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A VARIED AND EXCITING FEAST OF MUSIC FOR THE COMING SEASON

From our Musical Director, Jonathan Willcocks

It is sunny and warm, England’s cricketers are playing Australia for the Ashes and so it must be time to think ahead to the depths of winter, when we will be at the heart of The Chichester Singers” 2019-2020 season.

But you won’t have to wait that long to enjoy great choral music as, from September when we begin rehearsals, we will immediately be in at the deep end with a terrific programme of English music. A Child of our Time by Michael Tippett is recognised as being one of the truly great choral works of the 20th century – inspired by the persecution of the Jewish population by Nazi Germany, it is a moving lament for oppressed people generally with a strong pacifist message of ultimate understanding and reconciliation. This powerful work is partnered by Vaughan Williams’s uplifting choral piece Toward the Unknown Region, and Southern Pro Musica will complete the programme with the very popular Elgar–Enigma Variations.

We have in recent seasons successfully presented concerts in mid-January, rather than jostle for audiences in the busy pre-Christmas period, and Saturday 18th January will see us in the Cathedral with another classical/20th century programme.

Two tuneful Haydn choral works (the ‘Little Organ’ Mass and Insanae et Vanae Curae) and a Mozart orchestral Divertimento form the first half of the concert, followed by Britten–St. Nicolas (the 4th century St Nicolas of Myra, being the original Santa Claus, is an appropriate subject given the close proximity of this concert to the festive season).

We continue the theme of pairing works by great Masters of the past with contemporary composers for our March 2020 Cathedral concert. From the baroque period we will have the much-loved Vivaldi–Gloria, together with J.S.Bach–Suite no. 1, and then we will revisit Elis Pehkonen–Russian Requiem, which the choir very much enjoyed performing back in 1992. This powerful work combines English and Latin texts, but the choir will also have the challenge of mastering some Russian words too! Despite his Finnish ancestry, Elis Pehkonen is actually English and lives in Gloucestershire, and we very much hope that he will be able to attend our performance.

Every three years, the Chichester Singers embark on an overseas tour, and there is already much excitement about our planned trip to Portugal in May 2020, when we will give two concerts and – if past tours are anything to go by – enjoy much social eating, drinking and general merry-making. The repertoire for this tour will be drawn principally from our March and June 2020 Cathedral concerts as, a few short weeks after we return, we have our final Cathedral concert of the season.

This will be focused firmly on the 19th century Romantic repertoire, with Bruckner-Mass in E minor as the major choral work. Unusually, the orchestral accompaniment for this piece is just wind and brass, and so an ideal partner piece for SPM will be the beautiful Dvorak– Serenade in D minor which, in the first half of the concert, will be partnered by the opportunity for the choir to sing some unaccompanied part-songs and motets.

What a varied and exciting feast of music we have in store in the coming season.

Jonathan

 

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photo Chartres in celebration of 60th anniversary of twinning between Chichester and Chartres

As their part of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced a rather special concert in the Cathedral. To an extent, it was a celebration, both of Jonathan Willcocks’ 40 years as the Singers’ conductor and also of the 60th anniversary of twinning between Chichester and Chartres. As an affirmation of the friendship between our two cities, the Singers were joined for this performance by fifteen members of the Choir of the Chartres Conservatoire. A number of Chartrains were also in the audience.

Celebrating the link between the French and English cities, the concert programme consisted of French and English choral music. The first work did not cause any language problems for the two choirs, as it was sung in Latin, the Messe Solennelle by Louis Vierne, a former pupil of César Franck. The work started powerfully, with a strong brass section from Southern Pro Musica Brass, and the chorus entered with equal power and kept admirably together as the accompaniment was joined by the organ and percussion. The performance of this Mass set the scene for most of the works in the programme, with strong singing accompanied by organ and brass, with little input from soloists or use of counterpoint.

The second work was of great interest to the audience as it was a composition by the conductor, Jonathan Willcocks, called From Darkness to Light, which had been commissioned by a choir in Texas, and set war poems by Ryland Baldwin, a member of that choir, to music. The organ, joined by the chorus singing very quietly, sets a sense of mystery, and the work achieves subtlety by combining the Latin text of a requiem mass with the English words of death and grief. One of the six sections was admirably sung by baritone Thomas Isherwood, and the chorus did justice to the other five sections, including a gentle unaccompanied Lacrymosa that was almost a lullaby.

Another choral work by a local composer, which was new to the audience, was Crucifixus by Jonathan Little, Professor of Music at Chichester University, which is a setting of 15th/16th century words, which were hard to understand even for a modern Englishman. However, the Anglo-French chorus rose to the occasion and made a confident entry into the rather dissonant start to the work and mastered the challenging complexity of the composition, developing with the accompaniment a rich and finally beautiful synthesis.

The other works in the programme were more familiar and less challenging. Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, a setting of a 17th century French poem for chorus and organ only, was performed sweetly and gently, with organist Richard Barnes providing a delicate accompaniment. Richard Barnes was also the accompanist, on the piano, to two songs by Reynaldo Hahn sung by the baritone with great beauty and feeling.

Panis Angelicus by César Franck, is one of the nation’s favourite songs, but on this occasion the solo line was sung, not by a tenor but by the sopranos, with the rest of the chorus joining in after the first verse to produce a thoroughly enjoyable sound. The final work in this very varied programme was John Rutter’s Gloria, another well known and well loved piece. This involved the Singers and members of the choir from Chartres, the Southern Pro Musica Brass and Richard Barnes at the organ, who is now retiring after 24 years as the choir’s skilled accompanist. Under the energetic direction of Jonathan Willcocks, they all contributed a lively finale to an enjoyable and interesting concert.

Bill Witts

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Picture of a Child Of Our Time

A CHILD OF OUR TIME: TIPPETT

Join us in November for a concert featuring the great works of 19th and 20th century English composers. Tippett started writing A Child of Our Time  the day after World War II was declared. It was written as an expression of “man’s inhumanity to man;” it’s one of his most widely known choral works.

The Enigma Variations is one of the greatest orchestral pieces of the 19th century and secured Elgar’s reputation as a composer of international standing. It is also one of the most popular works for lovers of English music.

Based on a Walt Whitman poem, Toward the Unknown Region, this is Vaughan Williams’ first major choral piece, but already reveals in full measure a mastery of choral technique and structure – moving from dark mystery at the opening to a blaze of celebratory triumph at its conclusion.

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