A Glimpse of Heaven recitals

Roderick Earle writes: When I put forward the idea of the choir singing several short recitals over one weekend, I would not have been surprised if everyone had thrown up their arms in horror. I knew it would be a challenge – organisationally, vocally and in making further demands on choir member’s precious time – but our choir chairman Peter and the committee were enthusiastic and jumped at developing the idea and so A Glimpse of Heaven, a weekend of short sacred recitals, was born.

By repeating a programme drawn from our first six programmes in six different churches I knew we would gain valuable performing experience, and consolidate the core of our repertoire. We would also learn how to cope with different acoustics and most importantly we would be going out into the communities around Colchester and singing to new audiences.

Well, I think we can say that although it was hard work we gained all that I had hoped for and much more. I was thrilled that each concert consolidated the achievements of the previous one and that the ensemble and sensitivity to direction improved all the way along. Different acoustics require slightly different choices of tempo and dynamics and the choir responded to these issues like real professionals. And most impressively they kept up their energy levels selling each programme with passion and commitment. Perhaps the two best concerts were those at the end of Saturday and Sunday.

In three days we travelled from Harwich to the east to Henny and Bures to the north, singing in widely different churches and to widely different communities.

We arrived in a damp and misty Harwich to sing in the magnificent St. Nicholas’ Church, a grand Victorian building full of reminders of former maritime splendour.  Here the audience was led by the Mayor, wearing his chain of office, and the friends, patrons and sponsors of the Harwich Festival, in which we will be singing later in the year. Boxted on Saturday afternoon could not have offered a bigger contrast. Bathed in spring sunshine and surrounded by snowdrops and daffodils, this exquisite little church was packed with an enthusiastic audience of all ages.

We then moved into Colchester to give two more recitals, the first at St. Leonard’s, Lexden, the church where we gave our first three concerts and then to the Catholic church of St. James the Less and St. Helen, right in the town. The choir was now on a roll.

On the Sunday we started in the tiny hilltop church at Gt. Henny where the audience cheered and stamped their feet with appreciation and treated us to wonderful refreshments. It was a surprise to come out of the warm church into pouring rain and a gale of a wind. Many of our cars were quite stuck in the field that served as the church car park. With local help we did all get away for the last concert down in the valley at Bures, where not only the altitude but the temperature dropped bringing flurries of snow. St. Mary’s Bures, beautifully restored and with dramatic new lighting, was the perfect setting for our last concert where I think the choir reached the peak of its form. Drinks and canapés, provided by the parish, before a relaxing meal and a pint in the Swan rounded off a fabulous weekend.

We sang to about 600 hundred people and helped churches to raise nearly £2,500.

A Glimpse of Heaven

Roderick Earle writes: We are delighted that our Tenebrae programme sold out in Colchester (our second sell out concert) and attracted an audience of 120 in Norwich. Our next project is a new venture offering six 50 minute recitals of music drawn from our repertoire. These concerts will be in
six different churches in and around Colchester over the weekend of
2nd-4th of March 2012. We hope to attract new audience and to offer churches an opportunity to raise funds by giving our services free.

The idea is to sing some of our favourite and best known pieces drawn from our repertoire to date. From Tenebrae we are taking Lotti’s famous Crucifixus, Palestrina’s Exultate Deo, Monteverdi’s Cantate Domino and Gesualdo’s O vos omnes a5. From Baroque to Bruckner we will perform three pieces by Purcell, Remember not Lord, Hear my prayer and I was glad. From our 2010 Two Worlds programme we are taking Bruckner’s Three Graduals, Os justi, Locus iste and Christus factus est.  Grieg’s Ave Maris Stella is the first of three Marian pieces, to be joined with Bogoroditse Devo by Rachmaninoff from the Vespers concert and Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin which we sang at our inaugural concert, Three Kings from Persian Lands, in January 2010.

 

Tenebrae: January 2012

Roderick Earle writes: Delighted that our autumn programme In Nature’s Realm (see programme under Previous Concerts) drew such good audiences in Colchester and Framlingham, it is clear that the choir is not only gaining a following but that our audiences are keen to join us as we continue our journey of exploration into lesser well known areas of the repertoire.  The feedback about the choice of music for these concerts has been unanimously positive. This is very gratifying!

After the success of our candlelit concert Vespers in January of this year, it seemed logical to try and find another unaccompanied programme that would suit the darkened candlelit spaces of St. Teresa’s church, Colchester and St. John’s Cathedral in Norwich for January 2012. Like this year, we also wanted to offer music which would be a complete contrast to the music of the Christmas season.

Tenebrae, the ancient late evening office (an anticipation of the following morning offices like the orthodox All Night Vigil) for the last three days of Holy Week has had music written for it by many great composers. During the service 15 candles are extinguished one at time after each psalm. Finally, the Miserere is sung with one candle remaining in the shadows (tenebrae).

Several members of the choir had expressed the wish to sing Allegri’s wonderful setting of the Miserere (the one with the solo top C’s, transcribed by the 14 year old Mozart  by ear) and a particular passion of mine is the music of Gesualdo, who wrote the most sublime setting of the Tenebrae Responsories. Yes, Gesualdo is the composer best known for murdering his wife and her lover ‘in flagrante delicto’. But this fact obscures his real claim to fame, namely to be one of the greatest composers of the late Italian Renaissance. For too long he was regarded as an eccentric who wrote illogically chromatic music, but like Berlioz, Ives or even Beethoven he is now rightly regarded as the ground breaking genius that he really was, writing music way ahead of his time. Virtually none of his contemporaries followed his lead. If they had the history of music might have been very different. To 21st century ears his harmonies anticipate the tonal complexities of late 19th century harmony and make many of his better known contemporaries sound dull and predictable.

So here was the beginning of a programme. Lotti’s famous 8 part Crucifixus was also on some of our singers’ wish list and together with Anerio’s Christus factus est (another setting for Tenebrae) complete the first part of our programme.

To offer a contrast to the intense beauty of these pieces we will follow with Palestrina’s joyous Exultate Deo and the great two part motet Tu es Petrus. The former one of the composer’s best known works and the latter a favourite of papal celebrations to this day. Monteverdi’s beautiful Christi, adoremus te and his exuberant Cantate Domino complete the programme.

Recommended recordings:

The Sacred Flame (Cambridge Singers – John Rutter) Collegium

Gesualdo – Sabbato Sancto (Ensemble Vocal Europeen – Herreweghe) Harmonia Mundi – Musique d’abord

Allegri Miserere (The Sixteen – Christophers) Coro

 

In Nature’s Realm: October 2011

Roderick Earle writes: In Nature’s Realm is a programme of central European music inspired by folk traditions. This music doesn’t get the airing in Britain that it deserves. With infectious melodies and foot-tapping rhythms, these folk inspired works from Bohemia, Slovakia and Hungary have an earthiness and charm that is quite unique. You will hear not just songs about love, but also about nature, folk myths and legend; songs that plunge you into the forests, mountains and plains of central Europe. I guarantee you will be entranced!

The starting point for this programme was Dvorak’s In Nature’s Realm (V Priode), a charming set of five part-songs by Dvorak, seldom heard in this country, like much Czech and Hungarian choral music, where for too long the language has been a barrier to amateur performance. We will be singing some works in English translation but others in the original Czech or Hungarian. Also by Dvorak are the Three Songs on Folk Texts for men’s voices and piano duet. I had to source the music for these wonderful pieces from the Prague National Library because, as far as I know, there are no copies in this country. I don’t think you will be disappointed by my trouble!
To give the ladies something to sing on their own, it was fortuitous to stumble across Suk’s 10 Songs for women’s voices and piano duet. We will sing three of these. Quite clearly they were inspired by Dvorak’s earlier works (Suk married Dvorak’s daughter) and they are just as tuneful and inventive as his father-in-law’s pieces. Two other wonderful works that cried out to be in the programme were Bartok’s Four Slovak Songs (Slovakian texts set by a Hungarian) and Kodaly’s earliest choral work, the atmospheric 8 part Este or Evening (not to be confused with the well-known but simpler Este Dal).
With two pianists it was obvious we should include some of Brahms’ Hungarian Dances and Dvorak’s Slavonic Dances, the former inspired by the latter, for piano duet and well known in this original and the later orchestral versions. To round off the programme one might have thought that Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzer for choir and piano duet would be an obvious finale to the programme, but more exciting and varied and indeed more appropriate to our theme are Brahm’s Zigeunerlieder, German settings of gypsy love songs in a catchy Hungarian gypsy style.