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Patrons: Dame Emma Kirkby and Sir David Willcocks

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James MacMillan


Arvo Pärt

Petite messe solennelle

Seinte Mari moder milde

A wedding anthem

Littlemore Tractus

....which was the son of....


Somerset Chamber Choir

Katherine Manley

Louise Mott

Joe Roche

Keel Watson

Christopher Stokes

Philip Moore

Andrew West

Graham Caldbeck










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Scattered showers and chill winds outside Wells Cathedral on Saturday evening were dispelled by an inspiring and uplifting concert by the Somerset Chamber Choir. Music by Arvo Pärt, James MacMillan, Britten and Rossini, accompanied variously by organ, two pianos and harmonium, may not seem a very likely choice for a concert, but this intriguing programme was very well conceived.


The concert opened with an impressive account of Pärt’s ‘Which was the son of...’, a setting of St Luke’s Genealogy of Jesus, which draws on a number of styles including baroque, folk, gospel and barbershop. The choir, under Graham Caldbeck’s commanding leadership, was magnificent, producing a rich and well-balanced sound; diction and tuning were superb. This was a very fine opening to what proved to be an evening of exemplary choral singing. The music of Arvo Pärt was revisited before the interval with ‘Littlemore Tractus’, a hymn-like choral prelude, its sustained lines drawing some extremely fine singing from the choir.


Britten’s ‘A Wedding Anthem’ was accompanied very stylishly by organist Christopher Stokes and the choir sang confidently with great dynamic contrast. Tenor soloist, Joe Roche, however did not sound quite so confident and was troubled with poor intonation at times. Soprano Katherine Manley sang beautifully, her voice floating ethereally over the choir in the closing phrases.


James MacMillan’s ‘Seinte Mari Moder Milde’, a setting of a 13th-century carol for choir and organ, was very affecting. The rapid vocal ornamentations were striking and the choir performed the work to great effect, again making the most of the extreme variations in dynamics. Soloists Katherine Manley & Louise Mott blended well together and their singing of the closing phrase on the word ‘Infantis’ was very moving.


The performers were next joined by two excellent pianists, Andrew West and Philip Moore, and Christopher Stokes on the harmonium, in a splendid performance of Rossini’s irreverent ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’. The syncopated keyboard introduction created a real sense of anticipation which was rewarded by the choir’s assured performance of the ‘Kyrie’. The ‘Gloria’ introduced the rich vocal tones of bass soloist Keel Watson and was followed by the ‘Gratias’, in all respects an operatic trio rather than a movement from a sacred Mass - here the three soloists captured the mood very well. The ‘Domine Deus’, a jaunty tenor aria, was given a rather lack-lustre performance by Joe Roche, whilst Keel Watson sang the ‘Quoniam’ stylishly and with great composure, though a little more dramatic flourish would have been welcome.


The fast-moving fugal ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ was given a spirited rendition with strong, confident vocal entries, notably in the bass section. Graham Caldbeck drove the tempo on and the choir followed with ease, though perhaps some detail was lacking at this speed - nevertheless, the overall effect was very exciting. The solo piano movement ‘Preludio Religioso’, played by Philip Moore, was magical, sensitively performed by this fine musician. By the end of the ‘Agnus Dei’, it was clear that the audience had enjoyed a fine performance of this unusual work and their response was justifiably very enthusiastic.


It is a tribute to the versatility of this choir, and to its conductor Graham Caldbeck, that they can perform such innovative and varied programmes to such a high standard. A truly memorable evening.


Jillian Whiting


Saturday 29 July 2006

Wells Cathedral

Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle