A SAINT CECILIA CONCERT by BOTLEY CHORAL SOCIETY
The feast day of Cecilia, patron saint of music falls on November 22nd, and it was therefore appropriate for this concert, staged at a full All Saints’ Church, Botley on Sunday 25th November, to be celebrated in her honour. The first half was dedicated to works by Vaughan Williams, namely Serenade to Music and Five Mystical Songs and Haydn’s Nelson Mass completed the programme.
Serenade to Music was composed in 1938 in honour of Sir Henry Wood, who conducted the Proms for almost 50 years, and also pays tribute to Shakespeare by adapting to music a poetic discussion about music from Act V Scene 1 of The Merchant of Venice. Originally written for 16 solo singers, four each of soprano, contralto and tenor, and two each of baritone and bass, it was later arranged for chorus, soloists and orchestra.
After a long organ introduction, taken at walking pace, the choir entered quietly and sang in different parts and harmonies, repeating frequently the word “sweet”, most appropriate to the sweet harmony in which the choir was singing, and the words “ soft stillness”, reflecting the mood of the music. The soloists took over to sing their respective parts with clarity, and at a volume which blended with and did not overwhelm the choir. The soprano soloist and choir concluded the piece quietly.
Five Mystical Songs was first performed in 1911 and is a setting to music of poems written by George Herbert in the early 17th Century. Although at the time an avowed atheist, Vaughan Williams loved the language of the King James Bible, and was inspired by the visionary qualities of religious verse, such as that of Herbert. This is apparent from the content of the pieces, such as the first, which is titled “Easter” and the third and fifth which respectively contain extracts from church liturgy and a well known hymn.
The first four pieces gave prominence to the baritone soloist, who was accompanied by the choir at intervals. That accompaniment was formed by beautifully blended harmony, which fitted together like a finely cut jigsaw, with all pieces perfectly placed. Those pieces were sung at a moderate, sometimes majestic pace, and the final piece, which was performed by the choir alone contrasted by finishing loudly and exultantly.
Joseph Haydn was called upon in 1798 to compose a new Mass to be celebrated at the Esterhazy court in Vienna. At that time, he was confined by his doctor to his room, exhausted by the task of completing and premiering “The Creation”. Furthermore, Napoleon had defeated the Austrian army in four major battles, was threatening Vienna itself, where there was a general air of panic and despondency. Initially, Haydn titled the work “Mass for Troubled Times”, but as he penned it, and unknown to him, Nelson defeated the French fleet at the Battle of the Nile. Reports of Nelson’s triumph reached Vienna around the time of the first performance of the Mass in September 1798. Thereafter, the Mass gradually acquired the title by which it is known today, and Napoleon’s defeat changed the way that the Mass was thenceforth heard, so that it became a depiction of danger and agitation supplanted by triumphant victory.
The Mass contains all the customary components of a work of that nature, with a variety of tone, pace and rich harmony and this performance gave everything that could be expected from such a magnificent work, which one leading biographer of Haydn has described as his “greatest single composition”. The choir rose to the occasion, with crisp entries, clarity of diction and tone, and a unity of performance to the extent that it was hard to believe that this is not a professional ensemble, but a group of enthusiastic people who love to sing together.
The concert was enhanced by the very talented soloists, who sang with their customary precision and clarity. Helen Bailey (soprano), Marie-Anne Hall (contralto) and Adrian Green (tenor) are already well known to supporters of Botley Choral Society, and their performances were matched by Andrew de Silva (bass-baritone) singing with the choir for the first time. His voice is rich, warm and velvety, a real delight and drew acclaim from the audience, who look forward to his future performances with the choir.
Accompaniment was given on the organ by Mark Dancer, whose standards of performance are constantly excellent, and form a pivotal part of many of the concerts.
As always, special thanks are due to David Burgess for his choice of such an interesting programme, and for guiding the choir to such standards of excellence. One member of the audience was heard to say to him “David, this is your best concert yet”. Few, if any, of those present would disagree!
Botley Choral Society is an amateur choir that meets once a week in in the village of Botley, Hampshire, in the South of England. The choir perform at least two public concerts a year and take part in the annual Winchester and County Music Festival. Please browse this site to find out more - and come along to the next concert.
A Concert for Peace
Music is a universal language and this was demonstrated in a momentous way when almost 2,000 singers from 30 different countries came together in Berlin to mark 100 years since the ending of the First World War. The concert took place in the Mercedes Benz Arena on 2nd November 2018. Twenty three members of Botley Choral Society took part in this concert. It was a profound experience as the Arena is only a few yards away from remnants of the Berlin Wall and the personal stories portrayed in the Wall Museum had a great impact, tragic events which have happened in recent memory, in our lifetime.
The singers were accompanied by the World Orchestra for Peace, formed by Georg Solti in 1995. Solti brought individual players from orchestras all over the world to create a unique ensemble for a special concert in Geneva, marking the 50th Anniversary of the founding of the United Nations. In 2010 it became the first orchestra to be designated a UNESCO Artist for Peace.
Our first rehearsals took place in the new Verti Concert Hall, so new that the doors had been painted on that morning. We were put through our paces by Nicol Matt, founder and conductor of the Chamber Choir of Europe. The accompanist was great fun in our warm-up sessions, we acted fiercely and loudly like a lion, made quieter mouse-like sounds and made appreciative noises about Sir Karl Jenkins moustache. Our other rehearsals were taken by the great man and composer, Karl Jenkins himself.
The first half of the concert was conducted by the charismatic Grant Llewellyn. It opened with Aaron Copland’s Fanfare for the Common Man. This was followed by Palladio Allegretto, written by Jenkins who was inspired by the architect, Andrea Palladio. Fourteen year old Amineh Abou Kerech recited her haunting poem, Lament for Syria: ‘O Syria, my love, I hear your moaning in the cries of the doves. I hear your screaming cry, I left your land and merciful soil...’ Jenkins put the words to music in his work, Lamentation. The next piece was the moving Theme from Schindler’s List for which composer John Williams won an Oscar. Maurice Ravel wrote Le tombeau de Couperin, the energetic Prélude being dedicated to Lieutenant Jacques Charlot and the vivacious Rigaudon to brothers Pierre and Pascal Gaudin who died on their first day of their service on the front in 1914. This piece ended the first half.
Then the excitement built up in us all as we prepared to sing Karl Jenkins multi cultural work, The Armed Man:A Mass for Peace. The work was commissioned by the Royal Armouries as part of its commemoration of the Millennium. The Master of the Armouries at the time was Guy Wilson who selected the texts and wrote some of the words. He was also part of the choir, singing in the Bass section. There are no words to describe the feeling of singing in such a large choir, in harmony, singing the same language, knowing that behind us, on large screens, were horrific images of war and terrorism. Images, harrowing and upsetting, but we must never forget them in the cause of world peace.
Unlike the original composition some movements were sung in different languages for this historic performance. The eighth movement with words written by a survivor of the Hiroshima atomic bomb was sung by Yumeneji Matsufuji in the original Japanese, the eleventh movement was sung in Welsh by Leah-Marian Jones and some of the original English text was sung in German. The composition takes the listener through a battle with the beat of marching feet and trumpet calls to arms. Words of the Latin Mass are included as prayers to God for mercy. Biblical texts, an Islamic Call to Prayer and words from the Hindu Mahabharata form a cohesive story. The tension builds throughout the piece, war is inevitable as Kipling’s words ‘Lord, grant us strength to die’ are sung with menacing brass accompaniment. ‘The double, double beat of the thundering drum’ drives the piece forward, the choir singing discordant notes to convey the cacophony of destruction, the eerie silence of the battlefield, the burial of the dead and the strains of the British bugle call in the Last Post. Within the work the horror of mass destruction is conveyed but also the thought that one death is one too many. The Agnus Dei reminds us of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice, the sacrifice too of millions of lives lost. The Benedictus is an affirmation of faith whilst Tennyson’s poem exhorts us to ‘Ring out a thousand years of peace’ as the music emulates the ringing of church bells at the ending of war. The piece ends with words from Revelations: ‘God shall wipe away all tears and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain. Praise the Lord.’
There was a stunned silence from the audience for several moments, then the applause started quietly, gradually building up and up until everyone was on their feet. This was an emotive experience for all of us, not only in taking part in a unique musical event but in spending time together forging lasting friendships.
In the words of Oscar Arias, Nobel Peace Laureate 1987, ‘Only music surpasses the divisions of language , soaring above borders. Only music can capture universal emotions, reminding us of our common humanity.’
AN EVENING OF SACRED MUSIC – BOTLEY CHORAL SOCIETY
Botley Choral Society paid a much anticipated return visit to St. Nicholas’ Church on March 17th, but sadly were upstaged by an unwelcome guest, namely the “Beast from the East”. As a result the attendance was reduced to just over fifty hardy souls whose reward for venturing forth in adverse weather was an uplifting performance of nine European sacred anthems spanning a number of centuries, followed by two works written by Henry Purcell in the seventeenth Century.
The pieces in the first half of the programme varied from its opening “Lord Jesu Christ, my life and light” (J.S.Bach) which is commenced by an instrumental prelude set at a walking pace, with the singers taking up the melody to a similar tempo, to the closing piece “Beatus vir” (Monteverdi) which was sung with joyful gusto, finishing almost at a frenzy.
Purcell’s compositions are best described as “lively”, and held the attention of the audience with their variety, particularly “Come ye Sons of Art” which is divided into an overture and seven sections which include solos as well as significant parts for the choir.
It may be argued that the nave of St Nicholas’ Church is a little narrow to accommodate a choir of the size of B.C.S. but the more intimate setting enhanced the sound quality, and blended the voices together. Those who are familiar with the standards set by the choir members will be aware of the precision with which they make their entrances, sing their parts with clear diction and harmony and finish each piece in unison. On this occasion, they exceeded their own high standards and reached new heights of excellence. All of this is not just a reflection of the dedication and hours of practice on the part of choir members, but also of the expertise and leadership of David Burgess, who, again, not only chose a most enthralling selection of music, but guided the choir to give of its best.
The choir was assisted by a group of stringed and wind instrumentalists, who provided a fitting accompaniment to the singing, and two of whom played a moving oboe duet of Handel’s “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba”. The five solo vocalists also displayed their virtuosity with exquisite performances to enhance the overall atmosphere of the evening.
For those who were privileged to attend, it was a most rewarding evening, and it was a great shame that more were not able to be present to show appreciation to a renowned local institution performing at its peak. In the event, we in Wickham should consider ourselves fortunate, as the performance due to take place the following evening at Botley was cancelled as the weather had worsened. It is understood that B.C.S. will return to perform at the 2020 celebration at St. Nicholas, but they would be welcome at any time!
CANCELLED concert at All Saints Botley tonight 18th March 2018 due to the adverse weather.
BOTLEY CHORAL SOCIETY CHRISTMAS CONCERT
All Saints’ Church Botley was filled to capacity on the evening of 16th December for the annual Christmas concert by Botley Choral Society. Unfortunately, David Burgess the Musical Director was unwell and not able to conduct the concert, but Mark Dancer ably stood in, with his task being made less onerous by the many weeks of practice which the choir had undertaken.
The first half of the concert comprised seven carols which were largely unknown to the audience, originating from the 14th Century to a recent composition. The older carols had been arranged by modern composers such as John Gardner, William Walton, David Willcocks and John Rutter.
The carols offered a variety of style and rhythm, ranging from “When Christ was born of Mary free”, (15th Century), beautifully sung in well blended rich harmony a capella to Bob Chilcott’s “Where riches is everlastingly”, set to a rumba and which ended with great panache. The backing was provided by two pianists and a group of six percussionists, all of whom played with great enthusiasm, ensuring that most of the carols were sung in a lively manner, and it is a tribute to the choir members that their articulation of the words kept pace with the rapid tunes. It is possible that some of the audience expected more well- known carols to be performed, but the unusual choice made was enjoyed, and received with loud applause.
The main work was “Carmina Burana” a cantata by Carl Orff which was first performed in 1937 and which reflects much of the musical style of that time. For the texts Orff took 24 verses from a collection of 13th Century poems discovered in the early 19th Century near Munich, his native city. They were written by various itinerant scholars in low Latin, old French and early German, and mingle Christian piety and pagan hedonism, amounting to an uninhibited celebration of the pleasures of life, particularly love. Bed and bawdiness feature strongly in them, together with a love of strong drink. The work is divided into three parts, entitled “Spring”, “In the Tavern” and “Love” (which more accurately should be “Lust”). To spare the blushes of those of a sensitive nature, the English translation in the programme used language in more genteel terms. The underlying theme of the cantata is the turning of the wheel of fortune, with the first segment being entitled “O Fortuna” and which is repeated as the last segment.
Originally, the work was scored for choir and orchestra, but was transcribed in 1956, with Orff’s blessing, for two pianos and percussion, resulting in the instrumental parts being much more complex than the choral parts. There are complicated rhythms and frequent changes of metre, and at times the sheer speed of the numbers creates a challenge to articulate unfamiliar words. Some pieces require to be sung with great verve, and the choir magnificently showed all of the attributes needed to meet the challenge.
The soloists, Sarah Rowley (soprano), Adrian Green (tenor) and Malachy Frame (baritone) sang from the pulpit, which ensured that their voices projected well to all parts of the church. They all sang beautifully, but special mention must be made of Adrian, as in most performances of the cantata the tenor sings two sections in falsetto, but it was impossible to tell when he made the transition to falsetto from bel canto.
The pianos and percussion were very spirited, and at times overwhelmed the choir, but overall the exhuberance of both the choir and instrumentalists blended well to create an uplifting occasion, which was received with acclaim by an appreciative audience.
"Mendelssohn : St. Paul
The Winchester and County Music Festival began life in 1921 with the aim of providing an opportunity for smaller choirs to perform more demanding works which they would be unable to undertake with their own resources. For 2017 singers from Botley, Overton, Twyford and Winchester provided a splendidly large choir to give a powerful performance in Winchester Cathedral of Mendelssohn’s rarely heard oratorio St. Paul. Written in 1836 and first performed in that year in Dusseldorf and Liverpool and in Birmingham in 1837, the work tells the story of Paul’s persecution of the Christians, his conversion, baptism and ordination, as told in the Acts of the Apostles.
Saturday’s performance provided a successful opportunity to admire Mendelssohn’s elegance, romantic lyricism and superb control of his forces. The chorus responded well to the dramatic numbers as well as the more reflective ones, tackling the more complex contrapuntal music well, relaxing in the chorale numbers which reflect on the story. There was some impressive four part singing by the women’s chorus, and the gentlemen were suitably dramatic when needed. Three soloists caught the lyrical style of their arias well, tenor Adrian Green and bass Edmund Saddington being particularly effecting in their duet ‘For so hath the Lord’. Soprano Helen Bailey also caught the reflective, flowing melodies of her arias, even if she seemed a little less secure in some of the recitatives. The Festival Orchestra was led by Elizabeth Flower and provided a secure and at times powerful accompaniment, underpinned by the might of the cathedral’s grand organ. There was some lovely clarinet playing in ‘O Thou, the true and only light’ and a solo cello enchanted us in ‘Be Thou faithful.’
The whole performance was directed with clarity and security by Graham Kidd, and even if Mendelssohn’s later oratorio Elijah of 1846 is the better known and more memorable work, Saturday’s performance of St. Paul was most pleasing and a welcome opportunity to hear a work which is not performed very often these days.
Botley Choral Society present concerts of wonderful music by Vivaldi and Pergolesi this weekend:
Saturday 1st April at St Nicholas Church, Wickham
Sunday 2nd April at All Saints Church, Botley
Both performances start at 7.30pm. Tickets are £12 (£10 concessions) and free for under 16s. These can be purchased by phoning 07941 884419 or online by following the Concerts link above.
The Vivaldi works are the Magnificat and Beatus Vir - these are for double choir and double orchestra. The Pergolesi is his Stabat Mater, traditionally sung just by two soloists, but we are performing it in a version for soloists and choir. We are fortunate to have two brilliant soloists - Jane Sherriff (Soprano) and Marie-Anne Hall (Contralto) and a group of 8 string players - so it's not to be missed!
Greyladies Arts Foundation is pleased to present a Come and Sing "Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo" by Flanders and Horowitz. Led by David Burgess and accompanied by a small band.
When: Sat 4th February
Time: 3.30 to register and collect music, 3.45 start rehearsal, 7.00 performance
Where: St Leonard's Church, Bursledon SO31 8AB
Cost: £12 singers (to include hire of music and cups of tea - please bring a snack), £5 audience (to include wine and soft drinks)
Book now: 02380 404649 or on the door