For their latest concert, The Chichester Singers produced a programme with a variety of little-known works, most of which were based on instrumentation by organ and brass only. However, the first, and best known work was the totally unaccompanied set of choral pieces known as Rachmaninov’s Vespers. This presented a major challenge to the Singers, as not only was there no instrumental accompaniment to help them find their notes, but also the work was sung in Russian. The choir rose to the challenge admirably and delivered a fine performance of the work which evoked the feeling of Orthodox chants in a religious building. Despite the language, the sound in the Cathedral was decidedly English, and was dominated by the female voices, which were particularly sweet and clear. The basses sang manfully and produced very satisfying crescendos with their series of alleluias but lacked the sonorous sound of true Russian basses. On the other hand, a tenor in the choir (Martin Ridley) sang the short solo in the Nunc Dimittis in a splendidly Russian style.
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.
Vaughan Williams – Overture “The Wasps”
Peter White – Te Deum
Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
Vaughan Williams – Hodie
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.
For us all there are familiar landmarks that herald the passing seasons (tinsel appearing in shops as Christmas approaches, supermarkets desperately flogging off over-stocked chocolate eggs when Easter has just gone by etc etc) and for me I always know that it is early August when Jill starts pestering me for an article about the coming season for the choir.
But any slothfulness that I may feel is quickly dissipated when I remind myself of what there is in store. For the 2016-17 season we have a great series of concerts to prepare for, with repertoire ranging from the 18th to the 21st centuries and the additional dimension of the tour to Spain as well. Every one of the great choral masterpieces of the past began as an unknown piece receiving its first performances, often made possible as commissioned music.
Brahms – Academic Festival Overture
Brahms – Nanie and Alto Rhapsody
Elgar – The Music Makers
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.