Review of Christmas 2017 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.