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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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Messe solennelle

O sacrum convivium

Quatre motets pour un temps de pénitence

Symphonie No.5 (1st mvt)


Somerset Chamber Choir

Stephanie Allman

John Broad

Sara Lovell

Richard Pearce

Graham Caldbeck







Click here to view the concert programme




It was pleasing to see a large audience in King’s College Chapel last Sunday for the Somerset Chamber Choir’s concert of French choral works, ably directed by Graham Caldbeck. I’ll wager that apart from the Duruflé Requiem which formed the second half of the concert, much of the repertoire was new to most of the audience, and was typical of the adventurous programming of this choir. For example, Poulenc is not best known for choral work, but his ‘Quatre Motets Pour Un Temps de Pénitence’ are very fine, if a little cruel of Graham to his choir for starting a concert! Throughout, the singers coped admirably with the constantly shifting tonality and rhythms. Being a capella, there were occasional slight lapses in intonation and some of the very exposed soprano entries were not totally precise. Overall however, this was a brave and well executed start to the afternoon.


Everybody who has been to weddings in the past few years will inevitably know the final ‘Toccata’ movement of Widor’s Organ Symphony No. 5, but what about the 1st movement? The King’s College organ is not one of the world’s/country’s/county’s/town’s great instruments, but Richard Pearce made the most of its capacity, to present a compelling performance of this Allegro Vivace piece. Only in the deep pedal lines did it come slightly unstuck, but the problems were mechanical, not musical, and his performance was highly enjoyable.


Messiaen is one of those names which can cause unease, his reputation for ‘difficult’ music going before him. For me, the choir’s performance of his short ‘O Sacrum Convivium’ was lovely, and should hold no terrors for any listener – it must be a bit of a swine to sing though, and I was amused by the intense expressions of the singers throughout. Their concentration paid off, this was a good performance.


I confess I knew nothing of Jean Langlais before this concert, and found his ‘Messe Solennelle’ interesting without being inspiring. That said, there were some fine moments, and the choir rose to the occasion. In particular the dynamics were well handled – the crescendos in the ‘Christe eleison’ were thrilling, and the fugues of the Gloria were crisp and precise. The exultant shouts of ‘Hosanna’ at the end of the Sanctus and the Benedictus were sung out with confidence and joy – in between however, I thought the Benedictus itself sounded rather hesitant, the least successful part of the performance. The final ‘Agnus Dei’ has some of the oddest intervals in the work, and these were handled with great aplomb. Special mention must be made of Richard Pearce’s expert accompaniment of the whole work.


After the interval we were on more familiar territory – comparisons are often drawn between Duruflé’s requiem and the Fauré, but I feel that Durufle’s is a more original voice than he is sometimes given credit for. This was a performance which managed to be tightly controlled yet exciting. The contributions of the soloists, baritone John Broad and mezzo-soprano Stephanie Allman were particularly fine, and the addition of the ‘cello part to Stephanie’s singing was delightful. Sarah Lovell’s playing was of the highest calibre and all too short!


Chorally the balance was for the most part excellent, but on several occasions, in an effort to ‘ping’, the sopranos pushed a little too much and their tone hardened. The overall ensemble sound was however good – I could hear the individual lines, but it was a genuine choral blend. Graham’s control of the dynamics was exemplary, and the rhythmic pitfalls in this work, such as the ‘Dies illa’ entry were all skilfully negotiated. The applause was well deserved, and I look forward to hearing the Chamber Choir’s Bach B Minor in July.  


Just one observation – with over 80 singers are they really a chamber choir any more? More like an agile choral society I feel!


Harold W. Mead


Sunday 20 February 2011

King’s College Chapel, Taunton

‘La musique sacrée’

Editor’s note: Although the choir has c.80 members, the number of singers available for each concert usually numbers around 60 (there were 56 singers on stage at this particular concert). We believe this size allows us to effectively present the variety of repertoire that we currently offer, from a capella works with those with full symphony orchestras.

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