Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, and Mozart’sRequiem – Saturday 30 November 2019
What a pleasure it was to attend this wonderful concert in Saint Peter’s Church, Brackley, performed by Brackley Jubilee Choir with The Cherwell Orchestra.
There was a warm atmosphere beforehand, generated by a full church and enhanced by colourful lighting of the choir stalls.
Firstly we heard the Messa di Gloria by Giacomo Puccini. He composed this as his graduation exercise from the musical institute where he was a student. The Mass came across as a remarkably mature composition from a young man who was only 22 years old when he wrote it in 1880. After a quiet, expressive beginning from the strings the music lifted, often to moments of dramatic intensity. The balance between choir and orchestra was mostly good, although occasionally the lower brass overshadowed the singing. (It has been said that the piece was originally designed on a grand scale for a choir of two hundred.)
There were often rousing, anthemic melodies from the choir, sometimes powerfully in unison. These were most uplifting. At other times I was impressed with the sheer skill of fugal composition from such a young composer.
The two soloists, William Branston (tenor) and Theo Perry (baritone) were splendid. The tenor’s vocal range and sheer power, especially, were very impressive as he cut through the full sound of the orchestra.
I was impressed by the hard work which must have gone into bringing such a challenging piece to fruition from the choir and conductor. So many choir entries had to be made with precision that one couldn’t lose focus for a moment. It must have been quite a revelation for the choir, too, to have rehearsed with a pianist for many weeks and then to rehearse only on the day itself with all the dynamic intensity of an orchestra.
Well done to all concerned. It was a jubilant performance.
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After the interval we had Mozart’s Requiem, a piece well loved by so many and performed by choirs all over the world. For this we had two additional soloists, Felicity Hope (mezzo soprano) and Emma Griffiths (soprano). Emma is a local girl, from Helmdon and it was a real pleasure to hear her sing again. (In the programme notes she writes that she sang the Requiem under the same conductor, Stuart Hubble, when she was just fifteen years old.)
Mozart wrote the piece right at the end of his short life, reputedly in the belief that he was writing a requiem for his own funeral. He died without completing it fully and various other composers stepped in to finish it, notably Franz Süssmayr who was a pupil of Mozart’s. You might expect the result to be a mish-mash of styles but it isn’t. What we are treated to is one memorable moment after another, from the dramatic light and shade of Confutatis to the unusual solo trombone and bass voice of the Tuba Mirum. Throughout, the choir and reduced orchestra played with beautiful intonation and sensitivity. For every different part of the mass they needed to adjust to the changing tempi and they did so very well under the clear, precise guidance of Stuart Hubble.
Stuart deserves a special mention. Whenever I go to a concert given by Brackley Jubilee Choir I make sure that I can see Stuart clearly, as I find him to be an inspirational conductor. His beat is so clear and he brings in every single entry of the choir and of the orchestra with remarkable accuracy. His preparation must be considerable. He also provides the energy needed to lift the choir and orchestra to dynamic heights when necessary. We are all lucky to have him as our local conductor.
Thank you, Brackley Jubilee Choir and The Cherwell Orchestra for a wonderful evening!
Songs for the Stage – 6th July 2019
Click this link: Summer 2019 Prog Songs for the Stage to download and read the full programme for our “Songs for the Stage” concert – how’s about this for our versatility?!
Maurice Duruflé Requiem and other sacred music – 24th March 2018
On a damp Saturday in late March, having been invited to at least three concerts and several events in the local area that day, it was the Brackley Jubilee Choir’s performance that I chose for my evening entertainment.
The concert began with an uplifting rendition of ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ (Bach) with a pleasing upbeat tempo, followed swiftly by ‘Locus Iste’ (Bruckner). The first entry of the Bruckner had real clarity, and stayed bright even through the descending phrases. This is something that can catch out a choir singing unaccompanied and the overall result was a truly rousing rendition of both pieces.
It was at this point in the programme that I was taken out of my comfort zone to hear a piece that was new to me. Arvo Pärt’s ‘And One of the Pharisees…’ uses the text from St Luke’s ‘Jesus at home of Simon the Pharisee’ and this was clearly conveyed by the vocal trio, with clear diction and the three voices blending well as an ensemble.
Next we were treated to the reassuring familiarity of Byrd’s ‘Ave verum corpus’ and Rutter’s ‘A Gaelic Blessing’ before being taken back to what for me was unfamiliar territory with MacMillan’s ‘Kiss on Wood’. This instrumental piece was a change of dynamic from the choral works and appropriately chosen with its Easter theme of the crucifixion cross. I would not have been aware of this connection had it not been preceded by an informative spoken introduction. The piece began with unnerving tension in the opening bars which melted away as it continued with a dialogue between the cello and piano that had tenderness and rapport between the performers.
The first half concluded with the crowd pleasers ‘Pie Jesu’ by Lloyd Webber with the beautiful soaring soprano voice of Jean Parker and ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ by Fauré which left a warm inner glow as we left our seats.
After a suitable libation in the interval it was on to the main event, the Duruflé ‘Requiem’, which was eagerly awaited. Having been on the other side of the baton many years ago I was acutely aware of the difficulties the piece poses for the performers. It requires a very capable organist which they certainly had in Ben Bloor, a good conductor to deal with the constant changes of time signature and tempo, with Stuart Hubble commanding authority throughout, and a choir that is able to pitch notes that seemingly come from nowhere which were mostly confidently achieved. The performance took us on a journey, with moments of sheer exhilaration as the power of the approximately forty strong voices filled the church, to the trance like serenity of the Gregorian chant inspired passages. The baritone soloist Theo Perry was exceptional and I am sure that this young singer has a bright future ahead of him, as he sang with elegant phrasing and a sonorous tone. Jean Parker also returned, performing a very contrasted ‘Pie Jesu’ from the first, with richness in the lower register which was thrilling as she returned back to the higher register.
The Duruflé is such an under-performed work due to its technical challenges but has more depth and gravitas, some may say, than Fauré’s similar composition. This was a thoroughly enjoyable performance and of all the concerts and events I could have attended that evening, I was very pleased to have been at this one.
Bob Chilcott’s St John’s Passion – Brackley Jubilee Choir, 1st April 2017
Under the direction of Stuart Hubble, the Brackley Jubilee Choir’s performance of Bob Chilcott’s St John Passion was well up to the emotional pathos demanded of it.
Chilcott, whose work encompasses the choral genre has written a work of sublime dramatic Passion without in any way compromising the great J S Bach. It stands on its own merit as a magnum opus with equal empathy and dramatic rendition.
First sung at Wells Cathedral on Palm Sunday in 2013 Chilcott has followed Bach in giving the narrator, the Evangelist, to solo tenor. In this performance a tour de force ably sung by Michael Solomon Williams with text from the King James Bible, whereas Bach’s Passion is based on the Lutheran text of 1724.
With Bach the opener emotionally portrays Simon Peter’s crying at the betrayal of Jesus together with the renting of the temple’s veil during the crucifixion. Chilcott opens with words that assure us of victory over death by introducing us immediately to Christ’s suffering but heralding his eventual triumph over death with the thunderous Sing, my tongue the glorious battle. Although the orchestra somewhat overwhelmed the choir, its triumphal intensity set well the unfolding scene written in a minor dissonant chord.
The arioso speech-like cadence of the Evangelist as narrator ably fulfilled Chilcott’s intention to achieve clear audience communication throughout the entire work where clarity of diction is vital. In this respect Michael Solomon Williams’s delivery was perfect. The viola and cello accompaniment punctuated the pathos. Communication at the audience level was also effected through inviting us all to join in with the hymns.
Chilcott introduces a variation in the text with sources from late medieval and renaissance texts with four, so-called, meditations which reference Christ’s death with a beautiful Miserere My Maker, as if Peter is pleading for mercy to comfort a distressed soul, Christ my beloved, Away vain world and Jesus, my leman (love). These four meditations allowed the audience to reflect on the spiritual dimension of Jesus’s humanity, the emotions of which we can readily identify in ourselves. The choral interludes, between the solo interventions, required emotive handling by the choir which was ably achieved. The choir, under the baton of Stuart Hubble, need to be commended for being able to steep themselves in the pathos of their delivery. The choir did indeed soak themselves with an imbued understanding of this immensely emotional piece to leave the audience in no doubt, that in many respects, we ourselves are all culpable for our actions, not just Peter but also the baying mob demanding Jesus’s blood. This is why this piece is one of supreme beauty and power. The rendition was supremely achieved by the Brackley Jubilee Choir.
The soloists complimented the choir perfectly. Both the basses Alasdair Baker and Theo Perry gave performances of gratifying gravitas as did Alison Macfarlane accompanied by the Cherwell Orchestra’s brass quintet and organ during the second part of The Judgement Hall, which introduced an unusually calming note giving the impression of oncoming inevitability, which sat beautifully with her delivery. It is worth pointing out that during the section Jesus is Crucified, following the two solo basses, how beautifully the solo cello, played by Jenny Hubble, responded to the narration with an ostinato of reiterated quavers.
The conclusion from The Crucifixion was introduced by the cello mournfully setting the scene where the music appears to speak to us as clearly as any narration. This is then emulated by the tenor soloist and supplemented by the choir, culminating in the solemn statement by the bass solo, “Behold thy mother!”
The whole purpose of this composition is to drench the audience in spit, mockery and pathos but to leave them in the end with a sense of optimism, not just for the future of mankind, but more importantly that death is not the end. Both the Brackley Jubilee Choir and the Cherwell Orchestra can hold their heads up high.
Music for Spring – March 2016
Brackley Jubilee Choir was joined by Brackley Chamber Music Club to present a sequence of part songs, madrigals and chamber music, with readings by choir president Meriel Dickinson.
The concert at St Peter’s Church began with a trio of madrigals, which were beautifully sung under the precise direction of conductor Stuart Hubble. The polyphonic style with weaving parts and rhythmic complexities were well managed and the inclusion of a recorder obbligato in ‘Now is the month of Maying’ by Morley was a welcome addition.
Next in the programme was a group of five short pieces played by a very able recorder consort. The last of these was ‘Bransles de Champagne’ by Claude Gervaise which came to a sparkling conclusion, with Chris Seddon (who had showed his dexterity moving seamlessly from playing descant, treble and sopranino) delighting the audience in the last phrase by playing not one but two instruments concurrently.
The inclusion of poetry by Hardy, Hesketh, Wordsworth and Hughes gave well-judged variety to the programme. Meriel Dickinson introduced each poem with interesting background information to entice the listener. The delivery was engaging, using a palette of vocal colours to paint the descriptions of nature at springtime.
‘Trio Sonata in G major’ by Johann Joachim Quantz opened with sustained legato lines and phrases musically shaped. This contrasted with fast flowing passages of the second movement with Trevor Jones on flute and Robert Wells on oboe lifting their part to the fore at the appropriate moments. The accompaniment was provided by Auriel Warwick on keyboard with Chris Seddon on cello. The final moment came with clear terraced dynamics as expected in the Baroque style.
The choir returned for three more songs, concluding the set with an appealing rendition of ‘Il est bel et bon’ by Pierre Passereau. This song, which portrays women discussing their husbands, has fast percussive consonants which gave an upbeat end to the first half.
After the interval we moved from the music of the Renaissance and Baroque eras to partsongs of the Romantic era and Twentieth century with their broader, more complex harmonies.
The prelude on the Welsh hymn tune ‘Rhosymedre’ by Vaughan Williams resounded with the composer’s choral style and the recorder quartet played as a synchronised ensemble. The poetry in the second half tied in chronologically with the music at this point in the programme, and the characters from the early part of the century portrayed in the dialogue were brought to life with reality and humour.
The only solo performance of the evening was given by oboist Christine Griggs who played ‘Arioso’ by Fiocco, which had the vocal quality in her sensitive phrasing that the title inspires. This was suitably matched with ‘Moment Musical’ by Rossini which had all the jaunty amusement of one of his Arias.
The performance was brought to a close with the hosts Brackley Jubilee Choir singing three familiar part songs, ‘As Torrents in Summer’ by Elgar, the haunting ‘Blue Bird’ by Charles Villiers Stanford and ‘The long day closes’ by Arthur Sullivan presented in his usual grand choral style. Accompanist Cathy Bowker was unobtrusive and supportive throughout.
This most enjoyable evening, with its interesting and varied programme, was well received by an appreciative audience who left the church with a ‘Spring’ in their step!
Summer concert July 2015 – Brackley Jubilee Choir and The Cherwell Orchestra, conductor Stuart Hubble
A warm and sunny evening brought an audience of about 80 to hear this year’s annual classical concert programme. I had needed to break ranks from my usual place within the second sopranos on this occasion and thoroughly enjoyed hearing this concert from the middle stalls for a pleasant change.
There was a very arresting start via the Representation of Chaos to the sequence from Haydn’s Creation by combined choir and orchestra. The change of mood in vigilant response to the baton prepared for the fine baritone tones of Alasdair Baker, with an almost mystical ‘In the beginning God Created Man’ with its precise choir entries. The young tenor (Thomas Edmonds) and the blend of the more experienced female soloists carried the sequence along with a notably strong and solid bass section, though only six in number. There were a few passages where the enthusiasm of the orchestra masked some of quieter singing unfortunately, but the final rousing chorus drew a loud and delighted applause.
On to the Symphony No. 8 in F and it honestly occurred to me that it was as if the spirit of Beethoven had visited the church for a few hours that day. The composer’s might was especially evident from the first downbeat of the Cherwell Orchestra’s expert performance and, after glancing around the audience about half way through, I was not the only one who appeared to find it all-absorbing. The instruments were virtually dancing along under Stuart’s expert baton and resonated around the church’s pillars and domes. Towards the end of the first movement a powerfully executed fortissimo was truly fabulous, followed by the contrasting quieter ending from woodwind and strings which can only be described as ‘magical’.
The tick-tocking of the second movement and interpretation of Beethoven’s humour provoked some smiles from fellow listeners. The musicians responded well to expressive hands and body movements to the last bars in F. A superb mood-change for the final movement captured the minuet theme. The cheeky interjections from the oboe and rushing but well-controlled themes were played out, as some of the audience were spied rhythmically foot tapping, finger drumming or programme bouncing along in tandem. The hearty and extended applause was highly deserved, in my opinion.
After the interval all were geared up for another Beethoven performance to now involve the choir and soloists. It was a stirring opening to the Mass in C with all eyes trained on the conductor. The clear soprano voice of Alison Macfarlane blended to result in a beautiful Kyrie. The Gloria made us all sit up and take note of the soaring sopranos then the balance of the Qui tollis peccata mundi section with soloists combining to good effect.
The fugue-like Cum Sancto Spiritu punctuated with the crisp ‘Amens’ were quite startling in places for those less familiar with the work. The six tenors conveyed their lines well. The solo quartet was particularly precise with the ends of words in their Eb section in the Credo e.g. ‘est’ to enhance it. At the end of the Sanctus (Hosanna) you could have heard a pin fall in the final dramatic pause.
A beautiful Agnus Dei, though the Miserere Nobis seemed to get a little lost, but the firm ending drew rapturous applause for all performers who had all worked hard to combine to produce a very good performance. Accolades were not least for the maestro who had brought this all together under his expertise and direction.
Benjamin Britten Centenary Celebration, 30th November 2013
Brackley Jubilee Choir joined music groups throughout the country to celebrate this centenary year of the birth of Benjamin Britten. Their concert in St. Peter’s Church in Brackley on Saturday 30th November gave us a varied selection of Britten’s work. The concert began with his Simple Symphony played by the Cherwell Orchestra conducted by Stuart Hubble. Despite its name and the fact that this was written during Britten’s childhood and teenage years it is a work worthy of a composer of more advanced years. Despite a slightly insecure start the Cherwell Orchestra gave a creditable performance with neat pizzicato playing in the second movement and broad, warm phrasing in the third, rounding off with a strong ‘Frolicsome Finale’.
Stuart stepped down from the conductor’s podium to join baritone Robin Grayson and bass Alasdair Baker in the telling of The Ballad of Little Musgrave and Lady Barnard. This was sung in captivating style allowing the audience to feel a part of the circumstances of Lady Musgrave’s demise.
The choir then performed ‘A Ceremony of Carols’. This work was originally written for treble voices but its popularity led to this version for SATB voices to be arranged in 1955. The work opens with sopranos accompanied by harp singing the plainchant style ‘Procession’. The ladies of Jubilee Choir produced a sound not unlike what one might hear in a convent. From this ethereal beginning we were then treated to the more earthy style of the carols which are largely set to 14th and 16th century texts using English as was spoken in those times. The choir’s singing was supported by the wonderful harp playing of Karina Bell who gave us a mesmerising performance of the Interlude. The Spring Carol took us from the cold of the previous carol with the warmth of Kayleigh Skinner and Alison Nicholls’ singing. A rousing end to Deo Gracias led the audience to applaud before we once again heard the angelic voices of the sopranos singing the plainchant Recession.
The cantata Saint Nicolas was first performed at the centenary celebrations of Lancing College, Sussex in 1948 by three boys’ schools choirs and one girls’ school choir with Peter Pears singing the part of Nicolas and Benjamin Britten conducting. Being written for young singers one might assume that the simplicity of the piece will make it less interesting. This performance proved what an exciting piece this is. Julian Forbes’ Nicolas was excellent throughout. The gentlemen of the choir gave us drama during the Journey to Palestine. All forces came together including organ and audience to sing a well-balanced yet powerful ‘All People That On Earth Do Dwell’. Amelia Douglas and Emma Franklin sang some angelic Alleluias as they processed forward as the Pickled Boys restored to life. We heard the choir sing with a full, rich choral sound in ‘His Piety and Marvellous Works’. The evening ended with all forces coming together once more in the final hymn ‘God Moves in a Mysterious Way’.
Benjamin Britten is not always the most accessible of composers, but tonight’s programme was thoughtfully selected and wonderfully performed so that anyone present can be in no doubt about Britten’s place in our musical heritage.