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

Chichester Cathedral – Saturday 22nd June

Gloria: John Rutter

Join us this June for a varied programme of French and English music and we celebrate the 60th Anniversary of the twinning of the cities of Chichester and Chartres. We are delighted to be joined by 15 singers from Le Grand Choeur du Conservatoire de Chartres as we perform works from French classics to contemporary English masters.

John Rutter: Gloria
Jonathan Willcocks: From darkness to light
Gabriel Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine
César Franck: Panis Angelicus
Jonathan Little: Crucifixus
Louis Vierne: Messe Solennelle

 

 

St Matthew Passion – JS Bach

Lent, with Good Friday just around the corner, is undoubtedly the appropriate time in the Christian calendar to sing about the Passion. Last Saturday, the Chichester Singers did just that by performing probably the greatest of all the Passion settings – J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion in Chichester Cathedral. The work itself is a monumental mix of recitative, taking us through the Gospel story, interspersed with chorales, arias and choruses of sublime musical beauty and feeling.

The Singers themselves were on top form from opening to closing choruses. The cathedral acoustic demands that the voices project well over the orchestra in front of them and this they did generally very well. There was a slight imbalance between Choir 1 and Choir 2 in the movements that required a double chorus but this was a minor issue compared with the overall impact of their performance. I would also have preferred less heavy orchestral input supporting the chorales – or even for them to have been sung a cappella – but this would have been difficult when attempting to maintain tight ensemble in a chorus of over a hundred.

The five soloists – James Oxley, Timothy Nelson, Rebekah Jones, Thomas Isherwood and Margaret Ravalde were all excellent. Particular mention should be made of Ms Ravalde who stepped in at the last minute to cover for illness and performed the work in English for the first time. Her duet with Rebekah Jones in So ist mein Jesus was outstanding. James Oxley was the Evangelist and he impressively sang his recitatives from memory, ably underpinned by Richard Barnes’ harpsichord continuo.

The Singers were supported by their usual orchestra, the Southern Pro Musica who performed with their reliably consummate professionalism. For me, a St Matthew Passion performance succeeds or fails on the emotional effect of the tearful Erbahme dich, and here, the orchestra’s leader, Sophie Langdon, played her violin to near perfection – wonderful. Mention should also be made of the oboeists who played their thirds sublimely in Golgotha.

The success of the whole evening sat on the shoulders of conductor Jonathan Willcocks, who directed proceedings with his usual energy and verve. This was a performance to be proud of.

Martin Richardson

Lest We Forget – Centenary of the 1918 Armistice

And all the trumpets sounded  – Ronald Corp

Ein Deutsches Requiem – Brahms

On the weekend before Armistice Day, The Chichester Singers put on a concert of two works that reminded us of the sacrifices made by young men in so many wars.  The first work was a modern composition, And all the trumpets sounded by Ronald Corp, in which sections of the Latin Mass are sung by the chorus between five poems sung by the baritone soloist.  The music is mostly war-like with thunderous beating of drums, loud fanfares from the trumpets and orchestration that seems to suggest the chaos of battle, and which was played with admirable discipline by Southern Pro Musica under the clear direction of conductor Jonathan Willcocks.

Baritone Gareth Brynmor John had a long and taxing role as the reciter of the poems of war and death and sang with clarity, musicality and good volume from beginning to end, though the acoustics of the Cathedral meant that most members of the audience were bent over their programmes, following the words.  In the choral interludes, The Chichester Singers sang the more familiar Latin words of the Mass with confidence and with power that matched the orchestra.  They were supported by the soprano soloist Claire Seaton, whose soaring voice added further emotion to the prayer to “grant them rest”. There was no let-up at the end, no quiet lamentation for those who died; this time all the trumpets sounded for the heroes who had passed over to the other side.

The second item in the concert was the German Requiem by Brahms, which was given its first performance 150 years ago.  This is a well-known work that contains some well-loved music and the Singers performed it in German, which gave the work some additional character.  It is a pleasure to listen to this oratorio, which is full of memorable tunes, and the Singers were in good form, singing the choruses more smoothly than in the previous work; the soprano line was particularly strong and confident.

For two of the movements of the oratorio, the choir was joined by the baritone soloist, Gareth Brynmor John, who sang dramatically about the mysteries of the end of life and, in the fifth movement, Claire Seaton finally took her place to sing the soprano solo Ye now have sorrow, her fine powerful voice dominating the chorus and orchestra.   While Brahms had intended that much of the Requiem should be sung quietly for its emotional effect, the size of the orchestra and the dimensions of the Cathedral meant that the performance was generally loud.   The singers and players were well controlled by the baton of Jonathan Willcocks, and the result was a stimulating performance of the work, which was much appreciated by the audience.

Bill Witts

 

Handel’s Messiah

Handel’s Messiah

Chichester Cathedral – Saturday 8th December 2018

For many, Christmas would not be complete without hearing Handel’s ever-popular Messiah, whether it be live or recorded.  A packed audience in Chichester Cathedral were treated to a performance of the oratorio, given by the Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica, conducted by Jonathan Willcocks.  Just as the first performance in The New Music Hall, Dublin, in 1742 was an unqualified success, so was this!

From the opening of the Sinfonia, Southern Pro Musica established themselves as a fine ensemble in all dynamic ranges, from the sotto voce accompaniment of For behold, darkness shall cover the earth to the sparkling Hallelujah chorus.  There was some fine playing by trumpeter Frazer Tannock in The trumpet shall sound, and some excellent continuo accompaniment from David Burrowes (cello) and Richard Barnes (organ). Intonation from unison 1stand 2nd violins employed by Handel in some items was spot on.

The Chichester Singers were in fine fettle throughout, and some fast tempi set by conductor Jonathan Willcocks did not throw them at all. They made light work of difficult choruses such as His yoke is easy and projected the meaning of the more poignant items of Part 2 (which focusses on Christ’s death).

Soprano soloist Bibi Heal (well-known to audiences in Chichester) sung with a purity of tone, navigating the more florid passages in Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zionwith total control, whilst I know that my redeemer livethwas one of the most moving performances I’ve heard.

Contralto Rosanna Cooper, after a slight lack of projection in her opening solo, soon settled into her stride and He was despised was sung with beauty and clarity.

Tenor Matthew Long adopted a more operatic approach than the other soloists, and one could argue that this was a valid interpretation to take, considering that Handel was an operatic composer at heart (the composer turned to oratorio to revive his financial difficulties caused through the escalating costs of staging his operas, as well as dwindling audiences).

Thomas Humphreys’ bass arias were consistently good, showing some excellent technique in the demands of Why do the nations, with controlled, expressive singing in Behold, I tell you a mystery.

Jonathan Willcocks must have conducted Messiah on very many occasions over the years, yet his approach to the work was as fresh as if he was conducting the work for the first time.  With a chorus of over 100, he was not afraid to push the tempo in some items: this gave them a real sparkle.

With resplendent Hallelujah and Amen choruses, the audience will have gone away knowing that the Christmas celebrations were well and truly under way!

© 2018, Mark Hartt-Palmer

Concert Notes 2018-19

From our Musical Director, Jonathan Willcocks

It always happens!  I find myself at the height of (a very hot) summer contemplating concerts that will for the most part come to fruition in various stages of depth of winter. And yet again I find myself sensing in advance the warmth that will emanate from The Chichester Singers when performing four exciting and contrasting programmes in the coming season.

November 2018 will be a moment for sombre reflection on the Centenary of the Armistice that brought to an end four years of bitter conflict which took the lives of so many in the Great War.

To mark this moment of national remembrance, we will perform two highly appropriate and deeply moving works. Ron Corp is one of the UK’s leading contemporary choral composers (and conductors) and his work And all the trumpets sounded combines the words of the Latin Requiem Mass with those of poets such as Rupert Brooke, Edward Thomas and Wilfred Owen, whose work was so affected by their wartime experiences.  Ron will be coming to one of our Wednesday rehearsals to talk about his music and help us with its preparation.

Partnered with this evocative new work will be Brahms–Requiem, truly one of the great masterpieces of the choral repertoire.  And, for our soloists, we will enjoy again the exceptional work of soprano Claire Seaton and baritone Gareth Brynmor John.

In the approach to Christmas, we will revisit a work which always stirs the festive spirit – Handel– Messiah.  Our rehearsal run towards this performance will be short and sharp (only five Wednesdays).   Beware that the familiarity and initial confidence that very many singers have for this work is often matched by a belated realisation of how difficult it actually is to sing well.

In March 2019 we will perform another of the great pillars of the repertoire – J S Bach–St. Matthew Passion. This provides the challenges of much double-chorus work and some wonderfully vivid sections where the choir take on the mantle of a vengeful mob, contrasting with the dignified chorale settings and reflective solo arias.  And we will again have the terrific dramatic tenor James Oxley as our solo Evangelist – I am sure that very many of you will remember his marvellous performance (from memory) of the same role in the St John Passion a few years ago.

As a contrast to three concerts in which we will perform large-scale major works, our June 2019 concert will be a French/English programme of shorter lesser-known pieces.

We will be joined for this concert by a small number of singers from Chartres, to mark the 60th anniversary of the formal twinning of Chichester and Chartres.  From across the Channel we will explore Vierne–Messe Solennelle, alongside two more familiar little gems – Fauré–Cantique de Jean Racine and Franck–Panis angelicus, while from closer to home we will give the first UK performance of Chichester University Professor of Composition Jonathan Little’s

Crucifixus, John Rutter–Gloria and my own work for baritone solo, chorus, brass, percussion and organ, From darkness to light.

I am very touched that The Chichester Singers will be performing one of my own works exactly 40 years on from my very first concert with the choir in 1979.

REVIEW: Vaughan Williams and Walton

The Chichester Singers and Guildford Choral Society

Guildford Cathedral – 16thJune 2018

Perform Walton’s cantata Belshazzar’s Feast in Guildford Cathedral? Sixty years or so ago the idea would have seemed preposterous. Quite apart from the fact that Guildford Cathedral was not yet complete, a performance of the work in any cathedral was considered unsuitable by no less august a body than the Church of England.

And could the elaborate score stand the resonant acoustic of the refurbished Cathedral as it stands today? In fact, it worked remarkably well, although some subtleties were lost in the cavernous space. Under the steady baton of Jonathan Willcocks (whose father was responsible for introducing the work to the Three Choirs Festival), Guildford Choral and The Chichester Singers sang capably and convincingly with a good sense of drama when they could be heard above the splendid sounds of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They were served by an excellent soloist in Gareth Brynmor John, who led the forces through the heartfelt lament for Jerusalem, the Babylon ‘catalogue’, and the dramatic description of the writing of the wall, with an appropriate sense of menace from the orchestral percussion depicting an immense balance.

Elgar’s gloriously autumnal Cello Concerto received a fine performance from Pavlos Carvalho, although the long sinuous melodies were better heard than the rapid passagework of the scherzo movement. This is a work that goes straight to the heart, and soloist and orchestra both ensured that it did so.

Gareth Brynmor John had begun the evening’s proceedings with a richly-voiced and sincere performance of Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs. In that building, and in that atmosphere, George Herbert’s words rang deeply true.

On 11thNovember the Guildford Choral Society will be joined by the London-based Bach Choir for a performance of Britten’s War Requiem to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice.

Shelagh Godwin

REVIEW: Handel, Parry and Duruflé

The Chichester Singers, with the Southern Pro Musica orchestra, served up a mixed programme of music in Chichester Cathedral, with compositions by three composers from three centuries. They got off to a wonderful start with Handel’s Zadok the Priest, with its exciting orchestral build-up and a cracking entry by the chorus. The choir were extremely well disciplined, singing entirely from memory, watching the conductor Jonathan Willcocks, who directed the chorus and orchestra so as to achieve a powerful and well balanced delivery. Set against the ancient walls of the Cathedral, with instruments producing an 18th century sound, it was as good a performance as one could wish for. The choir and orchestra also performed a second Coronation Anthem by Handel, The King Shall Rejoice, a longer and more complex work with several contrasting movements. The chorus sang strongly and accurately, the sopranos particularly having developed a pleasant fresh sound, and the orchestra continued to give the work the atmosphere of Handel’s time.

The concert included two arias from operas by Handel. Stephanie Wake-Edwards sang Cornelia’s Lament from Giulio Cesari. Stephanie has an impressive mezzo-soprano voice and used it to convey the sorrow of a lady who has seen her husband beheaded and her son taken from her and has no one to comfort her. Hugo Herman-Wilson had a more cheerful piece from Berenice and sang in a pleasant conversational style with a strong and flexible baritone voice.

These 18th century works were followed by Hubert Parry’s extended anthem Hear My Words, Ye People, which had a contrasting Victorian sound. It was originally written with organ accompaniment, but for this performance the Singers’ organist, Richard Barnes, had written an accompaniment that included orchestral players as well as the organ. This worked well, and the chorus, organist and orchestra performed the unfamiliar work with accuracy and enthusiasm. The baritone had a solo piece in the middle of the work, which again he sang strongly and directly to the audience. In the last movement the music finally became familiar, as the movement has become one of Parry’s favourite hymns.

The final work in the concert was a major 20th century choral mass, Duruflé’s Requiem, which also was accompanied by both orchestra and organ. It is a powerful work, the orchestra plays a major part, and the chorus were singing forte for most of the performance without losing their quality. It was nice to hear the mezzo-soprano again, with a solo part where she could sing out; her lovely voice soared into the space of the Cathedral. The baritone also sang an enjoyable solo, but the performance will be mostly remembered for the powerful playing of the orchestra, organ and above all the chorus, skilfully directed by their conductor Jonathan Willcocks.

Bill Witts

REVIEW: Verdi Requiem

SATURDAY, 11th NOVEMBER 2017

Chichester Cathedral – 7.30 pm

It was fitting that The Chichester Singers should choose a Requiem Mass for their autumn concert this year, falling as it did on Remembrance Day. Verdi’s masterpiece, composed by that doyen of romantic Italian opera, manages perfectly to combine the sorrow of the occasion for which it was written with the emotion that this highly charged music generates. And all the musicians involved did the work more that justice. From the lyrical opening Requiem – beautifully performed by the Singers without scores – to the fiery Dies Irae – containing some excellent brass ensemble playing, the performance as a whole came together to produce an evening to remember.

Read moreREVIEW: Verdi Requiem

Concert Notes 2017-18

Another year of fantastic concerts has come and gone, encompassing established classical and romantic works by major composers, the first performance of a newly-commissioned work by Peter White, a terrific tour to Spain and culminating in the huge fun that we had with jazz and spiritual musical idioms (as well as singing unaccompanied Whitacre) in our June concert.

But now a new season beckons and the fare awaiting us is just as varied and tasty. First up will be one of many people’s favourites (singers and audience alike – if not percussionists who have to limber up to aim mighty swipes at a large bass drum!) Verdi–Requiem. For this concert on Remembrance Day, November 11th, we have a terrific team of soloists lined up – led by one of our very favourite singers, soprano Claire Seaton.

At Christmas we return to St. Paul’s Church for a concert of seasonal music, including Christus natus est, which the politically correct amongst us will be delighted to see is not only a contemporary work but also by a female composer, Cecilia McDowall! To support our singing in this concert, we will have the lovely soprano Harriet Eyley and the assorted twenty fingers/thumbs and four feet of Richard Barnes and Tony Froggatt – the former now fully re-equipped with new joints and raring to go.

Our March 2018 concert combines the much-loved music of Handel with the truly beautiful and expressive mid-20 century setting of the Requiem words by Duruflé, and we have also found space in this programme to include a short work, Hear my words, ye people, by English composer Parry (he of Jerusalem and I was glad fame) to mark the centenary of his death in 1918.

On Saturday May 12 , we will be holding another Singing Day in Oving Jubilee Hall, which is an excellent chance for us all to have some choral fun and also introduce friends and acquaintances who do the choral thing to the joys of The Chichester Singers.

And then we really ‘go big’ for the culmination of our 2017-2018 season, with Walton–Belshazzar’s Feast, for which we will combine with my other choir, Guildford Choral Society, to perform in Guildford Cathedral. In addition to the great Walton masterpiece (which some of you may have heard at the Proms in early August) we will also sing Vaughan Williams–Five Mystical Songs and enjoy between these works Elgar–Cello Concerto,with Pavlos Carvalho as solo cellist. And (very temporarily) forsaking our very good friends the Southern Pro Musica for this grand concert, we will be accompanied by the very distinguished Royal Philharmonic Orchestra (RPO).

Get all the concert dates and key rehearsals into your diaries – you will so regret it if, for any reason, you find yourself unavailable for any of these lovely concerts.

Jonathan

REVIEW: Feel the Spirit – 24th June 2017

At the start of the second week of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced their concert, which had been prepared so as to suit the Festival.  For those who have been attending the Singers’ concerts for some years, the programme was full of surprises.  There was no major work by a famous classical composer, but rather a number of pieces by contemporary musicians, the men of the choir had taken off their black dinner jackets and appeared in shirt sleeves, there was only one soloist and there was no orchestra.  But, reliably as ever, the music making was good.At the start of the second week of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced their concert, which had been prepared so as to suit the Festival.  For those who have been attending the Singers’ concerts for some years, the programme was full of surprises.  There was no major work by a famous classical composer, but rather a number of pieces by contemporary musicians, the men of the choir had taken off their black dinner jackets and appeared in shirt sleeves, there was only one soloist and there was no orchestra.  But, reliably as ever, the music making

Read moreREVIEW: Feel the Spirit – 24th June 2017