to exploit the orchestra and the vocalists to suit his own dramatic ends and many of his effects remain unique.

Benjamin Britten began composing prolifically as a child and had private lessons from Frank Bridge. He later studied at the Royal College of Music with John Ireland. In the 1930s he made a conscious effort to set himself apart from the English musical mainstream. Many critics of the time, in return, distrusted his facility, cosmopolitanism and admiration for composers such as Gustav Mahler, Alban Berg and Igor Stravinsky, who were not considered appropriate models for a young English musician. For many musicians, however, his flawless technique, broad musical and human sympathies and ability to treat the most traditional of musical forms with freshness and originality place him near the head of composers of his generation.

The Pieces

The four songs by John Dowland are a representative selection from his Books of Songs and Ayres. Many of these first appeared as songs with lute accompaniment but also were written out as madrigals for four voices. They each develop some idea about the tribulations of love and of finding the right partner but there is humour here also. For those with an ear for the double-entendre, little is left to the imagination. The four voices complement each other simply in the strophic style of his earlier years.

The four sacred works, Quattro Pezzi Sacri, by Verdi, were finally completed in 1897 and can be performed together or separately. They were not conceived as a unit and, in fact, Verdi did not want the ‘Ave Maria’ published as he considered it an exercise. It is in four sections for unaccompanied SATB choir. In each section, one of the voices slowly intones what he calls the ‘enigmatic scale’ ascending and descending, while the other voices elaborate the words in highly chromatic harmonies around it. The second piece, ‘Stabat Mater’, is for mixed chorus and orchestra. The poem is in carefully constructed three-line stanzas with a complex rhyme scheme. Verdi maintains these short sections but allows his dramatic, operatic background to give each a musical character to match the meaning. ‘Laudi alla Vergine Maria’ for female chorus is a setting of a section of Dante’s Paradiso from the Divine Comedy. The switch to Italian seems to allow Verdi even more dramatic licence. The final piece is the liturgical ‘Te Deum’ for double chorus and orchestra. The power of these forces is immense.

Rejoice in the Lamb Op. 30 by Britten was written in 1943 and dedicated to Walter Hussey and the choir of St Matthew’s Church, Northampton. Christopher Smart (1722—1771), an English poet, was born in Shipbourne, of an old north country family. He spent much of his life in an asylum, producing long rambling works but with flashes of brilliance and philosophic genius. His extraordinary words provide a rich vein for Britten’s imaginative use of choir and soloists, admirably offset by the organ colour and drive. The cantata has ten short sections providing mystery, quiet elation, high energy and feverish ecstasy.

Sara Kemsley

Birthdays, Bubbly and Berries

7.30pm, Saturday 22 June 2013 – Kippington Church, Sevenoaks

Poster from Cantate Choir's June 2013 concert - Birthdays, bubbly and berries

Soloist

Iestyn EvansOrgan

Programme

John Dowland – Come again! Sweet love doth now invite
John Dowland – O sweet woods, the delight of solitariness
John Dowland – Flow not so fast ye fountains
John Dowland – Fine knacks for ladies
Benjamin Britten – Rejoice in the Lamb
Giuseppe Verdi – Ave Maria
Giuseppe Verdi – Stabat Mater
Giuseppe Verdi – Laudi Alla Vergine Madre
Giuseppe Verdi – Te Deum

Programme notes

View programme notes

Iestyn Evans

Iestyn regularly performs with the choir.

Iestyn Evans (organist), regularly performs with the choir.

Iestyn Evans

Originally from west Wales, Iestyn was organ scholar of St Davids Cathedral before going up to The Queen’s College, Oxford where he read music. After graduating he was appointed Organ Scholar of Westminster Cathedral and subsequently of Westminster Abbey whilst completing a postgraduate performance course at the Royal Academy of Music.

Iestyn is now Assistant Director of Music at the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School in Kensington and Organist of St Etheldreda’s Church, Ely Place and in January will be moving to St James’s Church, Spanish Place. He is also conductor of the Hill Singers Chamber Choir in Wimbledon.

Amongst his more eccentric performances was a complete cycle of the organ work of J.S. Bach within twenty four hours last year when he raised over £6,000 towards a school tour to America.

Iestyn Evans (organist), regularly performs with the choir.

Alistair Ollerenshaw

Alistair, sang Bass for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of J S Bach’s B minor mass in March 2012.

Alistair Ollerenshaw, Bass

Alistair Ollerenshaw baritone is currently studying at the Royal Academy of Music with Mark Wildman and Iain Ledingham, having previously studied at the Royal Northern College of Music, where he won the Schubert Prize and at the University of Leeds, during which he spent a year at the Franz Liszt Hochschule in Weimar.

Whilst at the Royal Academy, Alistair has taken part in public and private masterclasses with Sir Thomas Allen, Dennis O’Neill CBE, Brindley Sherratt and Malcolm Martineau. He was a finalist in the prestigious Richard Lewis/Jean Shanks Award in 2011 and has performed the roles of Il Conte in Le Nozze di Figaro, Garibaldo in Handel’s Rodelinda, Le Podestat in Bizet’s Le Docteur Miracle and the Lawyer in Williamson’s The Growing Castle in opera scenes as well as covering the role of Peachum in the Royal Academy Opera’s production of Kurt Weill’s Die Dreigroschenoper.

Alistair performs extensively on the concert platform across the UK. His recent performances include Handel’s Messiah with the Manchester Camerata, Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem with the Brandenburg Sinfonia at St Martin in the Fields and Mozart’s Mass in C minor with the London Symphony Chorus. Other repertoire includes Bach’s St John Passion, Monteverdi Vespers, Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, Rossini’s Petite Messe Sollenelle. Future engagements include Brahms’ Ein Deutsches Requiem for Birmingham Bach Choir under Paul Spicer and Mendelssohn’s Elijah for the Amersham Music Festival.

On the opera stage, Alistair has sung the roles of Figaro in Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (Leeds University), Pollux in Rameau’s Castor et Pollux (The Yorke Trust) in addition to Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte, Father in Humperdink’s Hänsel and Gretel, Leporello in Mozart’s Don Giovanni, Il Conte Robinson in Cimarosa’s Il matrimonio segreto and Marcello in Puccini’s La Bohème (Royal Northern College of Music). In July he will be performing the role of Figaro in Winterbourne Opera’s production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro.

Alistair is very grateful to be supported by The Josephine Baker Trust, Norman McCann Scholarship and the Royal Academy of Music.

Edward Ballard

Edward Ballard, sang Bass for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus in March 2013.

Edward Ballard, Bass

Edward Ballard is currently on the Preparatory Opera Course at the Royal Academy of Music, studying with Glenville Hargreaves and Audrey Hyland. Born in London, Ed began singing as a Chorister at the Temple Church. He was subsequently a Choral Scholar in Clare College Choir and King’s College Choir in Cambridge.

Winner of the Marjorie Thomas Art of Song Prize, Ed is a member of the prestigious Royal Academy of Music Song Circle and performs as a soloist in the acclaimed Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Bach Cantata Series. He holds a Maidment Scholarship administered by the Musician’s Benevolent Fund, a Clumber Music Studio Scholarship administered by the Royal Academy of Music and is generously supported by The Kathleen Trust, The John Wates Charitable Trust, The Josephine Baker Trust and Christopher Ball.

Operatic roles include Count Almaviva, Guglielmo, Demetrius, Aeneas, Death in Holst’s Savitri and John the Butcher in Vaughan William’s Hugh the Drover. In summer 2012 he covered the lead role, Chao Lin, for British Youth Opera’s production of Judith Weir’s A Night at the Chinese Opera and in summer 2013 he will be joining the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus for their production of Billy Budd. In concert, Ed has appeared with the Britten Sinfonia and the Orchestra of St Paul’s in St John’s, Smith Square, with the Orchestra of St John in King’s Place, with the Brandenburg Sinfonia in St James’ Piccadilly and with King’s College Choir in Chester Cathedral.

In Autumn 2013 Ed will take up a full scholarship to the Royal College of Music International Opera School, studying with Russell Smythe.

Iain Milne

Iain Milne, sang Tenor for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus in March 2013.

Iain Milne, Tenor

Iain was born in Inverurie in Aberdeenshire and it is somewhat of a miracle that he is a singer at all. He was born with a congenital disorder resulting in under-developed larynx muscles – a rather useful set of muscles when it comes to singing. No one would have predicted that 26 years later he would have debuted on the opera stage, as Tito in Mozart’s Clemenza Di Tito for Hampstead Garden Opera and would now be studying on the prestigious Royal Academy Opera Course. Iain also recently graduated with distinction in his MA from the Academy and was awarded the Sir Thomas Armstrong Prize, and the Gabrowsky Connell Prize for outstanding performance.

Iain’s main experience lies in choral music, having been a Cathedral Lay Clerk at Aberdeen, Norwich, Wells and Christ Church Oxford. During his 12 years as part of the choral tradition he enjoyed going on tour to Norway, Malta, Germany, USA and South Africa. He also featured as a soloist with Wells Cathedral Choir on recordings of Kenneth Leighton’s World’s Desire and David Bednall’s Flame Celestial.

Becoming increasingly more in demand as an oratorio soloist, Iain has sung for many choirs and choral societies across the UK and Europe. Recent highlights include Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius in the Fairfield Halls, Croydon, Handel’s The Messiah in Hamburg and Haydn’s Creation in Aberdeen Music Hall.

Iain is very proud of his Scottish roots and of his hugely supportive family, venturing home to do concerts as much as he can. He is also very proud to be studying with fellow Aberdeenshire tenor Dr Neil Mackie and fellow Scot Audrey Hyland.

Iain is currently supported by the Michael James Music Trust, Josephine Baker Trust, The Robertson Trust, The Sir James Caird Trust, The Royal Society of Musicians and The Alan and Jette Parker Scholarship.

Review of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus

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

Review of concert by Graeme Fife

Poster from Cantate Choir's March 2013 concert - Judas Maccabaeus

In its day, Judas Maccabaeus was one of the most popular of all Handel’s Oratorios. Based on earlier events from BC it honoured the Duke of Cumberland’s bloody suppression of and brutal vengeance on the second great Jacobite rebellion. Handel’s score mingles passionate mourning, pious gratitude to the heroic defenders of the nation, ardent apostrophe of liberty, triumphant hymn and fanfare. In this story of a captive people fighting against the oppressor to win freedom, neither chorus nor soloists need to be other than voices raised at both ends of the emotional scale: grief and joy. The music throughout explores the gamut between both extremes and luscious dynamic variation and rhythm supply the means.

The homely drift of instrumentalists weaving through the seats to start the concert, duvet jackets against the cold, instrument cases slung over the shoulder, gave a friendly, turn-up-and-play atmosphere of a local festival. Once launched, however, utterly professional. And thrilling. The hushed piano of the chorus’s first entry, a tricky moment for any company, was sublime.

The chorus did take time to find its best voice and, if I have any quibble, it is with the tempo and shaping of their first contributions. Handel’s sobbing motif, underscoring the grief, the lamentation, needed a better defined dotted measure. This risks sounding mannered, but getting used to the way Handel pins the emotional tone with the faint, repeated stress, absorbing the technique until it comes naturally, is vital. I felt that chorus and orchestra, both, were not yet finding that pulse, although this may well be the fault of a quite unkind acoustic. And, important to say, the slight apprehension that grips before such a big sing as this is. A while to get into stride? For sure, but as the evening progressed their dynamism, articulation and vitality grew.

The soloists were wonderful, the balance between Soprano Sofia Larrson and Alto Rose Setten in their duets slightly skewed in Larsson’s favour, but their interpretation, lovely musicianship, eager projection and subtle shifts of dynamic were entirely delicious. So, too, Bass Edward Ballard, with a rolled ‘r’ worthy of an Andalusian gitano, and Tenor Iaian Milne, the timbre of a high French tenor, both engaging the listeners with a tiger’s eye. All four soloists imparted an excellent shading of the dramatic narrative, the subtle shifts of mood, a growing determination that victory could be pursued and won, and then the celebration of victory. They came to the fore with energy and verve, most importantly, looking into the audience, every face, speaking to each one. Eye contact is vital.

The Cantate know this, too, by and large… They are an exceptionally well-disciplined choir, from getting to their feet in unison with minimum disruption of proceedings to singing the full value of the notes, especially at the conclusion of a phrase (not many outfits do that). Where they wobbled on one occasion it took only two bars or so for them to recover. This takes well-drilled craft, fine articulation and, it must be said, nerve in their conductor, Robin Walker, who did not flinch. Chapeau.

Walker directed from the harpsichord, that in itself as strong an indicator of this group’s burgeoning stature and self-confidence. Given the subaudition that the word amateur carries – “not quite top drawer, don’t you know?” – I would prefer to call them unpaid, for Walker has made this outfit very top drawer. He, himself, has an engaging enthusiasm and composure at the epicentre of both music and musical forces, a nice sensitivity in drawing out the possibilities of Handel’s gloriously varied and complex musical adventure in this oratorio. I remark, especially, the glorious rendering of the piece’s big tune ‘O lovely peace’. Marked Allegro, the mistake is to take it too quickly. Allegro is, in fact, most often a marking suggestive of tone rather than tempo and here it swung with seductive power, evoking the dance that it is, here a joyous galliard. ‘Come ever-smiling Liberty’ did not have quite the same sensuous lilt. Face it, Handel’s music can be unashamedly sexy and whilst the earlier aria is about his Judas paying manly court to the damsel, Freedom, not Vivaldi’s Juditha giving Holofernes the come-on, an equal smouldering allure is there.

There was so much to enjoy in this evening of wonderful music so generously performed. I single out the air and chorus towards the end ‘Sound the alarm’ which really jumped when the brass joined and lifted the choir to a terrific deep-felt passionate intensity.

The collaboration between Cantate and Vivace began a while ago and is maturing with most pleasing effect: top-notch singers and players brought together to make music and make it look and sound as if they are enjoying the whole experience immensely. Consider how much of a task it is to bring together band and vocalists together for a brief interlude on the afternoon of the concert, to put everything together and then perform…this demands enormous self-assurance and, yes, discipline, preparation, to be there, on the button, ready to reproduce what has been pored over in rehearsal. Any reasonable ensemble can trot out the notes. Turning them into music is another thing entirely.

Sevenoaks is lucky, indeed, to be able to pitch up to a concert of this quality. A very costly concert, too. It needs to be said: the Cantate people really do put themselves on the line to fund such an outlay. They need to raise money at their other more intimate concerts to subvent the grander annual splash-out. That takes courage and commitment. In the words of the splendid final flourish of the piece, I say, let us all say: ‘Hallelujah. Amen.’

Underpinning just how the whole evening coalesced into a fine elation of voice and sound all the way through the second half, I noted the flautist, sitting rather sorrowfully inactive during the last blast, lost amid the players sawing and blowing, herself absent from the score but surely longing to join in. Instead? Wall-flowered, excluded from the crowning burst of harmonious fun.

Sofia Larsson

Sofia Larsson, sang soprano for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus in March 2013.

Sofia Larsson

Sofia Larsson graduated with a first-class honours degree in Music from King’s College London in 2009 and completed the ENO Opera Works training programme in 2011. She currently holds the Draper’s Baroness de Turckheim vocal scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, where she is on the preparatory opera course in her second year of an MA in vocal performance, studying with Philip Doghan and Audrey Hyland. Sofia is a member of Song Circle, with whom she recently performed at the Oxford Lieder Festival. Last year she won the Elena Gerhardt Lieder Prize and was awarded the Andrew Sykes Prize.

Operatic roles include Susanna (Marriage of Figaro), Zerlina (Don Giovanni), Marzelline (Fidelio), Angelica (Orlando), Romilda (Xerxes) and Carolina (Il Matrimonio Segreto). Sofia regularly performs as a recitalist and oratorio soloist. Future concerts include the Bach Magnificat and Schubert Mass in G with the English Baroque Choir at St. John’s Smith Square and Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream with Southern Sinfonia.

Sofia is very grateful to be supported by the Maaike McInnes Charitable Trust, the Cosman Keller Art and Music Trust, the Musicians Benevolent Fund and the Josephine Baker Trust.

Hazel Brooks

Hazel played for the choir during its Mozart Requiem and Schubert Mass in C concert in March 2006 and Baroque Masterworks concert in March 2007.

Hazel Brooks, Violin

Hazel Brooks read languages at Clare College, Cambridge. After graduation she studied violin at the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Leipzig, and at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London, where she won various prizes including the Christopher Kite Memorial Prize and the Bankers Trust Pyramid Award, and she was a finalist in the international competitions in York and Antwerp.

As a baroque and classical violinist, Hazel works as a chamber recitalist as well as playing with some of the leading period-instrument orchestras. Recital venues have included the South Bank Centre in London and the Barcelona Early Music Festival. She has released a solo CD with harpsichordist David Pollock.

Also a medieval specialist, Hazel is in demand as a vielle (medieval fiddle) player throughout Europe and America. She is currently involved in an exciting project combining Western and Moroccan musicians in an attempt to recreate the music of medieval Spain.

Rose Setten

Rose Setten, sang alto for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus in March 2013.

Rose Setten, Mezzo-soprano

Rose Setten, mezzo-soprano, is currently studying on the Masters course at the Royal Academy of Music under the tutelage of Elizabeth Ritchie and Iain Leddingham. In 2010, Rose graduated with a 1st class BMus(Hons) degree from the Royal Northern College of Music, where she studied with Thomas Schulze. During her time at the RNCM, Rose took chorus roles in Janácek’s The Cunning Little Vixen and in Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin. She has also performed the roles of the Bridesmaid in Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro and The Bat in Ravel’s L’enfant et les Sortilèges. In RNCM Opera Scenes, Rose has sung the roles of Helena in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Lady Dunmow in Berkley’s A Dinner Engagement and Poppea in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea.

In 2004, Rose won the title of BBC Radio 2 Chorister of the Year and has appeared as a soloist on BBC television and radio, including Songs of Praise and the Daily Service. Since studying at RAM, Rose has performed in RAM Opera Scenes, including the role of Diana in Cavalli’s La Calisto and Nancy in Britten’s Albert Herring. Other appearances include recitals at the Garrick Club and solo performances at the Royal Hospital, Chelsea, St. Martin in the Field’s and the Sage Centre, Gateshead.

Rose is looking forward to working at Opera Holland Park this summer and commencing her studies on the Opera Course at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in September. Rose is very grateful to The Josephine Baker Trust and to Gordon Hine and the Sussex Opera and Ballet Society for supporting her studies.

The First Nowell – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 15 December 2012 – St Mary’s Platt, Borough Green

Soloist

Riccardo BonciOrgan

Programme

Vaughan Williams – The First Nowell – an Oratorio
Audience carol – O come, all ye faithful
H. Darke – In the bleak mid-winter
W. Byrd – O magnum mysterium
F. Poulenc – Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël
E. Elgar – The Snow
B. Britten – A New Year carol
Audience carol – O little town of Bethlehem 
A. Adam – Oh holy night

Programme notes

When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace. Anon, on a car bumper sticker

I tried searching for The Christmas Message on the internet to remind myself of the words of the first nowell to the shepherds more than 2,000 years ago. How depressing! Up came any number of suggestions for cloying messages to friends and business associates that will fit your average SMS text allowance. “In the daytime if sun shin so shall Ur espectation come true, At night when moon comes out so shall U recieve blesses”. Someone give him/her a spelling lesson for Christmas, please! What is more depressing is that people expect to find words for every occasion to cut and paste onto Facebook or Twitter or whatever. Just as we buy ready-cut carrots, so we can get ready-cut words, anywhere, anytime. No thinking or knives required!

I know that Cantate audiences expect rather more stimulation of mind and soul and our Christmas programme should provide just that. The First Nowell (or Noël) brought tidings of great joy when the news of the birth of the Son of God was announced to poor shepherds. The word noël is derived through old French from the Latin ‘dies natalis’ (birthday). ‘In all the world religions, angels seem most concerned with calling on us to examine our souls, to improve our treatment of our fellow human beings, to resist passing judgment on others, and to put aside intolerance and prejudice in favor of becoming more loving and forgiving’. (B & S Steiger) But here the message is just pure joy.

Ralph Vaughan Williams set a libretto by Simona Pakenham called The First Nowell as a nativity play, which was first performed at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on 19th December 1958. We are performing the concert version, which spares us the sight of the men dressed up in tablecloths and paper crowns or deciding which soprano is the prettiest to play Mary. It consists of some thirteen short movements, which are settings of well-known carols and elements of RVW’s own composition. The music is simple and the message direct. Should you get bored, why not tweet your vote to @mary but please keep phones turned off at all times!

The second half of our programme perhaps tackles the mystery behind the Christmas story. Whether it is Christina Rossetti’s poem In the bleak midwinter, which somehow marries the hugely diverse ideas of Heaven, God’s power and the lowly scene of his arrival on earth, set beautifully and movingly by Harold Darke. Or, the Cantique de Noël (O Holy Night) with complex words by Placide Cappeau de Roquemaure (you couldn’t make it up!) explaining nearly the whole of Christian theology in about five minutes, set nicely, but perhaps tritely, by Adolphe Charles Adam, the composer of the ballet Giselle.

The Snow by Edward Elgar is an 1894 setting of words by his wife Alice and dedicated in characteristically English fashion to Mrs E. B. Fitton of Malvern. If Alice had not been his wife, Elgar would probably not have touched this poem with a bargepole. It gets few marks for eloquence or depth but the sentiment is fine. Our hearts and souls should be pure like the snow but, unlike snow, our purity should endure all our lives. Elgar breathes life into her words with his gift for melody settled on strong harmonic structures.

William Byrd was also a master of melodic and harmonic invention writing his Christmas Motet O Magnum Mysterium nearly three hundred years earlier. These words place greater emphasis on Mary, Mother of God, who was herself subject to an angelic messenger, nine months earlier. Byrd seems to be able to build up layers of music effortlessly to bring out the depths of meaning in the words. In this version, we repeat the Beata Virgo section and then return to the beginning once again. The words and translation are reproduced here.

O magnum mysterium et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum jacentem in praesepio.
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Jesum Christum.
Ave Maria, gratia plena: Dominus tecum.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin, whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord.
Hail Mary, full of grace: the Lord is with you.

The four Christmas motets by Francis Poulenc are pieces we have performed before and doubtless will again. They are absolute pearls in the choral repertory and so typical of Poulenc’s style. Written in 1951-2 for unaccompanied choir, these are each a perfect miniature, which captures the nature of the traditional Latin texts with extraordinary precision and finesse. Not a single note, rest, dynamic or accent is out of place. Like an admired gem setting, each is understated so as not to be garish yet is subtle and rich enough to be breathtakingly beautiful. That is the music of Poulenc.

Four Motets for the season of Christmas

1. O magnum mysterium
O magnum mysterium, et admirabile sacramentum,
ut animalia viderent Dominum natum, jacentem in praesepio!
Beata Virgo, cujus viscera meruerunt portare Dominum Christum.
O great mystery, and wonderful sacrament,
that animals should see the new-born Lord, lying in a manger!
Blessed is the Virgin whose womb was worthy to bear Christ the Lord.

2. Quem vidistis
Quem vidistis, pastores, dicite, annunciate nobis, in terris quis apparuit?
Natum vidimus et choros angelorum collaudantes Domino.
Dicite quidam vidistis et annuntiate Christi nativitatem
Whom did you see, shepherds, tell us, proclaim to us: who has appeared on the earth?
We saw the newborn child and choirs of angels praising the Lord.
Tell us how it happened, and announce the news of Christ’s birth.

3. Videntes stellam
Videntes stellam, Magi gravisi sunt gaudio magno:
et intrantes domum obtulerunt Domino aurum, thus, et myrrham.
When they saw the star the wise men were greatly delighted,
and they entered the house and offered to the Lord gold, frankincense, and myrrh.

4. Hodie Christus natus est
Hodie Christus natus est, hodie Salvator apparuit:
hodie in terra canunt Angeli, laetantur Archangeli:
hodie exsultant justi, dicentes:
Gloria in excelsis Deo, alleluja.
Today is Christ born; today the Saviour has appeared;
today the Angels sing, the Archangels rejoice;
today the righteous rejoice, saying:
Glory to God in the highest. Alleluia!

Sara Kemsley

Riccardo Bonci

Riccardo Bonci, who played the organ for the Cantate Choir’s O Magnum Mysterium concert in December 2008.

Riccardo Bonci

Born in Terni, Italy, Riccardo graduated in Piano (1997) and Organ (2002) from the Conservatoires of Terni and Perugia, having studied with F. Mastroianni, M.T. Gregorini, C. Brizi and W. Van de Pol. He also trained as Repetiteur and was awarded an European Diploma by the Teatro Lirico Sperimentale in Spoleto.

Riccardo has attended several masterclasses and seminars with some of the world’s most distinguished musicians (A. Delle Vigne, G. Leonhardt, J. Van Oortmerssen, L. Lohmann, D. Titterington, N. Kynaston, H. Deutsch, D. Chorzempa, D. Ponsford, J. O’Donnell, S.-V. Chaucefer-Choplin, R. Börger).

Riccardo graduated from the Postgraduate in Performance Organ course at the Royal Academy of Music in London with Distinction and also the award of DipRAM for the outstanding final recital, studying with D. Titterington and S. Landale. The Royal Academy of Music awarded him the PIDEM Organ Fellowship for the academic year 2005-2006.

Riccardo is currently Assistant Organist at St. Barnabas’ Church, Dulwich, and Choir Director at Alleyn’s Junior School.

The First Nowell

7.30pm, Saturday 15 December 2012 – St Mary’s Platt, Borough Green

Soloist

Riccardo BonciOrgan

Programme

Vaughan Williams – The First Nowell – an Oratorio
Audience carol – O come, all ye faithful
H. Darke – In the bleak mid-winter
W. Byrd – O magnum mysterium
F. Poulenc – Quatre motets pour le temps de Noël
E. Elgar – The Snow
B. Britten – A New Year carol
Audience carol – O little town of Bethlehem 
A. Adam – Oh holy night

Programme notes

View programme notes

Royal Celebrations – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 16 June 2012 – St Martin’s Church, Brasted

Poster for The Cantate Choir's Royal Celebrations concert in June 2012

A golden treasury of English music – Music for Royal occasions from Queen Elizabeth I to Queen Elizabeth II

Soloist

Ian Shaworgan

Programme

O. Gibbons – Preludium organ solo
O. Gibbons – O clap your hands together
Anon C16th – Rejoice in the Lord
H. Purcell – Funeral sentences
T. Bateson – Hark, hear you not?
W. Boyce – The King shall rejoice
C.H.H. Parry – I was glad when they said unto me
S.S. Wesley – Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace
R. Vaughan Williams – Rhosymedre organ solo
R. Vaughan Williams – O taste and see
Paul Mealor – Ubi caritas
G.F. Handel – Zadok the Priest

Programme notes

Parliaments and Ministers pass, but she abides in lifelong duty, and she is to them as the oak in the forest is to the annual harvest in the field.

These words could have been said of Queen Elizabeth I or II but in fact were written by William Gladstone of Queen Victoria. We have been particularly fortunate in this land in our female monarchs, who generally steered us through times of great prosperity and advancement. Even Queen Anne gave us chairs! Hopefully, therefore, you are sitting comfortably for this programme of Music for Royal Occasions, which really does open up a treasury of English music at its finest.

I will not go into the biographical details of tonight’s composers but it is possible to trace unbroken threads of connections like a family tree from our earliest 16th century piece, Rejoice in the Lord Alway, to the most recent, Ubi caritas, by Paul Mealor. These threads have touched composers, performers and listeners alike over five centuries and epitomise the English cathedral tradition, which was and remains unique in the world.

Redford, Gibbons, Bateson, Boyce and Wesley worked as organists in the leading cathedrals. Gibbons, Purcell, Handel, Parry, Vaughan Williams and Mealor have associations with Westminster Abbey, home to the unique pageant of British history. Purcell was influenced by the Tudor masters. Handel learned from Purcell and Parry taught Vaughan Williams at the Royal College of Music. Oxford, Cambridge and York are common places of learning. Four of the ten composers were members of the Chapel Royal, the monarch’s official body of musicians, and three others contributed pieces to royal collections in praise of their queens. Our island setting has meant that, while not averse to absorbing some continental fashions, British composers have always been aware of the best work in our own musical and spiritual centres. Composers preserved aspects of style and emotional language, which are distinctive, and developed a knack for setting our language sympathetically.

There was a gap in proceedings in every sense with the Civil War and Interregnum which followed the death of Charles I. A puritan Act, passed in 1644, required the removal of all superstitious monuments, which included organs from places of worship. At the time of the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, there was also a lack of choristers and other musicians. Charles II embarked on rebuilding the stocks of music, musicians and instruments, starting with the Chapel Royal. Perhaps William Boyce’s greatest legacy was the compiling of some 300 years of compositions in score rather than part format for the first time in a book called Cathedral Music. And so the legacy continued.

Best known as a writer of straight-forward but engaging symphonies, Boyce was tasked with writing all the music for the coronation of George III in 1761, something never asked of the Master of the King’s Musick before or since. He recycled music from George and Charlotte’s wedding just two week’s earlier and refused point blank to do a new setting of Zadok the Priest, saying that ‘it cannot be more properly set than it already has been by Mr Handel’.

George Frederick Handel was the most cosmopolitan and a foreigner to boot (not that we have ever worried about adopting foreign talent as our own if it suits) and he did struggle with the nuances of the language. However, he above all others was master of the grandiose effect. No wonder then that the anthem, Zadok the Priest, which was originally composed for the coronation of George II in 1727, has been used at every coronation since and still exhilarates however often you hear it.

Queen Mary II (as in William and Mary) was a bit of a rebel. Daughter of catholic James II, she married protestant William of Orange and then, just to rub salt in the wounds, overthrew her father in the Glorious Revolution. While this made her something of an irritant in official circles, it made her very popular with the masses. After ruling jointly with her husband for five years, she died of smallpox in 1695. Purcell’s setting of the Funeral Sentences from the Book of Common Prayer really is the most priceless gem in our treasury. ‘Man that is born of a woman hath but a short time to live and is full of misery’. Together with those in the King James’ Bible, such words resonate in every English person’s soul and enrich our language. Purcell’s mastery of melodic invention, clear structure and chromatic intensity harnesses and articulates the mood of a nation, unaccustomed to emotional outpourings at the best or worst of times.

Parry and Wesley worked at a time when cathedral music was in a slump and the continental giants of Romanticism were doing things very differently. Nonetheless, their works have measured class. And what of Paul Mealor? Is the tradition safe in his hands? There is a reminder of plainchant here and the dissonances, like those of Gibbons, are interesting not aggressive. Above all the emotion is one of calm warmth and assurance. Just what you would expect from a Welshman, educated in York and working in Scotland with five hundred years behind him!

Sara Kemsley

Royal Celebrations

7.30pm, Saturday 16 June 2012 – St Martin’s Church, Brasted

Poster for The Cantate Choir's Royal Celebrations concert in June 2012

A golden treasury of English music – Music for Royal occasions from Queen Elizabeth I to Queen Elizabeth II

Soloist

Ian Shaworgan

Programme

O. Gibbons – Preludium organ solo
O. Gibbons – O clap your hands together
Anon C16th – Rejoice in the Lord
H. Purcell – Funeral sentences
T. Bateson – Hark, hear you not?
W. Boyce – The King shall rejoice
C.H.H. Parry – I was glad when they said unto me
S.S. Wesley – Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace
R. Vaughan Williams – Rhosymedre organ solo
R. Vaughan Williams – O taste and see
Paul Mealor – Ubi caritas
G.F. Handel – Zadok the Priest

Programme notes

View programme notes

J.S.Bach – Mass in B Minor – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 17 March 2012 – St Nicholas Church, Sevenoaks

Soloists

Alice PrivettSoprano
Kathryn WalkerSoprano
Leo TomitaAlto
Tim LawrenceTenor
Alistair OllerenshawBass
Hazel Brooksleader

Programme

Bach – Mass in B minor

Programme notes

The aim and final end of all music should be none other than the glory of God and the refreshment of the soul.” Johannes Sebastian Bach

The Mass in B Minor is the only full mass or missa tota, which Bach wrote and it was also his last major composition. Working as a Lutheran composer in eighteenth century Germany, it was the short mass consisting of the Kyrie and Gloria, which was used for church services. The B minor mass was pulled together from movements written earlier in his life: the Kyrie and Gloria in 1733 for the Elector of Saxony, the Sanctus in 1724 and the Qui tollis based on a cantata chorus of 1714. To these he added newly composed sections. There is speculation that Bach wrote this full mass, not for liturgical use, but as a statement of Christian beliefs for all people and for all time.

Musically, it represents the pinnacle of High Baroque style, a style which had already given way to the simpler galant style of Bach’s own sons and composers such as Stamitz, Quantz, Couperin and Telemann. This clean, clear homophonic style with easy melodies and gentle decoration laid the foundations for the mature Classical style of Haydn and Mozart by the end of the century. In this sense, Bach was already behind the times and his music all but disappeared until the nineteenth century rediscovery of this hardworking and unassuming genius.

“It’s easy to play any musical instrument: all you have to do is touch the right key at the right time and the instrument will play itself.” Try telling that to the orchestral musicians who accompany our performance this evening. They have committed years to mastering their instruments and hours to maintaining their period versions in good playing order. Bach’s musicians must have been no less skilful as the orchestra plays a vital role in securing Bach’s vision and technical brilliance. The different colours of each movement, and of sections within movements, are created by absolutely unique combinations of wind, brass and string timbres. This is quite literally his canvas upon which the words of the mass are layered.

The opening movement, Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy) sets up all that is to follow. A short, chromatic declamation in B minor is followed by an instrumental prelude of dark and subdued nature from strings and oboe d’amore, an alto-voiced oboe. The Kyrie proper then comes in the form of a 5-part fugue but one with such a long subject melody and at a gentle walking pace so that all you notice is the luxurious interlacing of parts and none of the theoretical genius behind its composition. This is like mining a seam of unspeakably gorgeous Belgian chocolates, the flavours constantly changing, some a little surprising. When it suddenly ends, you are already looking for the next layer.

Christe eleison (Christ have mercy) is in D major and sung elegiacally by two soprano soloists over a typically busy string and continuo accompaniment. The traditional repeat of Kyrie eleison is another fugue, this time in 4-parts, that is four voice parts. This one is a sinuous and slippery character full of shifting semitones and is another third higher in F sharp minor.

The Gloria is split by Bach into nine sections each with its own character arising from careful selection of voices, keys and instrumentation. It begins with a dancing, triple time piece with glittering flutes and trumpets adding to the joy. The changes of gear on occasion are unsettling but the words are usually in charge, for Bach is the master of imagery through music. For example, the dainty flute and violin accompaniment for Domine Deus is a crystalline sorbet compared with the fiddly and nervous soufflé for the solo soprano in Laudamus Te or the pensive alto solo with accompanying oboe d’amore for Qui sedes (who sitteth at the right hand).

The bass aria, Quoniam tu solus sanctus (Thou art the only holy one) seems to argue this theory; with hunting horn and two bassoons, it is almost comically absurd. But surely this is Bach at the height of his powers enjoying a hand-stopped natural horn and the human bass voice performing near-impossible leaps and wriggles to express the one, almighty, most high. This is exhibition stuff from an old master.

The next major section is the Nicene Creed (I believe in one God, Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth). This is also split into nine sections beginning with a fugue for choir based on the original Gregorian chant for Credo in unum Deum. There is great energy in these movements and a sureness of touch. For example, the duet of the third movement, which is written like a round just one beat apart, still sounds completely natural and assured despite the compositional dexterity.

The word-painting of the next three movements speaks for itself in the descending phrases for ‘was made flesh’, the heart-rending Crucifixus and the elation of ‘on the third day, rose again’. The bass aria which follows is this time genteelly pastoral with oboes and continuo for a dignified setting of ‘the holy spirit, Lord and giver of life’. The Creed ends with the longest movement, Confiteor unum baptisma (We believe in one holy catholic and apostolic church). This section looks forward to the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection after death and life ever after. The full forces of choir and orchestra are brought to bear in this joyous affirmation of faith.

Much of the mass so far has been for 5-part chorus, the extra soprano line giving light and brilliance to the textures. From the Sanctus to the end, Bach builds the choral forces more and more strongly. Holy, Holy, Lord God Almighty, is for 6-part choir, the extra alto line enriching the middle register and providing glue in the oscillating triplet lines. It also means that a 6-part fugal section is much busier to describe Pleni sunt coeli (the heavens are full of his glory), trumpet-blowing cherubim flitting all over the place.

The final group of movements, Osanna, Benedictus, Agnus Dei and Dona Nobis Pacem, opens with the only unison and unaccompanied cry of the whole work. In D major, the most nearly-related key to the pervading B minor, this is unequivocal joy and does little to prepare us for the Agnus Dei (Lamb of God, have mercy upon us). In G minor (two flats instead of two sharps), this is musically the most distant key of the entire work. The yearning phrases of the alto soloist are almost painful, set against the hesitant but constant bass line. Nearly every long note in the entire movement is a dissonance waiting to be soothed.

Unusually, Bach takes the final words of the Agnus Dei (grant us peace) and treats them as a final movement, a straightforward, last short fugue in an affirmative D major on a rising theme. Ite, missa est, the priest would say by way of dismissal. Bach seems to be telling us to do likewise, our souls refreshed.

Sara Kemsley

Alice Privett

Alice, sang soprano for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of J S Bach’s B minor mass in March 2012.

Alice Privett, Soprano

Alice Rose Privett graduated from the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2011 with the Concert Recital Diploma; her operatic roles include Poppea L’Incoronazione di Poppea (Longborough Festival Opera Young Artists), Belinda Dido and Anaeus (Ad Parnassum, Venice), and First Bridesmaid/cover of Susanna Nozze di Figaro (BYO). During her undergraduate course at the GSMD she has had the benefit of working with Elijah Moshinsky, Sarah Walker, Eugene Asti and Iain Burnside (in the premiere of his play Unknown Doors in the Barbican Pit Theatre). She has also participated in masterclasses with Rudolph Piernay in Salzburg, Edith Wiens at GSMD and Joan Dornemann at the IVAI programme (Tel Aviv). Alice is a keen recitalist, and after taking part in a recital of Messiaen’s complete songs at The Forge in London was awarded the Tracey Chadwell Memorial Prize for work in contemporary song. In competition she has won the first prize in the Susan Longfield Award (2011) and in the Royal Overseas League (2011) with the ensemble ‘Cries of London’. Upcoming roles this year include Papagena/ cover of Pamina (Longborough Festival Opera) and Pamina (The Complete Singer). She currently studies with Lillian Watson and Jonathan Papp at the RAM.

Tim Lawrence

Tim, sang Tenor for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of J S Bach’s B minor mass in March 2012.

Tim Lawrence, Tenor

As a former Lichfield Cathedral chorister, Tim Lawrence was introduced to classical singing at a very early age which has helped him to develop into a fine singing musician. After being awarded a music scholarship at King Edward’s School, Edgbaston, he achieved his LLCM Diploma in singing performance under the guidance of Coral Gould and was subsequently awarded an Open Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London where he currently studies with Dr. Neil Mackie CBE, and coaches with Iain Ledingham.

Tim is rapidly establishing himself as one of the most promising young tenors of his generation, with an increasingly busy concert schedule in the oratorio and recital circuit. Recent solo performances have included Bach’s Magnificat, B Minor Mass, St. Matthew and St. John Passions and Christmas Oratorio, Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, Handel’s Messiah, Jephtha, Samson and Saul, and Stanford’s Requiem. Highlights have included Haydn’s Nelson Mass with David Hill and The Bach Choir as well as Kenneth Leighton’s Columba Mea, under Paul Spicer, both performances at St. John’s Smith Square in London.

In 2011, Tim was accepted onto the Genesis Sixteen scheme, a training programme run by The Sixteen and Harry Christophers which aims to nurture the next generation of talented young voices.

Tim is generously supported by the Josephine Baker Trust, the John Taylor Memorial Trust Fund and the Adah Rogalsky Scholarship fund.

Kathryn Walker

Kathryn, sang soprano for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of J S Bach’s B minor mass in March 2012.

Kathryn Walker

Kathryn Walker, a music graduate from the University of Birmingham, is studying voice with Elizabeth Ritchie at the Royal Academy of Music. Opera roles include Tormentilla (The Poisoned Kiss/Vaughan Williams), Prince Orlofsky (Die Fledermaus/Strauss) for University of Birmingham Summer Festival Opera, Juno (Semele/Handel) for Hampstead Garden Opera. She is currently working of the role of the Third Lady (Die Zauberflöte/Mozart) with Royal Academy Opera and cover Bircenna (Cajo Fabricio/Hasse) with Ensemble Serse. Kathryn was described as “…a powerful talent to watch. Wonderfully even throughout, her singing has particularly rich lower tones, and she has a highly impressive stage-persona” (Christopher Morley, Opera Magazine) for her performance as Tormentilla. Kathryn is also a member of Song Circle at the Royal Academy of Music, and she is grateful for the support if the Josephine Baker and the Lucille Graham trusts.

Leo Tomita

Leo, sang Alto for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of J S Bach’s B minor mass in March 2012.

Leo Tomita, Alto

Leo is a countertenor with performing experience including baroque oratorio, 19th century German lied and contemporary opera. He read Chemical Engineering with an Organ Scholarship at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, and then held the position of Lay Clerk at St John’s College, Cambridge. Leo is currently studying with Michael Chance, Elizabeth Ritchie and Iain Ledingham on the MA course, where he is a soloist for the Kohn Foundation Bach Cantata Series and is a member of Song Circle. He is grateful to be supported by the Countess of Munster Trust, the St John’s College Choir Association and the Josephine Baker Trust.

Leo has formed a duo with pianist Cecily Lock, with whom he won the 2011 Sir Arthur Bliss prize with a programme of songs by Bliss, Britten and Anthony Powers. Leo and Cecily are keen on performing contemporary song cycles and recently performed Anthony Powers’ High Windows in Oxford and in the Major Van Someren-Godfery Prize 2011 (Commended). In other competitions, Leo was runner-up in the 2010 Blyth-Buesst operatic prize, a semi-finalist in the London Bach Society’s Singers Prize 2010 and a semi-finalist in the singer’s section of the Royal Overseas League Arts music competition 2012.

Leo has performed in venues including St John’s Smith Square, St Martin-in-the-Fields and Ely Cathedral, with instrument ensembles including the Britten Sinfonia, the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment and the Brandenburg Sinfonia. His performed concert works include Handel’s Messiah and Dixit Dominus, J.S. Bach’s Johannes-Passion, Himmelfahrts-Oratorium BWV 11 and Magnificat BWV 243 and various Cantatas, Vivaldi’s Magnificat, Monteverdi’s Vespers of 1610, Mozart’s Requiem, Purcell’s Come ye sons of art, Pergolesi’s Magnificat and Stabat Mater, Greene’s Ode to St Cecelia, Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms and Orff’s Carmina Burana.

In operatic roles, Leo has sung the role of Boss in Kim Ashton’s chamber opera The boy, the forest and the desert and excerpts in the title role of Handel’s Flavio, Bertarido in Handel’s Rodelinda, Ottone in Monteverdi’s L’incoronazione di Poppea and Refugee in Jonathan Dove’s Flight.

Gareth Wilson

Gareth Wilson, conducted the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of his own work Decalogue in November 2011.

Gareth Wilson, Composer

Gareth Wilson, conductor, composer and lecturer, was born in Glasgow and studied at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, Edinburgh University and the Royal Academy of Music in London. He teaches in the Music Department of King’s College, London, is a regular lecturer for the Royal College of Organists, Director of Music at Christ Church, Chelsea and conductor of the London-based chamber choir, Incagliati. He has undertaken postgraduate degrees in Theology and Philosophy of Religion at Heythrop College, London University, and is currently pursuing doctoral research at King’s College, London. He has composed over 70 pieces for the Anglican liturgy and in 2011 joined forces with philosophers Peter Vardy and Charlotte Fowler to present a documentary and series of conferences on music and philosophy.

Durufle Requiem and Gareth Wilson’s Decalogue

7.30pm, Saturday 26 November, 2011 – St Mary’s Platt Church, Nr Borough Green

Poster for Cantate Choir's Durufle Requiem concert in November 2011

Soloists

Gareth Wilsoncomposer & conductor
Nicholas O’Neillorgan

Programme

Gareth Wilson – Decalogue
Duruflé – Requiem

This concert included Gareth Wilson’s first performance outside London of Decalogue.

Performing new music, and working with composers is a real thrill for musicians: getting the music ‘hot off the press’. The Cantate Chamber Choir worked with Gareth Wilson, conductor, composer, theologian and educator, preparing his new work ‘Decalogue’ for their concert on Saturday 26th November in the Parish Church of St Mary Platt.

The work, sets biblical texts from both the old and new testaments, to music as a set of eleven motets for choir and organ. Each text is chosen to highlight one of the Ten Commandments, with the eleventh movement being the words of Jesus; “I give you a new commandment”.

The composer, Gareth Wilson, conducted the work and the choir’s musical director, Robin Walker, played the substantial organ accompaniment.

For the second half of the concert Robin conducted the choir as they performed one of the choral repertoire’s most loved works: Maurice Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’, with its haunting ‘Pie Jesu’ and heavenly ‘In Paradisum’.

Programme notes

View programme notes

Nicholas O’Neill

Nicholas, played organ for the Cantate Choir during it’s performance of Durufle’s Requiem in November 2011.

Nicholas O'Neill, Organ

Nicholas O’Neill was born in Cheltenham in 1970, and currently lives in London, where he works as a composer and musician. In 1992 he was unanimously awarded first prize in the Norwich Festival Composition Competition. He won the Gregynog Young Composers’ Award in 1993, shared the Barbara Johnstone Composition Prize in 1995, and has been shortlisted for the Cornelius Cardew, Purcell, Oare String Orchestra, William Mathias and Vocalis composition awards. His music has been performed at the Leeds Festival of Contemporary Music, the Norwich and London Festivals of Contemporary Church Music and broadcast on Classic FM. He has recently been awarded the American Guild of Organists-Marilyn Mason Award 2012 for his Festive Voluntary.

Formerly head of Musical Techniques at Trinity College of Music, Organist to Brighton College and St. George’s RC Cathedral, Southwark, he is Associate Music Director of the Occam Singers, Chorus Master of the Parliament Choir and the Malcolm Sargent Festival Choir, President of Cantores Salicium and Associate Director of Music at St. Mary Abbots, Kensington. He also lectures for Birkbeck, University of London. Nick is a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists and an Honorary Fellow of the Academy of Saint Cecilia, on whose advisory panel he sits. He is also the Academy’s first Composer in Residence and has recently been appointed to the same post with the Parliament Choir.

By night Nick is keyboardist with rock band JEBO, who released their second album, Settle Up Or Settle Down last year. This and their critically acclaimed first album Sinking Without You are available from iTunes and Amazon.

Nick can be contacted via his website.

Durufle Requiem and Gareth Wilson’s Decalogue – Programme notes

7.30pm, Saturday 26 November, 2011 – St Mary’s Platt Church, Nr Borough Green

Poster for Cantate Choir's Durufle Requiem concert in November 2011

Soloists

Gareth Wilsoncomposer & conductor
Nicholas O’Neillorgan

Programme

Gareth Wilson – Decalogue
Duruflé – Requiem

This concert included Gareth Wilson’s first performance outside London of ‘Decalogue’.

Performing new music, and working with composers is a real thrill for musicians: getting the music ‘hot off the press’. The Cantate Chamber Choir worked with Gareth Wilson, conductor, composer, theologian and educator, preparing his new work ‘Decalogue’ for their concert on Saturday 26th November in the Parish Church of St Mary Platt.

The work, sets biblical texts from both the old and new testaments, to music as a set of eleven motets for choir and organ. Each text is chosen to highlight one of the Ten Commandments, with the eleventh movement being the words of Jesus; “I give you a new commandment”.

The composer, Gareth Wilson, conducted the work and the choir’s musical director, Robin Walker, played the substantial organ accompaniment.

For the second half of the concert Robin conducted the choir as they performed one of the choral repertoire’s most loved works: Maurice Duruflé’s ‘Requiem’, with its haunting ‘Pie Jesu’ and heavenly ‘In Paradisum’.

Programme notes

Everyone ought to bear patiently the results of his own conduct‘. Phaedrus (1st century AD)

Both of tonight’s composers bring to their work great attention to detail and a theological interest, which adds layers of meaning to otherwise traditional techniques. Both have served as directors of music at distinguished capital city churches: Duruflé at St. Etienne du Mont in Paris and Wilson at Christ Church, Chelsea. Maurice Duruflé was such a perfectionist that he only allowed around a dozen works to be published and even then, he often tinkered with them after publication. He studied the organ and then composition at the Paris Conservatoire and followed a career as an organist in partnership with his organist wife, Marie-Madeleine Chevalier- Duruflé, until a serious car crash in 1974 left him almost completely housebound. He died in 1986.

Gareth Wilson’s Decalogue is a working of the Ten Commandments, which received its first performance in 2010 at King’s College Chapel, London, where Gareth is also choral director. The work merits the detailed reading of the composer’s own notes, which are reproduced with this programme, but for those wanting the short guide, some essentials follow here. Each commandment is a treatment of a biblical text, which is in some way an illustration of humanity’s ability to get it wrong – over and over again. Gareth is interested in our tendency to make pronouncements and judgements upon other people, without looking at ourselves or improving our self-knowledge. The bible, he asserts is ’if nothing else, an exploration of what it is to be human’.

He uses several conventions throughout the work to help our understanding of the texts and the theological points he raises. He has set Latin versions of all the biblical texts, an unusual choice given 400 years of the King James’ version of the Bible in English. The voice of God is invariably represented by the choir singing in octaves. Where there is harmony, this is humanity, or sometimes Christ, speaking. He also uses melodic fragments to represent ideas like Good and Evil, which occur in several movements and contribute to that sense of ‘will we never learn?’ which seems to pervade the texts.

Nos. I and X deal with Man overreaching himself with the expulsion from Paradise and the building of the Tower of Babel. III, IV, VI and VII all remind us of the hypocrisy of those in authority who pass down judgments when their own actions leave much to be desired. II, V and IX deal with the frailty of the human will, which has too little faith, a lack of appreciation for what we have and a lack of backbone when times get tough. No. VIII ‘You shall not steal’ treats the Judgement of Solomon. It is a story retold by Bertolt Brecht in the Caucasian Chalk Circle. Two mothers argue over a child they believe to be theirs. The true mother is the one prepared to give up her child rather than harm him. Wilson adds an eleventh commandment, just as Christ did. It is sung unaccompanied in English, “I give you a new commandment that ye love one another. As I have loved you, so must ye love one another.”

The Requiem Mass of Duruflé was written in 1947 and follows in a long line of settings all the way back to the plainchant version set down by Pope Gregory in the sixth century. As a choirboy at Rouen Cathedral, Duruflé became very familiar with the transcriptions of Gregorian chant and all nine movements of the Requiem, as well as others of his works, make extensive use of the original chants. Whereas, most previous settings of the Mass for the Dead make full use of the dramatic elements of the words, Duruflé, like his compatriot Fauré before him, leaves out the long Dies Irae, which deals with all the fire and brimstone stuff. He inserts instead the Pie Jesu and ends with In Paradisum. This, combined with the flowing plainchant rhythms and limpid, impressionist harmonies, gives the piece a contemplative and encouraging character and stands in contrast with the works of Mozart and Verdi for example.

The composer produced three versions of the Requiem, with organ or orchestral accompaniment, with and without soloists. Our version is the most pared back and, some might say, most in keeping with its monastic roots. The opening Introit is sung very gently by the men over a moto perpetuo figure on the organ. The women, as ever, are being ethereal. The Kyrie builds a more elaborate polyphonic texture from the plainchant opening, which builds and builds so that every voice is soaring in luscious harmony.

The third movement, Domine Jesu Christe, prays for release from the jaws of hell. After a hesitant start, the music is more angular and chordal. The keys rise higher and higher as the desperate souls beg not to end up in the abyss. This all changes as first the ladies and then the men remind God of his promise to spare Abraham and his seed.

Sanctus is very reminiscent of Faure’s treatment, soft slow chords over constantly moving arpeggio figures in the accompaniment and the effect is almost the same: a static (even ecstatic) moment of peace. This is followed by Pie Jesu set for Mezzo-soprano solo, a heartfelt prayer for eternal rest. The calm seems to continue in the Agnus Dei but appearances are deceptive here. An agitated little accompaniment sits underneath the elegiac phrases throughout. The phrases of the singers are short and uncertain and the effect is heightened when the altos follow the sopranos in a tight little canon. However, all consternation dissolves at the words ‘dona eis requiem sempiternam’ (Grant them eternal rest).

The seventh movement Lux Aeterna has a lucidity and charm which is reminiscent of some modern carol settings with a simple high melody over hummed chords. The contrast then in the next movement Libera Me is extraordinary. Trombone and trumpet sounds signal the Last Judgement and the voices of the men sound as if they are calling from the deep ‘release me, Lord, from eternal death’. This movement is theatrical, albeit a restrained treatment, in its setting of the words. Finally, we glimpse In Paradisum among the angelic chorus. Long held notes suspend us in the stratosphere and the final chord remains unresolved. We must wait a while longer, it seems, patiently considering our own conduct.

Sara Kemsley

Auguri Italia! – Programme notes

Tuesday 31 May 2011 – Methodist Church, Florence, Italy
Wednesday 1 June 2011 – 13th century church of Saint Augustine, San Gimignano, Italy
Thursday 2 June 2011 – La Badia Fiorentina (Florence Abbey), Florence, Italy
7.30pm, Thursday 16 June – St Margaret Patten’s Church, City of London
7.30pm, Saturday 18 June – St Martin’s Church, Brasted

Poster from the choir's Auguri Italia! tour to Italy

On 30th May, ‘Cantate’ set off for Florence, for a week of performances in Tuscany. They take with them a delightful summer programme celebrating 150 years of Italian Unity and will return to England for their UK concerts in London and finally Brasted. These ‘a capella’ concerts will feature music from the 15th to the 20th century, with a particular focus on Italian and English composers, including Giovanni Gabrieli, Antonio Lotti, Charles Wood, William Harris, John Dowland and Edward Bairstow. The concert will finish with Joseph Rheinberger’s wonderful Mass in E flat major.

In Florence, all three concert venues are ancient churches with rich histories. The first is the Methodist Church in Florence, built in the 12th Century as a monastery, and the place where the clavichord was perhaps invented. It is also only a few doors away from the palazzo in which dramatic recitative was first heard, the birthplace of modern operatic style. The church is only a few hundred yards from the church of Santa Croce, where Rossini is buried, whose Messe Solennelle the choir performed in March this year.

Photo of San Gimignano Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, one of the venues for the Choir's tour to Italy

San Gimignano Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

The 13th century church of Saint Augustine in the UNESCO World Heritage town of San Gimignano, south of Florence, is the choir’s second port of call. San Gimignano is famous for its many tall towers, used to dry long lengths of cloth dyed with local saffron, and visible for many miles around. The town was used in the film Tea with Mussolini, and is the setting for the video game Assassin’s Creed II !

For their final concert the choir perform in one of Florence’s most ancient churches, La Badia Fiorentina (Florence Abbey), which dates back to the year 978, and where Robin is currently organist. The monastic community there have given the choir special permission to give a rare concert, which will be the final highlight of the trip.

The choir also performed this summer programme on two occasions in England. First on Thursday 16th June when the choir sang in the City of London at St Margaret Patten’s Church and then on the opening night of the Sevenoaks Festival at St Martin’s Church Brasted on the 18th June.

Programme

Hugo Kelly – Magnificat
J. Arcadelt – Ave maria
G. Gabrieli – Jubilate Deo a 8
T. Weelkes – When David heard
A. Lotti – Crucifixus a 8
A. Bruckner – Ave Maria, Locus iste, Os justi
C. Wood – Great Lord of Lords
S. Rachmaninov – Blessed is the man
A. Bax – Lord, thou hast told us
E. Bairstow – I sat down under his shadow
J. Rheinberger – Double mass in E flat
W. Harris – Bring us, O Lord God

Programme notes

Music is the harmonious voice of creation; an echo of the invisible world. Giuseppe Mazzini

In March 1861, Victor Emmanuel II became the first King of a unified Italy thanks largely to the work of politicians Mazzini and Cavour and the revolutionary leader Giuseppe Garibaldi. Since the fall of the Roman Empire, Italy had developed as a number of city states and small republics such as Venice, Florence, Siena and Naples. The Pope governed the Papal States but there was constant political upheaval and insurgence as the Holy Roman Emperors in the north vied with the Popes for power.

Despite, or perhaps because of, the constant power struggles, Italy was the centre of the world for both trade and the arts. Florence, especially under the Medicis, was a forcing ground for art and architecture. Venice was at one time the most powerful trading state in the world and its art and music flourished alongside. Musicians learned their craft in Italy and the instrument makers provided their tools. Song was everywhere.

The first half of our programme consists of music, which was either written during this time of renaissance and cultural domination or was inspired by precepts of vocal purity and faithfulness to the liturgical text, associated with sacred Italian music. By 1861, the Italians were really only interested in opera and so we turn to composers from other countries for our second half of astonishing sacred choral works. All lived in times of struggle of empires and revolution. All found inspiration in religious texts and all owe something to the choral traditions first laid down in Renaissance Italy.

Henry Kellyk is the earliest and least known of our composers. An Englishman of the mid-15th century, only two of his works survive. He starts us in the late Medieval world, opening with plainchant, which the monks knew by heart. His music elaborates the words in layers of rhythmically complex melismas, which render the text incomprehensible but the sound would have rung around the lofty churches as ‘the harmonious voice of creation’.

Ave Maria, like the Magnificat, is one of the Marian texts and we have two settings in our programme. The cult of Mary was strong in the Catholic Church but lessened in the protestant liturgies after the Reformation. The version by Jacob Arcadelt demonstrates the dramatic change brought about by the Council of Trent. He was a Flemish composer working in Rome and understood well the Council’s intention to place text at the centre of church music. Music from this time must be simple and dignified.

Giovanni Gabrieli was working in another state, in Venice. Away from the direct gaze of the Pope, music here was a more glittering affair and instruments were commonly added. Voices and instruments were often used together and in opposition. The Jubilate Deo is for eight voices creating a rich tapestry of overlapping lines.

Thomas Weelkes in England spent most of his life under the patronage of Chichester Cathedral. Although a later piece, possibly written at the death of Prince Henry in 1612, the sacred madrigal When David heard that Absolom was slain draws on elements old and new. The 6-part setting is rhythmically straight-forward but the uneasy tonality takes us back to medieval false relations, where one part sharpens notes while another is flattening them. The result is a particularly poignant expression of the grief of a father for his dead son.

The 8-part Crucifixus by Antonio Lotti takes Weelkes’ use of dissonance to a whole new level. The only points of harmonic resolution come in three places, emphasizing ‘crucified’, for ‘us’ and ‘buried’. The strain and agony is intense.

It is for Anton Bruckner to take us forward now to unification and this he does musically as well as temporally. His motets are written in a simple style to ensure that the text is paramount but his harmonic language is romantic. This time, it was not the Council of Trent which gave guidance to sacred composition. The Cecilian Movement established itself across Europe and America to reduce the operatic theatricality in oratorios and other sacred pieces, which had become prevalent.

Across Europe, Christian worship had developed many branches: Roman Catholicism, eastern Orthodoxy, Protestant Methodism, the Anglican communion and so on. Charles Wood was a Cambridge organist and composer steeped in the Anglican traditions. Blessed is the Man by Rachmaninov comes from his Russian Vespers. Edward Bairstow mainly worked in churches in northern England and in York Minster. Arnold Bax was an orchestral composer but this simple gem reminds us that much of the English Hymnal was written by first-rate composers.

Finally, Joseph Rheinberger’s Eb Mass more than nods to the Cecilian belief that plainness is next to godliness. It also harks back to the antiphonal choirs of Renaissance Venice and so brings our concert full circle, ‘an echo of the invisible world’.

Sara Kemsley

Auguri Italia!

Tuesday 31 May 2011 – Methodist Church, Florence, Italy
Wednesday 1 June 2011 – 13th century church of Saint Augustine, San Gimignano, Italy
Thursday 2 June 2011 – La Badia Fiorentina (Florence Abbey), Florence, Italy
7.30pm, Thursday 16 June – St Margaret Patten’s Church, City of London
7.30pm, Saturday 18 June – St Martin’s Church, Brasted

Poster from the choir's Auguri Italia! tour to Italy

On 30th May, ‘Cantate’ set off for Florence, for a week of performances in Tuscany. They take with them a delightful summer programme celebrating 150 years of Italian Unity and will return to England for their UK concerts in London and finally Brasted. These ‘a capella’ concerts will feature music from the 15th to the 20th century, with a particular focus on Italian and English composers, including Giovanni Gabrieli, Antonio Lotti, Charles Wood, William Harris, John Dowland and Edward Bairstow. The concert will finish with Joseph Rheinberger’s wonderful Mass in E flat major.

In Florence, all three concert venues are ancient churches with rich histories. The first is the Methodist Church in Florence, built in the 12th Century as a monastery, and the place where the clavichord was perhaps invented. It is also only a few doors away from the palazzo in which dramatic recitative was first heard, the birthplace of modern operatic style. The church is only a few hundred yards from the church of Santa Croce, where Rossini is buried, whose Messe Solennelle the choir performed in March this year.

Photo of San Gimignano Chiesa di Sant'Agostino, one of the venues for the Choir's tour to Italy

San Gimignano Chiesa di Sant’Agostino

The 13th century church of Saint Augustine in the UNESCO World Heritage town of San Gimignano, south of Florence, is the choir’s second port of call. San Gimignano is famous for its many tall towers, used to dry long lengths of cloth dyed with local saffron, and visible for many miles around. The town was used in the film Tea with Mussolini, and is the setting for the video game Assassin’s Creed II !

For their final concert the choir perform in one of Florence’s most ancient churches, La Badia Fiorentina (Florence Abbey), which dates back to the year 978, and where Robin is currently organist. The monastic community there have given the choir special permission to give a rare concert, which will be the final highlight of the trip.

The choir also performed this summer programme on two occasions in England. First on Thursday 16th June when the choir sang in the City of London at St Margaret Patten’s Church and then on the opening night of the Sevenoaks Festival at St Martin’s Church Brasted on the 18th June.

Programme

Hugo Kelly – Magnificat
J. Arcadelt – Ave maria
G. Gabrieli – Jubilate Deo a 8
T. Weelkes – When David heard
A. Lotti – Crucifixus a 8
A. Bruckner – Ave Maria, Locus iste, Os justi
C. Wood – Great Lord of Lords
S. Rachmaninov – Blessed is the man
A. Bax – Lord, thou hast told us
E. Bairstow – I sat down under his shadow
J. Rheinberger – Double mass in E flat
W. Harris – Bring us, O Lord God

Programme notes

View programme notes

James Gower

James sang with the choir during its Baroque Masterworks concert in March 2007 an its Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle concert in March 2011.

James Gower, Bass

James was born in Newport, South Wales and studied at St John’s College, Cambridge and the Royal Academy of Music. He is currently studying with Cathy Pope and Robert Lloyd.

James made his English National Opera debut performing Lord Krishna/Parsi Rustomji Satyagraha by Philip Glass and joined the ENO Young Singers Programme for the 2007/2008 season. His roles have included Mercury/Lictor/3rd Seneca Friend L’Incoronazione di Poppea, Bogdanowitsch The Merry Widow, Notary Der Rosenkavalier, Ormonte Partenope, Nikitich Boris Godunov, Speaker Die Zauberflöte, Ceprano Rigoletto and Sciarrone Tosca. As an associate artist with Welsh National Opera, James performed Un Moine Don Carlos and Second Armed Man Die Zauberflöte. For Glyndebourne Festival Opera he performed Pinellino Gianni Schicchi, (broadcast on BBC TV and performed at the Proms) and Erster Priester/Zweiter geharnischter Mann Die Zauberflöte. For Glyndebourne on Tour he sang Doctor Pelléas et Mélisande and Doctor Grenvil La Traviata. Other roles include Raimondo Lucia di Lammermoor and Seneca L’Incoronazione di Poppea for Iford Festival, Colline La Bohème for Opera Theatre Company, High Priest in Dvorák’s Vanda for University College Opera, Bartolo/Antonio Le Nozze di Figaro for the Classical Opera Company and Leporello Don Giovanni, Cambridge Touring Opera.

Recent concert engagements include Messiah with the RSNO and Christus St John Passion at Bath Abbey. Engagements outside the UK have included Israel in Egypt, Pagano I Lombardi and Silva Ernani at Dortmund’s Konzerthaus.