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Britten: War Requiem (with the English Arts Chorale),  23rd June 2018

Commissioned to mark the opening of the new cathedral in Coventry (built to replace its 14th-century predecessor, which was obliterated by the Luftwaffe in 1940), the War Requiem combined Owen’s poetry with Latin texts from the Missa pro Defunctis. Scored for a full symphony orchestra, separate chamber orchestra, large mixed choir, smaller boys’ choir and three soloists, it presents enormous challenges both technically and acoustically.

The sheer number of performers precluded the use of Burford Church; Tewkesbury’s exquisite Abbey Church of St Mary the Virgin, however, was the perfect compromise – big enough to accommodate the performers within not-too live an acoustic environment.

In fact, the ‘sound’ was wonderful, and it was an evening none of those there will forget. The War Requiem packs a punch matched by very few other large-scale choral works. The variety in sound, dynamics and texture it offers is a counterpart to its challenging subject matter, and the result is awe-inspiring. So, too, was the performance that night. The musical language, whilst considered passé half a century ago by some of the more perfervid early-‘60s  ‘modernists’, is nonetheless still quite challenging to ears perhaps more attuned to music of the 18th or 19th centuries.

And the choral writing makes serious demands of an amateur choir. But The Burford Singers and English Arts Chorale together rose to the occasion magnificently; and in this respect they were matched by everyone involved. The Bristol choristers sounded suitably ethereal and angelic, invisible from the nave behind the main chorus, in the chancel (or ‘quire’, as it is known here).

The orchestra, drawn largely from the ranks of the Royal Philharmonic, was as good as you would expect of such a pedigree. The score calls for considerable dexterity, skill and concentration from all concerned; but from the blazing, pin-you-to-the-seat, fortissimo brass fanfares of the ‘Dies Irae’ to the softest of passages, via the myriad complexities of metre and rhythm with which Britten confronts them, they emerged triumphant.

The three soloists, [Linda Richardson, James Gilchrist and Quentin Hayes] similarly shone. The two men in some ways have the easier job, being accompanied by the chamber orchestra, whilst the soprano has to hold her own against the bigger band. But all three were magnificent, the spine-tingling interplay of soprano (‘Lacrimosa’) and tenor (‘Move him into the sun…’) in the closing passage of the ‘Dies Irae’ almost defying you to breathe.

Likewise, the final moments of the whole work, where Owen’s ‘Strange Meeting’ between two soldiers, enemies, who died together (‘let us sleep now…’) foreshadows ‘In paradisum’ – ‘into paradise may the Angels lead thee’. This is music of heart-stopping beauty, preparing us for the final a capella  ‘Requiescant in pace’, its amorphous F-sharp-inclined tonality leading us to that final, blissful F-major chord. Peace at last.

For Brian, it was the end of a long and, at times, difficult journey.  …Brian is fulsome in his praise of the Burford Singers: “They did a fantastic job, and the great thing for me was that they grew to love it. They sang it quite wonderfully – I’m extremely proud of them. I’m thrilled we did it”. So are we all.

Simon Park, Fulbrook News, September 2018

This is an abridged version of the review: a complete version is available here.

 

The sheer scale of the work meant that the forces needed would not fit into the Singers’ usual venue at Burford Church and instead they combined with the English Arts Chorale for two performances … At Tewkesbury Abbey the chorus were positioned on a steep platform in front of the rood screen with the soprano, Linda Richardson, on the left in the pulpit. The chamber orchestra and male soloists (James Gilchrist and Quentin Hayes) were on the right while the boys’ choir (choristers of Bristol Cathedral) were concealed in the chancel from where their voices wafted ethereally out.

Richardson was particularly impressive in the repeated cries of “Sanctus” while the two men sang movingly in what is perhaps the heart of the piece, the setting of “Strange Meeting” … However the real stars were the chorus from their almost whispered “Requiem” at the start ti the tumultuous “Tuba Mirum” and the reprise of the “Dies Irae”. At the end all the ensembles joined in, and a muted resolution was reached combining “Requiescant in pacem” (“May they rest in peace”) with “Let us sleep now”. This was a great triumph for Brian Kay and the Burford Singers. How can they follow that?

Edward Hanslick, The Burford Bridge, August 2018

 

Just home from a thrillingly visceral performance of Britten’s emotionally powerful WAR REQUIEM in a packed Tewkesbury Abbey. This colossal work presented by two wonderful choirs (The Burford Singers and English Arts Chorale) performing so gloriously as one under their conductors, Brian Kay and Leslie Olive with two fantastic orchestras and three outstanding soloists in Linda Richardson, James Gilchrist and Quentin Hayes made for one of the best performances of this work I’ve ever heard; both terrifying and sublimely beautiful and set against the world of today, even more profoundly moving.

Paul Carr

 


Cecilia McDowall: A Fancy of Folksongs, 2nd July 2016

A Fancy of Folksongs was wonderfully sung, full of animation, a lovely rounded sound and presented with great style.

Cecilia McDowall, Composer


Paul Carr: Requiem for an Angel, 20th March 2016

Thank you for yesterday’s glorious performance of my Requiem in Burford. It was the most memorable occasion and one of the most rewarding performances this work has yet had … As a member of the audience, I found myself transported, forgetting that I am responsible for having composed it, and for me that is the most rewarding experience.

Paul Carr, Composer, in a letter to the Choir

 

The highlight of the concert was the Requiem for an Angel… The Burford Singers really enjoyed tackling a new and unfamiliar work to give a triumphant and uplifting experience.

David Day, The Burford Bridge, April 2016


Handel: Israel in Egypt, 22nd November 2015

In November the Burford Singers gave a fine performance of Handel’s “Israel in Egypt” …  This is a demanding work with many of the choruses written for double choir … For me, two of the highlights were the clarity of the words from the choir and the soloists, particularly the countertenor [James Neville], and Handel’s orchestration of the plagues – you really experienced the flies and the hailstones.

David Day, The Burford Bridge, February 2016


 

Spring Concert, conducted by Bob Chilcott, 28th March 2015

The opportunity to hear some of Bob Chilcott’s music performed live is always one to be relished, but never more so than when the work is conducted by the composer himself. …

I fell in love with Chilcott’s Requiem when I heard it premiered by the Oxford Bach Choir in March 2010, and the intervening five years have done nothing to diminish the appeal of its gentle splendour, its meditative qualities and the glorious richness of its melodies and texturing.

The Burford Singers, as always, responded with a warm, eloquent and committed performance, while soprano Laurie Ashworth and tenor Thomas Elwin contributed some thoughtful and expressive solo work that was beautifully articulated throughout.

… The performance of ‘Spring’ from Haydn’s Seasons positively overflowed with joie de vivre from both choir and soloists, who clearly relished the sheer exuberance of this bubbling score. Once again Laurie Ashworth and Thomas Elwin impressed with some wonderful solo passages; they were joined this time by Jon Stainsby, whose gloriously rich bass was a joy.

Nicola Lisle, The Oxford Times, 16th April 2015

 

 

 

For reviews of previous performance, click here.

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