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.

Martin Hall

Review of WCMF Concert at Winchester Cathedral on 13th May 2017

Conductor: David Burgess.
On the evening of 7th May the Winchester and County Music Festival Choir and Orchestra were joined by a large audience in Romsey Abbey, for an evening of Mozart. On this occasion the choir comprised the Botley Choral Society, Overton Choral Society and the Winchester City Festival Choir. Accompanying the large body of singers was an orchestra of 28 players.
It seems a total injustice that Mozart, despite all his genius, had to scrape a living. In the year before he wrote the Vespers K. 339 his mother died, and he was rejected by the lady of his affections. Despite this, Mozart poured out music of amazing vitality.
The Vespers opened with Dixit Dominus. From the beginning it was clear that we were in for a special evening; the choir and orchestra were well balanced and responsive, and the conductor David Burgess radiated all the energy and invention which Mozart had imbued into this piece. The soloists, Helen Bailey, Soprano, Marie-Anne Hall, Contralto, Adrian Green, Tenor and Tom Herring, Bass Baritone entered at “Gloria in Patri”, and made a very professional sound. Of special mention was the movement “Laudate Dominum” and Helen Bailey’s lyrical introduction to the chorus. The Vespers were brought to an end with a rousing Amen, and the musicians were greeted with enthusiastic applause.
Only the first movement of the Requiem was written in its entirety by Mozart. Due to his failing health, the rest of the work was completed posthumously by others, based on Mozart’s musical shorthand notes, and recollections from his pupils. Nevertheless, Mozart’s genius shines through.
The requiem started with the Kyrie. David Burgess dictated a brisk pace, and the basses, followed by the other parts, responded with spirit. Many of the movements had fast running passages which the choir executed well. In the Confutatis and the Agnus the choir treated us us to some lovely softer singing. The orchestra played sensitively throughout; of special mention were the fast passages in the Dies Irae and Recordare which were brilliantly played by the lower and upper strings respectively. Another delightful passage was the duet between the trombone and the baritone soloist in the Tuba Mirum.
At the end, it was clear that the musicians and the audience had thoroughly enjoyed the experience.
Pulling together an event like this, where choirs and orchestra rehearse separately until near the performance, is no mean achievement. This was an outstanding event, and credit should be given to David Burgess, Paul Timms and Graham Kidd who rehearsed the individual choirs.
“Keith Tomkinson and Mike Rowland”

Romsey Abbey – 7th May 2016 – Concert Review

On a cold and drab November evening it was hard to believe that this was the day of St. Cecilia – the patron saint of music. Yet from the opening bars of Botley Choral Society’s concert of British and French music all thoughts of the gloom outside were dispelled.

The evening began with Cantique de Jean Racine, a lush, romantic piece by Gabriel Faure. Precursor to his better known requiem, the Cantique contains some beautiful melodies, and all parts of the choir gave a lyrical account. Louis Vierne’s Messe Solennelle was new to me. It is a powerful work, with an astonishing variety of rhythms, textures and moods. Better known as an organist, Vierne originally scored the work for two organs, but in this arrangement, which calls for a single instrument, organist Mark Dancer gave a wonderful performance. Under the baton of musical director David Burgess, choir and organ were in dialogue throughout, and the changing dynamics were beautifully handled. The Kyrie is particularly moving, and the choir made a glorious sound that filled the church to its rafters.

In addition to the organ, a nine-strong string ensemble accompanied the choir, and in Karl Jenkins’ Sacred Songs this partnership came into its own. I especially enjoyed the Virgo Virginum, where a lovely balance was achieved between the cantabile vocal lines and the almost mysterious pizzicato of the string ensemble. The Benedictus gave another opportunity for the choir to demonstrate its dynamic range, beginning in contemplative mood, and then bursting forth into a moving fortissimo, before returning to the haunting opening melody.

Played at the coronation of every British monarch since King Charles 1, Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad is intended for large forces, and conductor, choir and musicians did full justice to this grand, well-known work. Their uplifting performance stayed with me as I made my way home through the dark and damp Hampshire lanes.

 

by Stephen Waring, Making Music

" I would like to thank you for inviting me to your concert (of Gilbert and Sullivan) last Sunday. I thought it was a real success - lots of good strong singing, and plenty of enjoyment evident on the faces of the choir! You all looked like you were having a great time as did the audience. It was also really nice to see choir members stepping forward to take the solos - what a great idea! - and I enjoyed the 'costumes' too, which really added to the theatricality of the performance. Perhaps next year, you could take it one step further and actually stage an opera....?

Best wishes,
Sharon"

Sharon from Making Music

A Lovely Concert of a Wonderful Work

Botley Choral Society gave their second performance of Mozart’s C minor Mass to a packed All Saints church in Botley on Sunday evening the 17th March 2013. This was a lovely concert with their singing ranging from pretty good to excellent!

The chamber orchestra was “especially assembled for this event” and began a little uncertainly, but they recovered magnificently, and we heard beautiful choral singing to accompany the soprano soloist, Jocelyn Somerville, and to give us a superb “Gloria in Excelsis”. The entry onto the scene of soprano Helen Bailey raised the performance further, in her duet “Domine Deus”, but particularly in the solo “Laudamus Te”---watch her, this young lady will go far!

The layering of dynamics and intonation of the “Qui Tollis” are very difficult to sustain, but the choir did very well, especially with the pianissimo passages. The two sopranos returned with tenor, Adrian Green, and blended well in the “Quoniam” trio before the chorus brought the first half to a close with a rousing “Cum Sancto Spiritu”.

The “Credo in Unum Deum” suffered a few untidy entries, but in the “Et incarnatues est” the upper woodwind got their tuning together and played this wonderful soprano solo section beautifully. The choir obviously enjoyed singing the “Sanctus” in this 8 part masterpiece—here, unlike in the Credo, they all watched the baton, and the result was a wonderful, full choral sound, superbly tight and together. The “Benedictus” is a quartet for the soloists. Ed Hawkins, bass - a fine voice - joined the 3 others. We look forward to hearing more of him at a later date. This wonderful work ends with a return to the “Osanna” fugue from the “Sanctus”. The first time it was good, the second time superb! Maestro David Burgess directed and controlled the whole proceedings with his usual consummate skill and aplomb. BCS have in him a musician of high quality.

John and Jenny Sutton

Hallelujah for the Messiah

There was a musical treat in store for anyone willing to brave the wind and rain of the last weekend in November. Botley Choral Society, assisted by soloists Jocelyn Somerville (soprano), Thomas Jordan (alto), Adrian Green (tenor) and Philip Stokes (bass), performed a magnificent rendition of Handel’s Messiah in West Meon and Botley churches. The world-famous chorus sections were beautifully sung by the eighty members of the prestigious local choral society, whilst each of the soloists sang with great expression and feeling. All were accompanied by the impressive organ playing of Mark Dancer. The addition of Paul Hart’s beautiful trumpet-playing enhanced the most emotional sections of Handel’s best-known oratorio, which was, amazingly, composed in only 3 weeks. The end of the final chorus was greeted by the audience with rapturous applause, acknowledged by a beaming smile from conductor and Musical Director David Burgess.

 

Derek and Josie Wood - local publication

The Invitation of Choral Music

Today, is singing in a choir and listening to a choir popular? Yes, surprisingly, as Gareth Malone on TV has shown. Regularly, everyone in Hampshire has access to some nearby concert by some choir, a concert equally appreciated by performers and audience alike. Botley Choral Society has been involved in this musical feast for nearly a century. On 24 and 25 March they gave their spring concert to enthusiastic audiences in the churches of Locksheath and Botley.

This was exactly the programme to woo newcomers to try a classical concert as listener or as singer. The two works were short and accessible. Dvorák wrote his Mass in D in 1887. This sacred music commission was an unusual venture for him. Yet in 1989 to mark his country’s seismic change the Dvorák nationalistic Mass was sung in Prague Cathedral to celebrate the new non-communist President Václav Havel. J.S.Bach wrote his Magnificat in D over 160 years earlier; for him the massive outpouring of sacred music was part of his genius – and his job.

The choir ably performed both works. They are different but complement each other. David Burgess, conductor since 1990, brought out with precision the romantic tunefulness of the Dvorák and the sublime mystery of the Bach. Similarly Mark Dancer on the organ ably provided the lyricism of the Dvorák in contrast to the complexity of the Bach. Members of the choir stepped in to sing the soprano solos in place of Julie Bolton who was unwell. The other soloists, Melanie Stephenson (soprano/alt), Thomas Jordon (alto), Peter Fellows (tenor), and Philip Stokes (bass/baritone) each came into their own in the short Bach arias, singly or together – local professionals contributing their gifts to the choral resurgence.

Two works, generations and culturally apart. Bach’s Magnificat is an excellent entry to his longer works. It is the more difficult of the two for any choir. David Burgess took the fast passages at a sensible speed in contrast to the pace in some recordings. It is always harder to convey the depth of the music in quieter passages but generally the choir achieved this well. Within the architecture of Botley Church the smaller numbers of the lower voices stand well back in the ranks of the large choir. Some choirs change this setting by successfully bringing some of the tenors and basses forward among the upper voices to help the balance of sound.

This is Sacred Music at her finest. It has been said that “Music is outside space”. Is such music one bridge over the secular chasm that prevents some people from glimpsing the Sacred beyond time and space? Bach would have believed so; Dvorák would have been less sure. The programme reminded us that Dvorák reflected “the atmosphere of a smiling, pleasant Czech region of hills and woods”. The lovely tune at the start of the Credo, in three time, does not fit the transcendence of the words – ‘One God, Maker of heaven and earth’, but elsewhere Dvorák approaches the genius of Bach in the poignancy and the sublime of the emotions in the religious text. Both works have triumphant moments and the choir and organ made the glorious crescendo of Bach’s final Gloria a fitting climax to a great concert.

Humphrey Prideaux