Gloria: A Christmas Concert
Mass in D - Dvořák
O Magnum Mysterium - Millican
Christmas carols old and new
Review by Mike Town:
A large and enthusiastic audience were treated to a veritable feast of choral music last Saturday evening (7th December) in St. Andrew’s Church. Conducted by Edward Taylor, with guest organist Mark Duthie, Assistant Organist and Director of Music at Carlisle Cathedral, respectively, this was a memorable evening of music making.
The first half of the programme was an exciting performance of Antonin Dvorak’s Mass in D. This is quite a challenging work, with some tricky choral entries and high notes to stretch the tenors in particular, however, the choir rose to the occasion magnificently. Their singing was perfectly matched by Mark’s organ accompaniment, in which he used all the tone colours available on this recently rebuilt large 2-manual instrument, from the quiet strings and flute stops, via the principal choruses to full organ with its reeds and mixtures.
From the opening bars of the introductory Kyrie Eleison, it was clear that the choir and organ were very well balanced and, given Edward’s very clear directions, the contrasting dynamics were carefully and sensitively observed. The lively Gloria and Sanctus were full of energy, accurately sung in terms of pitch and timing, with clear words coming across to the audience. The solo parts were taken very successfully by members of the choir.
The concluding Agnus Dei with its closing words ‘Dona nobis pacem’ (Grant us your peace) brought the work to a suitably peaceful ending.
Mark played three short pieces on the organ by Joseph Rheinberger, more or less a contemporary of Dvorak, as interludes between the choral sections, which exploited many of the varied tone colours of the instrument, particularly the solo stops.
By contrast, the second half consisted of a set of carol arrangements, with a short organ solo, a tender Advent chorale prelude by Johannes Brahms.
A new 8-part setting of O Magnum Mysterium, a medieval Christmas morning chant, by Jonathan Millican, captured the atmosphere of mystery exquisitely, rising to its climactic ‘Alleluia’ at the end.
The arrangement of ‘A babe is born’ by William Mathias, with its spikey organ accompaniment, interesting harmonies and strong rhythmic drive contrasted strongly with the previous piece. This was followed by Harold Darke’s setting of ‘In the bleak midwinter’, featuring some excellent solo singing, then John Rutter’s very lively ‘Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’. After the Brahms organ solo, the choir sang Mark’s very attractive arrangement of ‘Silent night’, which, in turn was followed by arrangements of ‘I saw three ships’ and ‘Away in a manger’ by Richard Lloyd, formerly organist of Durham Cathedral. The finale was an excellent performance of Mack Willberg’s energetic setting of ‘Ding, dong, merrily on high’ which was sung with great enthusiasm and energy by the choir.
Congratulations to all, particularly Edward Taylor, Mark Duthie, the soloists and choir members for a very uplifting evening of music.