Haydn - The Creation
Chichester Cathedral - Saturday, 21st January 2017
On a bitterly cold evening in January, how wonderful to hear this dramatic retelling of the familiar Creation story with the The Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica, conducted by an inspirational Jonathan Willcocks. The audience were warm with appreciation even if the air was freezing. The infectious music of Haydn and his colourful instrumentation depicting God in the very act of creation was brought to life vividly by the excellent orchestra, disciplined chorus and professional soloists, Margaret Ravalde, Thobela Ntshanyana and Kieran Rayner.
The opening depiction of chaos was revealed by the clean lines of the orchestra, bringing to life the chromatic harmonies as the earth was being formed. It was dramatic to have the opening chorus sung from memory and the magical moment when the Light of God shone out in sound. Uriel, sung by an exciting South African tenor, drew the audience into the drama of light and darkness. Raphael, sung by Kieran Rayner, the bass soloist, engaged with the audience from the start and brought the thunder and lightning, rain and sparkling snow to Chichester Cathedral. Gabriel’s interjections rang out with her sweet soprano, encouraging the chorus to praise God and His marvellous works. Raphael’s aria depicting the sea and its rolling billows was pure theatre, reminding us that Haydn wrote many operas though sadly not so often performed.
With Verdure Clad felt a little heavy from the orchestra and could have been more dance- like in contrast to the boisterous seas, but generally the colourful depiction of the Genesis and Paradise Lost texts were well judged. In Awake the Harp the chorus kept the lines clear, but they could have had a little more in the tank to sustain the mighty ‘God’ as they could not quite keep the excitement and wonder that the conductor was asking for. However, the words were generally clear and in that tricky acoustic not an easy task. The choral sound always tends to be a little muddy at that end of the cathedral, whereas instrumental colours come through more clearly.
After the interval we continued with a glorious depiction of the familiar English landscape, with some lovely woodwind colours. It almost seems that Haydn was inspired by our very own country.
There were occasional moments when the soloists lost vocal clarity but generally the ensemble work was good from all three singers. The chorus were on top form and the sopranos soared away into the heights, while lovely rich sounds from the other three parts produced a well-rounded timbre and the obvious enjoyment by all helped to create a lively and memorable performance.
Vaughan Williams - Overture “The Wasps”
Peter White - Te Deum
Vaughan Williams - The Lark Ascending
Vaughan Williams - Hodie
Chichester Cathedral - Saturday, 12th November 2016
There was some brave programming for the Chichester Singers’ concert on 12th November. Not only were there four works in the programme but one was a cantata by Vaughan Williams which is not often performed, and another was a completely new choral work that the Singers had commissioned for this concert. Chichester audiences are fairly conservative and are cautious about going to listen to modern music, so it was no surprise to see a number of empty seats in the cathedral for this event. But it was an excellent concert, the Singers and orchestra were in fine form and gave enjoyable performances of the unfamiliar works.
The opening work, appropriately, was an overture, The Wasps, given a spirited performance by Southern Pro Musica, full of familiar tunes. Later in the programme, the orchestra played a second short orchestral work by Vaughan Williams, The Lark Ascending, said to be the nation’s favourite piece of classical music It is magical how just listening to the music conjures up in one’s mind a vision of English countryside. Sophie Langdon, leader of Southern Pro Musica, played the violin solo, relishing every note.
Between these two well known works, the audience was treated to the world premiere of Te Deum by Peter White. Although the composer kept the Latin title, he used the English text of this hymn of praise, describing the many peoples who praise God, with varied musical themes. Between verses of the Te Deum, Peter White has added poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, the intensely religious poet who converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit priest and who believed his poems were written to the greater glory of God. Certainly his writing was inspired and should be read with the ear, and Peter White has placed the poems as a contrast to the loud certainties of the Te Deum. They were mostly sung by the two soloists, who conveyed the poet’s feelings of joy at nature and anxiety about man’s place. The tenor, Alexander Aldren, must be congratulated in particular for his fine performance, when he was a stand-in who had just a few days to learn his part, and he was well matched by the soprano soloist, Bibi Heal. The Singers and the orchestra performed the work with great confidence, and the composer must have been pleased with the performance and with the audience’s enthusiastic response.
The second half of the concert was Vaughan Williams’ Hodie, or “on this day”, a cantata which tells us the Christmas story. It was one of the last works that Vaughan Williams composed and he brought to it all the experience of his long career. He also seemed to bring in almost every instrument he had written for, with a very large orchestra, including powerful brass and percussion sections, as well as a full chorus and a semi-chorus of boys’ voices. The conductor, Jonathan Willcocks, controlled these forces with his usual skill and fluency, though there were moments when the orchestra overwhelmed the soloists and even the chorus. But it was always enjoyable music, as the audience followed the Bible story, narrated with bell-like clarity by the Cathedral Choristers (invisible on top of the screen), interspersed with songs sung with gusto by the chorus and soloists. The baritone Frederick Long sang two of the gentler solo movements in a charming, personal manner, and joined the soprano and tenor for the splendid March of the Three Kings and the final Epilogue.
The orchestra and the Chichester Singers kept up the high quality of their sound throughout these demanding works. The concert was a creditable and enjoyable piece of English music making.
Brahms - Academic Festival Overture
Brahms - Nanie and Alto Rhapsody
Elgar - The Music Makers
Chichester Cathedral – Saturday, 18th June 2016
Performed as part of this year’s Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica, under the direction of Jonathan Willcocks, came together for a programme comprising works by Brahms and Elgar, their composition spanning about 50 years.
The programme opened with Brahms’ Op.80 Academic Festival Overture, written as a result of the composer being bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of Breslau. This is one of Brahms’ most boisterous works, (in marked contrast to the companion Tragic Overture, which will be performed by the Chichester Symphony Orchestra on 16th July) the work being peppered with various well-known student drinking songs! The forces of the Southern Pro Musica under Jonathan Willcocks gave a performance that was full of character and vigour, and the overture ended with an unexpected but hearty rendition of Gaudeamus Igitur from the Chichester Singers towards the end of the piece.
In complete contrast to the opening overture, Brahms’ Nšnie (or Song of Lamentation), Op.82, was composed in the same year as the preceding work in memory of Brahms’ friend, the painter Anselm Feuerbach, who had died in 1880. This was a piece unknown to me; a work of pure beauty which sets a poem by Schiller for chorus and orchestra. It explores a rich harmonic palate which has reminiscences of the 2nd Symphony, Violin Concerto and Requiem. Willcocks’s forces performed with commitment and sensitivity throughout.
To finish the first half of the programme, contralto soloist Diana Moore sang Brahms’ Alto Rhapsody, Op.53. Set to words from Goethe’s Herzeise im Winter, this piece was written as a wedding present for Robert and Clara Schumann’s daughter Julie. Diana Moore gave a sensitive performance and displayed a richness of tone throughout, although she was occasionally a little swamped in her lower register by the forces of the male section of the choir and Southern Pro Musica. However, this was an expressive interpretation by all involved.
Began in 1903, Elgar’s The Music Makers, Op.69 was first performed in 1912 as part of the Birmingham Festival. With other major choral works under the composer’s belt, Elgar was at the height of his compositional powers. Quoting some of his previous works throughout the piece, (including the Enigma Variations, The Dream of Gerontius, the Violin Concerto and 1st Symphony) The Music Makers has come under criticism in the past for quoting extensively from these pieces. However, this has been a technique used by previous and contemporary composers (J.S. Bach, Handel and Richard Strauss to name a few) and, for me, these quote certainly do not detract from this fine work overall.
Set for contralto soloist, choir and large orchestra, this was a fine performance from the outset, with beautiful playing from the viola section at the beginning. Although the balance between choir and orchestra favoured the latter on occasion, their singing was both expressive and secure, with a magical closing section. Diana Moore had the perfect voice for Elgar, with a richness of tone throughout.
Haydn - Nelson Mass
Richard Blackford - Mirror of Perfection
Chichester Cathedral – Saturday, 12th March 2016
The Chichester Singers delivered a fine concert on Saturday 12th March – two attractive works of about equal length, with plenty of choral singing in each, one composed at the end of the 18th century and the other at the end of the 20th century.
The first work was Haydn’s well known and well loved Nelson Mass, which the composer originally called “a mass for troubled times”, as he was composing it in Vienna when the French army led by Napoleon had been winning a series of victories and invading the whole of Europe. Fortunately, a few weeks before the first performance of the mass, the British fleet, commanded by Nelson, had won a stunning victory at the Battle of the Nile, destroying the French Mediterranean fleet and leaving the French army stranded in Egypt. The Austrians must have felt that times were looking up, and Nelson’s name was gratefully associated with the mass, particularly after 1800, when Nelson and Haydn met.
In Chichester Cathedral the work opened powerfully, with strong singing from the chorus and fortissimo playing from the string orchestra, augmented by trumpet and drums – more a call to war than a lamentation of troubled times. The first two movements continued the military feeling and there was a good balance between the choir and the soprano Josephine Goddard.
As the work progressed the other soloists popped up briefly from time to time to sing a few bars and then sat down again, but the memorable singing came from the chorus who were on their feet for virtually the whole performance.
Haydn’s music is tuneful and very rhythmic, which meant that the singers performed with accuracy and confidence, and the audience was treated to a cracking good sing. The later movements became more subtle with more emotion; perhaps Haydn remembered that he was composing for the name day of a princess. The quartet of soloists added some refinement to the singing and conductor Jonathan Willcocks brought the work to a suitably moving end with the beautiful setting of Agnus Dei.
The second work in the programme was Richard Blackford’s Mirror of Perfection, which is surprisingly similar to the first work in that it is dominated by choral singing, although the choir do get to have a rest from time to time, and the music is approachable and immediately enjoyable.
The composition is based on and inspired by seven poems, or canticles, written by St Francis of Assisi. As these are sung in medieval Italian and French, it is necessary to read the programme notes to know what the words are saying (most of them are about love), but the music is delightful, whatever the inspiration, and there is frequent change of mood and colour, which the choir and orchestra, under the sensitive baton of Jonathan Willcocks, were able to convey. The orchestra of Southern Pro Musica returned to the platform with a full complement of players, including the wind instruments, and the Chichester Singers continued to fill the Cathedral with sound.
The bass soloist, Nicholas Morton, had the main part in this piece, and his voice has excellent quality and range. The beginning of the work is unaccompanied and requires the soloist to start singing the canticle, to be joined by the chorus singing a capella, before eventually the orchestra provides some support; this was quite a test for all concerned. The performers moved together through the changes in style between and within the canticles, a jolly tune for the song of the furnace of love, and a pecking or clucking background to St Francis’ poem to his brothers the birds, and finally a long crescendo for the last Canticle of love, to end in a charming and complex song of peace.
The composition is sophisticated, with various musical forms and complex counterpoint and syncopation, but it remains a very approachable work with immediate appeal, and the audience in the Cathedral thoroughly enjoyed the performance.
Mozart - Symphony No.40 in G minor
William Godfree - Requiem
Mozart - Mass in C minor
Saturday, 7th November 2015
The Chichester Singers’ concert on 7th November 2015 had a mixed programme - an orchestral work and two choral works, comprising two familiar pieces by Mozart and one modern work by a composer whose name was unfamiliar to many in the audience.
William Godfree’s Requiem was composed 25 years ago, and some potential members of the audience may have been put off by the fact that it is a late 20th century composition, and also that the composer is a member of a jazz band and occasionally performs in cabaret. They need not have worried. The Requiem is a delightful piece, firmly fixed in the classical tradition, a pleasure to hear and obviously good to sing. The Chichester Singers produced a fine mellow sound and were well supported by the orchestra of Southern Pro Musica. There is a small part for the one soloist, but Charlotte Schoeters added emotion to the work with her soaring soprano voice. It may be that Godfree had composed the work for a smaller choir and orchestra, but the combined forces in the Cathedral filled the building with music of great charm, and the audience with enthusiasm.
After the interval, the Chichester Singers were in good voice for Mozart’s Mass in C Minor, a more demanding composition with much counterpoint, requiring the chorus to divide in places into five or even eight parts. The choir, under the close direction of their conductor Jonathan Willcocks, put in a good performance, although they had lost some of the mellow musical tone that they had produced for the previous work. Of the four soloists, the tenor and bass were good, but it was very much the sopranos’ evening with Charlotte Schoeters and Emily Garland singing memorable solos and a gorgeous duet, and towards the end Ms Schoeters gave a virtuoso performance, the lovely upper register of her voice soaring into the Cathedral. Once again, the choir and soloists were well supported by Southern Pro Musica, who accompanied with accuracy and sensitivity.
The orchestra had shown their capability in the first work of the concert, Mozart’s much loved Symphony No. 40, capturing the dramatic contrasts of the work both in energy and in its continual variation between simplicity and complexity. Their interpretation of the well-known first movement was just right, with accurate playing and a good tempo. The audience relaxed in their seats, sure that they were in for an evening of excellent music making; and they were not disappointed.
PUCCINI - Messa di Gloria
BERLIOZ - Te Deum
Saturday, 20th June 2015
The Chichester Singers more than justified the decision of the Festival of Chichester 2015 organisers to give the choir a prestige position for their Cathedral concert.
The Singers were at their very best and totally at ease with the demanding works they performed.
They beautifully portrayed the strong operatic influences in Puccini’s Messa Di Gloria, which he had written at the age of 20 for his musical graduation. Surprisingly, this work had remained unperformed for 72 years despite its rapturous reception on its first performance.
The stunning sound the choir produced was dramatic and inspiring and certainly pleased their modern audience. The youthful looks of tenor John Porter hid the confidence and maturity of his singing, which added greatly to the overall effect. He was partnered by Thomas Humphreys (baritone) whose singing was well received.
Under the masterly direction of Jonathan Willcocks, the Southern Pro Musica, the choir and soloists could not be faulted but it was Richard Barnes who truly excelled. In the second work, Te Deum, by Hector Berlioz, the organ contribution is pivotal to the composition. His contrition was stupendous, filling the Cathedral with glorious sound using the acoustics of the building to their maximum.
What distinguishes the Chichester Singers above all other local choirs is the fact that it consistently and unfailingly presents a well-balanced sound. So often in other choirs the sopranos and altos are well represented, with the tenors and basses thin on the ground. This is certainly not the case with this choir, where the male voices are equal to the very best.
BACH - St John Passion
Saturday, 21st March 2015
Towards the end of Lent, a good crowd filled the nave of Chichester Cathedral to hear the Chichester Singers perform Bach’s great oratorio, The Passion of our Lord, according to St John. They were not disappointed. The choir, under conductor, Jonathan Willcocks, opened the work with a loud and confident cry of “Lord!” that produced a frisson of excitement and demanded attention for the powerful first chorus.
As the Evangelist began to tell the familiar story, it became clear that we were listening to a supreme exponent of the role. Tenor James Oxley has a fine voice, clear diction and, most remarkably, knows the work so well that he sings without a copy of the music. He was joined by the bass Huw Montague Rendall, who sang Christ’s words calmly and resonantly, allowing Bach’s music to define the emotion and the inevitability of the story. The two soloists were sensitively accompanied by Richard Barnes, organ, and David Burrowes on the cello.
The choir took the part of the angry crowd, becoming more strident as the story progressed and demonstrating how great discipline and accuracy in singing can depict a scene of chaos and tumult. As usual, the Singers were accompanied by Southern Pro Musica, who also provided fine attacking playing, for the baying of the crowd, and gentle legato support for the arias of the female soloists. The bass parts of Simon Peter, angrily denying that he knew Jesus, and Pilate, fruitlessly arguing with the mob, were competently taken by Michael Mofidian.
As the story rolls on to its inevitable end, Bach breaks in with Christian responses to the tragedy, with solemn chorales, accurately sung by the choir, and arias sung with much feeling by the soloists. Charlotte Schoetters, soprano, has a fresh young voice and a smiling presence. Her first air was full of optimism but after the death of Jesus she seemed almost in tears herself as she sang so movingly of her grief. Contralto Claire Barnett-Jones also conveyed great emotion as she sang “It is finished”.
The story swept on to the entombment, and the audience in the Cathedral were filled with emotion. Perhaps the last chorus, “Lie still”, should have been sung very quietly to suit the mood, but it led naturally into the great crescendo of the final chorale with its theme of moving from darkness into light and endless joy.
It was all a splendid performance of Bach’s masterpiece - another fine work from the Chichester Singers.
HANDEL – Messiah
Saturday 6th December 2014
With the Christmas season in full swing, one does not have to look hard to find a live performance of Handel’s ever-popular Messiah. This year, a sell-out audience was treated to an exemplary performance in Chichester Cathedral, given by the Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica under their Musical Director Jonathan Willcocks.
From the opening of the Overture, Southern Pro Musica showed precision and sensitivity with a lightness of playing that might normally be associated with performances on ‘baroque’ instruments, rather than their modern equivalents.
The Chichester Singers performed with a lightness and agility that belied the choir’s size. Florid passagework (for example in For unto us a child is born) was performed with impressive ease, giving the clarity of a chamber-sized choir. They sang with assurance and musicality throughout.
The soloists were something of a mixed bag: Ruth Jenkins-Růbertsson’s soprano voice was rather on the ‘operatic’ side, with a slightly limited range of expression. After Angharad Lyddon’s triumphant Israel in Egypt earlier this year, it was a real treat to hear her wonderfully rich contralto voice again, particularly in He was despised. Jon Grave’s tenor arias were a touch light and one-dimensional, whilst Timothy Nelson’s bass solos were commanding; his voice was one whose richness will surely mature over the coming years.
Fraser Tannock made a welcome return to play the solo trumpet part in The trumpet shall sound with impressive clarity and accuracy. Richard Barnes (organ) and David Burrowes (cello) provided musical and reliable continuo support throughout. Altogether this was a triumph for Jonathan Willcocks’ training and musical direction, and it made the perfect start to the Christmas festivities.
Benjamin Britten - War Requiem
Saturday, 8th November 2014
The War Requiem was composed by Benjamin Britten to celebrate the re-building and re-consecration of Coventry Cathedral, and it immediately caught the public imagination. Most major choral groups now include the work in their repertory, and on the eve of Remembrance Day, one hundred years after the beginning of the First World War, the Chichester Singers gave a memorable performance of the War Requiem in Chichester Cathedral.
Conductor Jonathan Willcocks commanded and controlled some strong musical forces through this demanding work. The Singers, numbering around 120, sang the familiar Latin words of the mass for the dead with great flexibility, sometimes as a full chorus with up to eight parts, sometimes as Britten’s semi-chorus. They demonstrated how moving it can be to hear a big choir singing quietly with feeling, and how stirring when they emulate the sounds of war while still singing the words of the mass.
Soloist Claire Seaton’s powerful soprano voice soared over the chorus and filled the Cathedral, increasing the dramatic effect of sections of the Requiem, and the pure voices of the boy choristers from Chichester Cathedral, placed high up on the Arundel Screen, added another dimension to Britten’s panoply of sound. But the overwhelming variety of sound came from the orchestra of Southern Pro Musica with bells, bugles, drums and mighty crescendos that portray the excitement and the despair of war.
Between the sections of the mass, two fine soloists, Matthew Long (tenor) and Gareth Brynmor John (baritone) sang the moving war, or anti-war, poems of Wilfred Owen, gently accompanied by the chamber orchestra. Their delivery was clear and musical, though the acoustics of the Cathedral meant that the audience further down the nave needed the programme notes in order to appreciate the poet’s words. But most of the audience were absorbed in the developing music and emotion of the work.
The final, steadily quietening section of the Requiem was most moving and, in the end, we wondered – was that a concert or was it a religious service – do we applaud? The audience did applaud, loud and long; it was a memorable concert; one of the Chichester Singers’ best performances.
WILL TODD - Te Deum
Three Italian motets
Four English anthems
Three pieces by the Prebendal School Chamber Choir
JEREMIAH CLARKE - The Prince of Denmark’s March
5th July 2014
Conductor: Jonathan Willcocks
For their contribution to the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers served up an unusually varied programme. Instead of their customary menu of one or two of the great choral works from the classical tradition, supported by a full orchestra, the Singers put together a mix of motets and anthems along with the very modern Te Deum by Will Todd. The audience was able to appreciate the excellent tone and attack of the Chichester Singers as they sang a number of a cappella works, without the support of any accompaniment. They were joined by the Chamber Choir from Prebendal School, who performed three short pieces. After the power of the chorus of over one hundred adult voices, the children’s singing at first seemed too quiet for the great volume of the Cathedral, but then it became clear that it was a deliberately pianissimo entry that steadily built up through a sustained crescendo to some excellent and well phrased singing. The first half of the concert ended with a number of favourite choral pieces by English composers, evidently much appreciated by the audience, especially a wonderfully rousing performance of Parry’s I was glad, accompanied by two brilliant trumpeters and Richard Barnes on the organ.
The second half of the concert belonged to Will Todd. We were brought into the 21st century with familiar songs sung by Bethany Halliday to an unfamiliar jazz style accompaniment by the Will Todd ensemble. This led in to the main work of the evening, Will Todd’s Te Deum, in which the Singers under their conductor Jonathan Willcocks, were able to show off their power and musicality in performing this modern take on the ancient choral tradition. The central movement, beautifully sung by soprano Bethany Halliday, felt especially relevant at this time when we have been remembering the sacrifices made in two World Wars, and the children’s choir gave us a message of hope for the future. The work ends with a stirring and sustained climax that sent the audience home with smiles on their faces. Bill Witts
HANDEL - Israel in Egypt
29th March 2014
Conductor: Jonathan Willcocks
Written in 1739, Handel’s Israel in Egypt is an oratorio that did not enjoy instant success, because audiences at the time were expecting the symmetry of recitative – aria – chorus (as can be heard in his ever popular Messiah) rather than what is presented in the oratorio performed by the Chichester Singers in Chichester Cathedral. Israel in Egypt has just four recitatives, five arias (the concluding one with chorus), one duet, with the rest of the work being given to chorus.
It was certainly a piece that showed the Chichester Singers at their very best. From the ethereal beauty of Handel’s setting of He sent a thick darkness over the land, even darkness which might be felt to the florid writing of He led them through the deep as through a wilderness, Jonathan Willcocks coaxed a sound that was assured at all times. They gave the impression that this oratorio must have been as fun to learn in rehearsal as it was to perform in the generous acoustic of Chichester Cathedral.
The soloists were exemplary. Soprano Christina Gansch had to wait until well into the second half until she got her chance to show her beauty of sound. She was particularly assured in the upper register of her voice, although there was a tendency for her to be slightly swamped by the orchestra in lower registers.
Contralto Angharad Lyddon had a richness of tone that shone particularly in her aria Thou shalt bring them in. Her beauty of tone was a joy to hear.
Tenor Oliver Johnston’s brightness of sound with excellent diction throughout was well suited to Handel’s music, most notably in The enemy said, I will pursue.
Southern Pro Musica’s playing was superb. Virtuosic string writing was handled with ease, woodwind were well blended, brass and timpani filled the Cathedral with triumphant fanfares, and the continuo playing of Richard Barnes was always assured.
MOZART - Coronation Mass
BEETHOVEN - Mass in C
Saturday, 16th November 2013
The Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica once again came together for a performance comprising masses by Mozart and Beethoven, as well as Mozart’s Haffner Symphony.
Mozart’s Mass in C was given a reading that combined lyricism with vitality, particularly in contrasting sections of the Credo. The soprano solo of Louise Alder was beautifully delivered with ease and musicality, most noticeable in the Agnus Dei, as was the case throughout her appearances in both the Mozart and Beethoven’s Mass in C.
Nick Pritchard’s lilting tenor voice was well suited in his solos in the Mozart and Beethoven, whilst Morgan Pearse (Bass) was striking in the Gloria of the Beethoven. Angela Simkin (Alto) seemed uncomfortable throughout: her solos lacked projection, and she did not have the assurance of the other soloists in ensemble sections.
The Chichester Singers were on sparkling form: they provided a blend of vitality and excitement with beauty and poignancy throughout, showing a total commitment to the music and their conductor, Jonathan Willcocks.
The Southern Pro Musica showed their accomplishment as an orchestra in an exciting performance of Mozart’s Haffner Symphony (No.35), the final movement of which was handled with ease.
Saturday, 16th March 2013
In a scintillating display of all that is best in English Choral music, the Chichester Singers, together with Pro Musica Brass, soprano soloist Ruth Jenkins and Richard Barnes at the organ, gave the packed cathedral audience an evening to remember.
In their 60th anniversary year, the celebratory programme comprised English Coronation gems from Boyce, Handel, Elgar and Walton, as well as an exciting performance of Willcocks’s Magnificat.
Ruth Jenkins crowned the event with virtuoso performances which included a stunning performance of Handel’s Myself I shall adore with its fast-moving intricate triplets and mesmerizingly pure and high sustained notes in the Willcocks Magnificat – singer and cathedral acoustic perfectly matched.
Southern Pro Musica supported the whole concert with their customary joie de vivre whilst the 125-strong chorus did itself proud with tight, focused singing, delighting us with a full range of dynamic and rhythmic contrasts.
Special moments included the dialogues between brass and singers in the Walton Te Deum; the Willcocks Magnificat whose contemporary colours, cross-rhythms and moments of sheer beauty for soprano solo, demonstrated the composer’s mastery of composition; and finally Parry’s I was Glad – the Singers relishing every note. So did we!
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS - A Sea Symphony
Saturday, 10th November 2012
The Chichester Singers dedicated the main work in their autumn concert to one of their former sopranos Anne Jones who had sung with them for more than thirty years. Her love of the sea inspired them to sing Ralph Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony in her memory.
Unlike other choral symphonies, the choir sang throughout the four movements and were as fresh and vigorous at the end as they were at the beginning of this tour de force. The storms and strong winds together with the tranquillity of the calm were convincing performed by the orchestra and singers
Returning to Chichester, the beautiful soprano Bibi Heal excelled in her demanding solo role. Her voice has many qualities from the strong and powerful to the gentle and sublime. Sadly there was no comparison with the quality of her fellow soloist, baritone John Lofthouse whose contribution lacked lustre and power.
The Chichester Singers gave a reprise of a work they commissioned for their 50th anniversary year. In the presence of the composer Malcolm Archer, the choir, accompanied by The Southern Pro Musica, sang Veni, Creator Spiritus. This choral music, based on a 17th century poem by John Dryden gave the singers the opportunity once again to demonstrate their versatility and passion.
The unmistakeable Elgar sound was beautifully portrayed by the Southern Pro Musica in their superb performance of the overture, Cockaigne. The musicians captured the bustle and panoply of London. The orchestra created the rare power of the music with their vital and vigorous playing. It was brilliantly conducted by Jonathan Willcocks who clearly had a love of this particular piece of music.
ROSSINI - Petite Messe Solennelle
Saturday, 2nd June 2012
The Chichester Singers’ superb interpretation of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle presented the choir at its finest.
Originally written in 1864 by Rossini as chamber music for 8 members a vocal ensemble, the Chichester Singers touch produced a mighty example of the finest choral singing in the same league as Mozart’s masses.
The colourful and dramatic choir’s performance was enhanced by the exemplary four soloists whose beautiful contributions enhanced the overall effect.
All four were confident and professional, blending in total and exquisite harmony when singing together. Still students at the Royal Academy of music, soprano Rhiannon Llewellyn and contralto Angharad Lyddon sang with great experience and maturity belying their age. Their duet Qui tollis was exceptional for its beauty and purity easily achieving the requisite solemnity and emotion.
The deep and resounding singing of Adam Marsden was ideal for the bass contributions, particularly Quoniam. Oliver Johnston’s (tenor) singing was passionate and powerful, making his solo Dominus Deo one of the highlights of the concert.
Richard Pearce (piano) as the principal accompanist had a very demanding role and with great style captured the spirit of Petite Messe Solennelle with his bright and rhythmic playing. Richard Barnes (organ) ensured that the accompaniment was perfect.
As with every Chichester Singers Cathedral concert, Jonathan Willcocks produced the very best from the choir and soloists.
Graham Hewitt The Chichester Observer
DOBROGOSZ - Mass
PURCELL - Coronation Anthem
ELGAR - Part Songs
BARBER - Adagio
ELGAR - Serenade for Strings in E minor
Saturday, 24th March 2012
Choir excels with enthusiasm on night of startling contrasts
The Chichester Singers always excel when challenged with new and unusual music. Steve Dobrogosz’s Mass is such a piece and was sung with obvious joy and enthusiasm.
There was no part for professional soloists, which ensured the Chichester Singers gave inspired interpretations of the five parts of the Mass. After a reflective piano solo by Richard Barnes, in startling contrast the choir sang the rhythmic Kyrie. This was the beginning of Dobrogosz’s Mass, which incorporated his love of vibrant jazz rhythms and choral music. The choir clearly loved his style and gave delightful and versatile versions of the Gloria and Credo.
Scored for choir, strings and piano, contemporary American Steve Dobrogosz’s Mass was a wonderful choice for this extremely talented choir and orchestra to perform.
Under the direction of Jonathan Willcocks, the Southern Pro Musica delighted the audience with a gentle and sensuous version of Edward Elgar’s much loved Serenade for Strings in E minor. With a sublime performance of Samuel Barber’s breathtaking Adagio for Strings, the orchestra further confirmed their important role in local music.
Originally written as test pieces for a musical festival early last century, Edward Elgar’s three part songs gave the Chichester Singers a superb opportunity to sing these evocative works unaccompanied.
MOZART - Requiem
BEETHOVEN - 9th Symphony (Choral)
Saturday, 5th November 2011
The Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica reached a new pinnacle of perfection with their stunning concert at Chichester Cathedral. The confident and dramatic impact was tremendous and was rapturously appreciated by the packed capacity audience with prolonged applause.
Jonathan Willcocks’s interpretation of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony exploited to the full the boundless talents of both the Chichester Singers and the Southern Pro Musica. The first three movements of the symphony gave the orchestra alone the opportunity to excel but it was the final tempestuous and exciting choral movement where they matched and complemented the choir’s exuberant singing.
The wonderful Ode to Joy with soloists, chorus and musicians could not have been bettered. The vitality and energy were exhilarating.
Four young soloists gave distinguished performances and were individually distinctive. Sara Lian Owen (soprano) Angharad Lyddon (contralto) Samuel Furness (tenor) and Frederick Long (bass) visibly expressed their obvious joy and happiness at singing together with encouraging smiles and looks.
To have two exceptional works and performances in one concert was a rare treat. The Chichester Singers’ total confidence and professionalism gave a dramatic immediacy to their winning performance of Mozart’s Requiem. Written in the final year of Mozart’s short life it is probably the most puzzling work ever written because even now it is surrounded by myths and controversy. The well balanced soloists were truly impressive individually, but particularly in the trios and quartets.
Without any doubt – a magnificent concert.
Graham Hewitt - The Chichester Observer
TIPPETT - Spirituals from A Child of our Time
WILLCOCKS - Sing Africa
African and English Folk Songs
Saturday, 11th June 2011
Once again the Chichester Singers surprised their audience with a concert packed with miscellany of beautiful and diverse music. A requiem, spirituals, traditional English folk songs and contemporary works made this an exceptional and very well received evening of music.
Under the confident direction Jonathan Willcocks, The Chichester Singers were accompanied by the Southern Pro Musica in a dramatic and emotional performance of John Rutter’s Requiem. The gentle and lyrical Pie Jesu was masterfully sung by Bibi Heal (Soprano) who brought tenderness and inspiration to her contribution. The choir showed their versatility and professionalism by immaculately achieving the many musical styles of this complex work which is a musical setting of the Roman Catholic Mass.
Accompanied sympathetically by Richard Barnes (Piano and organ) the Chichester Singers gave an immensely moving performance of the Five Spirituals from Michael Tippett’s most celebrated work A Child of Our Time. The choir conveyed the tremendous compassion and brotherhood which the work displays towards those oppressed by race or religion.
A highlight of the evening was Bibi Heal’s lively performance of Five English Folksongs arranged by Benjamin Britten. Her glorious version of The Ash Grove, Sweet Polly Oliver and The last rose of summer evoked all that is so wonderful about English songs. She brought a freshness and charm to these timeless examples of English folk music.
SCHUBERT - Mass in G
PERGOLESI - Stabat Mater
HANDEL - Dixit Dominus
Saturday, 2nd April 2011
The Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica triumphed again in their outstanding Cathedral concert which featured magnificent works by Schubert, Handel and Pergolesi.
A superb orchestra (Southern Pro Musica), strong and sound singing from the finest group of soloists and the choir at its very best singing with conviction and enthusiasm made this concert an exemplary performance.
Their interpretation of Handel’s Dixit Dominus was immensely exciting and dramatic. The five soloists were all equally matched and magnificent particularly when singing as a quintet. The two sopranos Eleanor Dennis and Robyn Parton complemented each other well and, together with the exquisite singing of contralto Fiona Mackenzie, tenor Anthony Gregory and bass David Milner-Peace, made this a star group of soloists.
The Chichester Singers were more than equal to the challenge of Schubert’s masterpiece Mass in G major, written when the composer was only 18. The singers and soloists displayed its maturity and lasting appeal.
Particularly beautiful were the Benedictus, Credo and Gloria performed by three of the soloists.
Outstanding in the concert was six movements from Giovanni Pergolesi’s Stabat Mater, a beautiful example of baroque sacred music. Soprano Robyn Parton and contralto Fiona Mackenzie faithfully achieved the agony and drama of Mary’s sorrow at Christ’s crucifixion. The style although operatic loses none of the devotional quality.
Once again it was Jonathan Willcocks’s enthusiastic and masterly direction which ensured the choir, orchestra and soloists gave such memorable performances.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
Handel - Messiah
Saturday, 4th December 2010
The Christmas season has begun – Messiah has been performed.
Handel’s mighty affirmation of Christianity was both sensitively and dramatically performed by the Chichester Singers and the Southern Pro Musica.
The quality of the choir, soloists and orchestra was consistently high throughout
Messiah is the greatest oratorio ever written and is now an enduring and undeniable masterpiece. Written in I741, the Chichester Cathedral audience’s enthusiastic acclamation confirmed that it is still as enthralling and spell binding as when it was first performed 270 years ago.
The words taken from the old and new testament by the Revd. Charles Jennens foretelling the birth of Christ and dramatically telling the story of his life, death and resurrection were sung the startling freshness of the very first time I heard it presented.
Packed with well-known airs, choruses and arias, Messiah made full use of the four brilliant soloists. Soprano Jennifer France’s beautiful lyric voice made every word clearly audible, bringing deep conviction to every word. Outstanding and breathtaking was her solo I know that my redeemer liveth. Especially impressive was tenor Stuart Jackson, who sang Thy rebuke has broken his heart and Behold if there be any sorrow with immense beauty and sensitivity.
The orchestra was supremely confident and full blooded. There was nothing vague or indecisive about the Southern Pro Musica. Outstanding was the solo trumpet Fraser Tannock, particularly in the air The trumpet shall sound, brilliantly sung by Marcus Farnsworth (bass)
Conductor Jonathan Willcocks was clearly in charge – his phrasing and tempi brought out the very best in the musicians, making this a magnificent performance with marvellous musical balance between instruments and voices.
His empathy with Messiah was evident throughout.
The full version of Messiah is three hours. I wonder what gems were omitted to bring this version down to just two hours. The Chichester Singers have performed the oratorio nine times under conductor Jonathan Willcocks– what a treat and challenge it would be for this highly talented group to make the tenth time the full unabridged version. Graham Hewitt The Chichester Observer
Howells - Hymnus Paradisi
Parry - Blest Pair of Sirens
Elgar - Enigma Variations
Saturday, 6th November 2010
The Chichester Singers and conductor Jonathan Willcocks triumphed in a work acknowledged to be notoriously difficult to perform.
The Singers did full justice to Herbert Howells’ masterpiece, Hymnus Paradisi, which was inspired by inconsolable grief on the death of his nine-year-old only son.
Singing the words from the English and Latin texts drawn from the Book of Common Prayer, Psalm 23, the Sanctus and the Missa Pro Defundis, the Chichester Singers’ men easily met the challenge of this choral tour de force.
The Singers were accompanied by the masterful playing of the Southern Pro Musica, whose expert musicianship was pivotal to the success of this sensitive and emotional work.
The clarity and effortless beauty which Claire Seaton brought to the soprano solos, and the power and authority which Jeremy Budd gave to the important tenor contributions, made this an outstanding performance.
Sir Edward Elgar’s Enigma Variations further confirmed the expertise of the Southern Pro Musica. The thirteen variations drew magnificent playing, illustrating in music Elgar’s friends and family.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
Bach - Mass in B minor
Saturday, 19th June 2010
The Chichester Singers captured the profound musical and dramatic qualities of Bach’s acclaimed choral masterpiece, Mass in B minor in their Cathedral concert.
Singing from a raised platform at the back of the orchestra, the choir excelled in many of the choruses, particularly the jubilant Sanctus, which was full of joy and intensity.
Unfortunately, the soloists were not evenly balanced, with the bass soloist, Frederick Long, not reaching the same standard as the others. The soprano and contralto were magnificent, both as soloists and as a duet.
Natalia Brzezinska (contralto) was rich and confident in her presentation of the beautiful aria Laudamus Te. Equally, the singing by Aoife Miskelly (soprano) and Rupert Charlesworth (tenor) was well matched in the duet Dominus Deo.
The Southern Pro Musica was up to its customary high standard of playing with some fine instrumental contributions, especially the trumpets.
Jonathan Willcocks (conductor) achieved an immaculate balance, allowing the orchestra to excel where appropriate, greatly adding to the musical experience.
Rutter - Gloria
and works by Gabrieli, Byrd, Schutz, Lotti, Mozart, Bruckner, Brahms, Grieg and Stanford
with works for organ and brass by Gabrieli, Scheidt, Clarke and Gigout
Saturday, 13th March 2010
Ever since their creation, in 1954, The Chichester Singers have performed around the UK and many other European countries, demonstrating to all music-lovers that they are combining with the City of Chichester and its majestic Cathedral to endorse choral music of the highest quality – thus complying with the cultural strategy that had been fashioned by the legendary Dean Hussey, in the mid-twentieth century.
Once again, around 100 elegantly-clad members dominated the nave of the Cathedral, on a steeply-raked platform over the West entrance, and were straight away inspired to generate an enthralling musical atmosphere by the conductor, Jonathan Willcocks, who enthusiastically co-ordinated their choral fervour with the sophisticated artistry of Richard Barnes – at the Cathedral chamber organ – and the dynamic resonance of the Southern Pro Musica brass and percussion group.
Having already created a melodic, occasionally turbulent, atmosphere with many compelling presentations of European choral and instrumental works – especially William Byrd’s animated Sing joyfully and Jeremiah Clarke’s celebrated Trumpet Voluntary – they eventually concluded this evening of rousing Cathedral music with an alluring presentation of one of the most mesmerizing of all modern compositions, written by the English composer, John Rutter, who, just before composing an opera called Bang!, for his young friends, had been inspired to create the effervescent Gloria, in 1974, for the pulsating combination of choir, brass, organ and percussion. The first two movements of this invigorating composition merged flawlessly with the lofty Cathedral atmosphere during a series of intense chords and elongated melodic phrases. Shortly thereafter, the final Vivace moulded more traditional choral ambience with dynamic rhythm and contemporary expression, as the Chichester Singers, organist Richard Barnes and the Southern Pro Musica Brass brought this moving concert to an exhilarating culmination, generating an enthusiastic response from all those present.
HAYDN -Insanae et vanae curae; MOZART - Solemn Vespers
MOZART - Exultate Jubilate; HAYDN - Paukenmesse
Saturday, 14th November 2009
With choral music by Mozart and Haydn, the Chichester Singers accompanied by the Southern Pro Musica under the masterly direction of Jonathan Willcocks scored another outstanding success with their Cathedral concert.
Joined by a superb team of soloists, the Chichester Singers excelled in their performance of Haydn’s Missa in Tempore Belli (Mass in time of War). The Southern Pro Musica joyfully produced the timpani sections which inspired the work’s nickname Paukenn (timpani mass).
The four soloists : Ruth Jenkins (Soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (Contralto), Peter Davoren (Tenor) and Marcus Farnsworth (Bass), were superb whether singing alone or as a trio or quartet. It is a shame that Kate Symonds-Joy did not have greater opportunity to show her magnificent singing talent.
The full range and tremendous expertise of the Chichester Singers ensured that their version of Mozart’s most beautiful sacred work Solemn Vespers was a memorable and outstanding contribution to the concert. The soprano ariaLaudate Dominum was performed by Ruth Jenkins with tenderness and sensitivity.
The bright and confident singing of Mozart’s Exultate jubilate by Ruth Jenkins was a highlight of the concert. Written by Mozart while he was still in his teens, this famous motet is an ideal choice for a young soprano at the threshold of her career and newly graduated Ruth Jenkins could not have been a better soloist.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
MENDELSSOHN - Elijah
Saturday, 4th July 2009
Led by the most impressive line of soloists, both the Singers and the Southern Pro Musica, under the confident and experienced baton of Jonathan Willcocks, gave a distinguished and powerful performance.
This work combined exquisite orchestral accompaniment, unequalled singing and high drama as the story of Elijah's life was told.
The story has everything - earthquakes, droughts, burning chariots, war and resurrection, all realistically and vividly portrayed by the singers and musicians.
Willard White's physically impressive presence, coupled with his mighty bass-baritone voice easily covering the full range of emotions demanded, made him the perfect Elijah in this very exacting role.
The superb and expressive soprano Claire Seaton sang the role of the Widow with passionate intensity - a very convincing grieving mother.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
WILL TODD - Mass in Blue
Saturday, 28th March 2009
The Chichester Singers scored another outstanding success with their exciting and forceful delivery of Mass in Blue. The work was a major departure from the Chichester Singers' tried-and-trusted style, but their obvious ease and enjoyment displayed their confidence and pleasure.
The young British composer Will Todd wrote the work six years ago and it is an exciting and upbeat blend of jazz and blues.
Mass in Blue follows the traditional words of the Mass: the Kyrie, Gloria, Credo, Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei. It was performed by solo soprano Bethany Halliday and the mixed choir, accompanied by a small jazz ensemble with the composer, Will Todd, playing the vital piano part magnificently.
The Chichester Singers beautifully and skilfully developed the Gloria by successfully exploiting the glorious mixture of classical and popular styles.
Pivotal to the work is the contribution of the solo soprano, Bethany Halliday. She is the wife of the composer and daughter of a Baptist pastor. Her enormous vocal range is equally used in jazz, opera or oratorio. Her singing of the Latin text of the Mass in the laid-back jazz bluesy style would not have pleased everyone, but no-one can deny its vigour and vitality.
The Chichester Singers beautifully handled the Kyrie which begins softly, gradually building in intensity until the soprano soloist vocalised at the top of her range over the choir.
The Chichester Singers brought great impact to the short and lively Gloria leading to the impressive Credo, with the pianist and soprano performing the subtle gospel style.
Again the choir delivered a superb contribution with their poignant interpretation of the Sanctus, in which they sang with a purity of sound.
In this one work the Chichester Singers demonstrated an amazing range of styles and professionalism.
Praise must be given to Jonathan Willcocks for his masterful direction, which combines classical, jazz and blues.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS - Dona Nobis Pacem
POULENC - Gloria
Saturday, 15th November 2008
A thought-provoking and exhilarating interpretation of Ralph Vaughan Williams’ anti-war cantata Dona Nobis Pacem was one of The Chichester Singers’ outstanding contributions in their Cathedral concert.
The words from the mass, poems of Walt Whitman and sections of the Bible placed demands on The Chichester Singers which they met with obvious ease and professionalism.
The work, written against the background of the looming Second World War, begins with a soaring and beautiful passionate plea for peace, Agnus Dei, magnificently sung by Bibi Heal (soprano). Walt Whitman’s poem Beat, Beat! Drums! shows the futility of war with the whole of society becoming involved. The choir made this dramatic and frightening contribution.
Baritone soloist Derek Welton confidently and strongly called for reconciliation and an end to the carnage. Dona Nobis Pacem has a strong message and it was forcefully and brilliantly delivered by The Chichester Singers.
The Chichester Singers excelled with their jubilant version of Francis Poulenc’s Gloria. Emphasising perfectly the happy and joyous character of this most exuberant of all church music, The Chichester Singers could not be bettered.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
ELGAR - The Dream of Gerontius
Saturday, 21st June 2008
The Chichester Singers, Southern Pro Musica orchestra and the three magnificent soloists can be justifiably proud of their exceptional performance of The Dream of Gerontius which was enthusiastically received by their Chichester Cathedral audience.
In this performance of operatic proportions of Elgar's masterpiece, Jonathan Willcocks's direction was second to none for its balance, blending and sheer musical brilliance. The choir and orchestra were equal to the challenge of this difficult work but, because of its nature, the work succeeds or fails on the performance of the three soloists. In this performance the soloists were outstanding and ensured the unqualified success of this version.
The Dream of Gerontius is based on Cardinal Newman's poem and tells of the process of dying, and the journey of man's soul through purgatory. Justin Lavender was magnificent as Gerontius, admirably capturing all aspects of human behaviour from doubts, fear and anger to finally accepting the inevitable judgement as Gerontius passes into physical death. Elgar makes great demands on his tenor soloist and Justin Lavender's huge operatic voice easily rose to these demands.
Emily Bauer-Jones was glorious in the role of the angel, her mezzo soprano voice was just right in its purity, clarity and projection giving the words great meaning and emphasis. Sadly, Gerontius gives little opportunity to Derek Welton singing the bass role of the priest. His singing gave authority and importance to the words and left the listener wanting to hear more.
The glorious playing of the Southern Pro Musica was impressive throughout adding greatly to the dramatic impact of this interpretation. The percussion section caught the atmosphere of the Demons Chorus exactly and together with the choir's forceful and strident leering and jeering the contribution could not be bettered.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer
HANDEL - Zadok the Priest
VAUGHAN WILLIAMS - Four Hymns for Tenor and Viola
MOZART - Credo Mass, K257
JONATHAN WILLCOCKS - A Great and Glorious Victory
Sunday, 9th March 2008
Jonathan Willcocks's exciting new orchestral and choral work, A Great and Glorious Victory, was an immediate success with his Chichester Cathedral audience. Using contempora;ry accounts, familiar hymns and the words of the Latin Requiem Mass, Willcocks skilfully directed the Chichester Singers and the Southern Pro Musica to produce a dramatic musical account of history.
Without detracting from Nelson's historic Trafalgar victory, Willcocks's view of one of Great Britain's greatest moments emphasises the importance of the victory for humanity when faced by the greater forces of nature.
The Southern Pro Musica was brilliant throughout and excelled with their magnificent atmospheric interpretation of the ferocious storm which followed the battle. The 'cellos and double basses realistically created the mighty rolling waves and terrifying wind. Conducted by the composer, the superb musicianship of the trumpets, timpani and percussion ensured this was an outstanding musical experience.
The enthusiastic versatility of the renowned Chichester Singers was displayed to the full in this very varied work. The Singers' powerful but sensitive approach to the words reminded me why this choir is so well respected.
Equally worthy of note was the Chichester Singers' performance of Mozart's Credo Mass - a jubilant and crisp version of this joyous mass.
A first-rate line of soloists included Laura Mitchell (soprano), Lucie Spickova (contralto), James Oxley (tenor) with a welcome retun from Czech bass Vojtech Safarik. Whether singing as soloists or as a quartet, they were excellent.
Graham Hewitt, The Chichester Observer