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Members  © 2011 Somerset Chamber Choir  Registered Charity No.1003687  

Patrons: Dame Emma Kirkby and Sir David Willcocks

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Eric Whitacre





Morten Lauridsen


Samuel Barber


Matthew Harris



Bob Chilcott

Roderick William

Sir Michael Tippett

Alvarez, Lauro & Villa-Lobos

i thank you God for most this amazing day

Water Night

I hide myself

With a lily in your hand

Go, Lovely Rose

Ubi caritas et amor

O Magnum Mysterium


To be sung on the water

Hark, hark! The lark

Full fathom five

Who is Sylvia?

Didn’t it rain?

I got a robe

Five spirituals from ‘A child of our time’

Guitar works


Somerset Chamber Choir

Charles Ramirez

Graham Caldbeck




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In recent years American choral music has become an established feature of repertoire sung by good British choirs and some of the reasons for this were evident in Somerset Chamber Choir’s concert, ‘This Amazing Day’, on Sunday in King’s College Chapel, Taunton.


The works drew on very diverse texts and styles, all 20th century composed or arranged. Not only were there settings of e.e. cummings and Emily Dickinson but also Shakespeare and Gerard Manley-Hopkins and the Mexican poet, Octavio Paz. The artistic tentacles reached South America too in the form of guitar music played by the warmly engaging Charles Ramirez. The latter’s contribution proved to be an inspired foil to the choir of some 50 persons: the solitariness and serenity of the performer serenading us with Alvarez, beguiling us with Lauro’s ‘Natalia’ and amazing us with the virtuosity required for Villa-Lobo’s ‘Etude No. 12’.


Naturally enough we heard the music of Morten Lauridsen and Samuel Barber, composers who are already familiar to choirs and audiences over here: the former’s  ‘O magnum mysterium’, an inspired last-piece choice, and the latter’s ‘To be sung on the water’. In a wonderful piece of ‘across the pond’ contrivance all the American spiritual arrangements came from the pens of English composers, Michael Tippett, Bob Chilcott and Roderick Williams and yet it was an American, Matthew Harris, a much less familiar name, whose sometimes very individual take on the bard’s words resulted in a part-blues and well-sung rendition of Shakespeare’s ‘Who is Sylvia?’


The choral writing of Eric Whitacre employs an enormous palette of tone colours ‘to paint each word’ of the lyrics. His ‘Water Night’ vividly exemplified this with lonely unison sounds for ‘silence and solitude’ to the trembling chord clusters of low pitched sounds for ‘eyes of secret water’ and wide, yawning melodic separations at ‘If you open your eyes, night opens’.


Despite its immense diversity and the inherent potential for a musical meandering journey this programme had a real sense of unity, a balanced symmetry indeed.


From the outset the choir, under the direction of conductor Graham Caldbeck, established its musical credentials for the afternoon with Whitacre’s ‘i thank You God for most this amazing day’. The balance between the parts was good, the tuning was by and large accurate, the dynamics invariably arresting, and strong rhythmic vivacity and commitment of spirit were never in doubt. The soloists, drawn from the choir, were technically and musically accomplished. But my gold award on this occasion goes to the gentlemen of the choir. The basses have genuine low note specialists and the tenors produce a quality of sound and sensitivity to phrasing that would be the envy of many more illustrious groups. True, there were the occasional anxious moments – the pitch drop and forced soprano sound in Barber’s ‘Heaven-haven’ and the rhythmic and the melodic demands of Whitacre’s ‘Flower Songs’ - but this was a choir much at home with the selection of music it was obviously enjoying.


As it approaches the 25th anniversary celebration concert in Wells Cathedral on 25th July with ‘Brilliant Baroque!’ Somerset Chamber Choir will provide its audience with a mouth-watering programme of baroque ‘classics’ and a cluster of established and rising soloists including Emma Kirkby and Sophie Bevan.  Based on the evidence of this concert it promises to be another ‘amazing day’ in prospect for the Somerset Chamber Choir.


Andrew Maddocks

Sunday 15 February 2009

King’s College Chapel, Taunton

‘This Amazing Day’