Review of Botley Choral Society Spring 2019 concert

Performances by the Society are eagerly awaited events, with venues packed with appreciative audiences, and the Spring Concert held at All Saints’ Church Botley on April 7th was no exception.
Accompaniment of the choir was given on this occasion by a group of string, woodwind and brass players, and organ.
Whatever views are held about the EU and our membership of it, we continue to enjoy much of the rich heritage of music which has found its way to these shores from the other side of the English Channel. The first half of the concert consisted of European Sacred Anthems, mainly composed in the 19th Century. The works were of varying character, from the sedate, moderate pace of the opening pieces, Mendelssohn’s “Lord, in thy mercy grant us peace” and Bruckner’s “Ave Maria” to the frenetic Gloria of Monteverdi’s “Beatus vir” (aptly nicknamed “Hiatus vir” by David Burgess, the conductor.) Individual pieces contained their own contrast, such as Bruckner’s “Christus factus est”, which commences with the choir unaccompanied singing in moderate time engendering an air of mystery, the mood then changing to louder and yet louder volume before concluding very quietly.
Schubert’s “The Lord is my shepherd” is performed by soprano and alto soloists with organ accompaniment. Some of the settings and words are repeated, a device now frequently used in stage musicals to make economic use of the music, and possibly to ensure that the audience cannot forget the tunes, leaving the theatre humming them.
Albinoni’s “Adagio for organ and strings” is a familiar composition which was given a fresh interpretation, with the rich silky tones of the strings blending with the organ and richly deserving the ovation given. Another instrumental piece which also received great acclaim was Handel’s familiar “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” performed by two oboes and organ in an arrangement which was light and vivacious.
The second half of the concert commenced with Gabrielli’s “Jubilate Deo”, which was listed in the programme as being part of the first half, but changed to enable the choir to be arranged with the sopranos and altos at the front of the church, the tenors in the left aisle and the basses in the right aisle forming a very clear “surround sound”, with an echo effect by certain words sung first by one section of the choir, and repeated by another. The piece ended triumphantly, followed by rapturous applause.
Franck’s well known “Panis Angelicus” and Faure’s “Cantique de Jean Racine” both had contrasting louder and softer periods, finishing softly, both being performed with precision of timing, harmony and diction.
The main work was Purcell’s “Come ye Sons of Art”, the last of a series of odes written to celebrate the birthday celebrations of Queen Mary II, wife of King William III.
Following the overture, in which the trumpet stood out for its clarity, are eight sections with a variety of performers sometimes alternating with the choir and on other occasions joining in harmony with them. The accompaniments were also by different instruments, including a duet of recorders and a solo oboe, which also acts as a perfect companion to the solo soprano in the section “Bid the Virtues, Bid the Graces”. The tempo of each section was individual, ranging from very stately, almost ponderous, to rhythmic string backing of the alto voices in the section “Sound the trumpet”. This work ends with “See Nature, rejoicing”, which embraces contrasting soft periods for the soprano and bass duets with joyful passages for the choir, the last being exultant.
Once again the choir showed its usual prowess in its performance, matched only by the soloists, soprano Jane Sherriff, a favourite of BCS audiences, soprano Catherine Bilton, a newcomer, who will surely become a favourite, alto/counter tenor Thomas Jordan, whose versatility was apparent, and bass Tim Burtt, who also performed with great quality.
The instrumentalists, hand-picked by David Burgess, displayed expertise of the highest nature, and Mark Dancer, who is also well known to the audience, displayed his usual musicianship at the organ as well as singing solo tenor in Monteverdi’s ‘Beatus Vir’.
To David Burgess we give our heartfelt thanks for arranging the concert, engaging such excellent soloists and musicians, and last but not least, for leading and conducting the choir enabling it to perform as only it can. Truly, this was English amateur choral singing at its best.