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saturday 22 june 2019 st swithin’s church, walcot street

A copy of the concert programme can be found here (without the front cover)

Two of Britain’s most celebrated composers are contrasted in this summer concert which pairs the genius of Purcell with the contemporary master James MacMillan.

Henry Purcell was England’s leading composer of the Baroque, and wrote an astounding variety of music in his 36 years, from the heartbreaking Funeral Sentences written following the death of Queen Mary, to the joyful wedding anthem Beati Omnes, and his groundbreaking opera and theatrical writing. We present an exploration of some of these styles alongside the works of James MacMillan, whose innovative and emotive use of harmony provides a modern complement to Purcell, as is evident in the beautiful and varied Strathclyde Motets.

Review by Antony Corfe

I left this concert deeply touched, feeling I’d been involved in something very special and life enhancing.  Some people might say it had a spiritual element, not because of content but because of how the choir, under its inspiring conductor Sarah Latto, reached that inner state of total creative unity – an empathy not only amongst themselves but also shared freely with the audience who themselves responded to heighten the whole experience.  The choir has done it before with Sarah; the effect is electrifying and magical.

 Regretfully there’s not much I can say about the first half as I was having trouble with hearing aids, but the second half, starting with MacMillan’s ‘Videns Dominus’, was a complete joy.  In this piece there were passages separated by pauses of about three seconds as part of the narrative.  Sarah didn’t conduct them, but merely indicated the start of the next by the tilt of her head.  This generated a wonderful effect, nurtured and sustained by deep concentration and mutual awareness.

 Next came Purcell’s Evening Hymn, a lullaby beautifully sung by Katharine Adams accompanied by baroque organ (Steven Hollas) and cittarrone (Matthew Nisbet), followed by two of Purcell’s Funeral Sentences both performed faultlessly with wide ranging colours.

 Then, by complete contrast, Matthew Nisbet spoke very entertainingly about his cittarrone or theorbo, following this up with Chaconne in C (anon) upon a baroque guitar.  Light and delightful.

 Finally, MacMillan’s astonishing work, ‘A Child’s Prayer’, written as a direct response to the Dunblane tragedy in March 1996, followed by his ‘Data est mihi omnes potestas’.  By now the choir were singing at their most confident best, with wonderfully expressive lines and maturity.

 Altogether a splendid evening, with a well-designed programme full of contrasts and superb singing.  We should look forward to their next offering; Saturday 26th October at Holy Trinity Church, Bradford on Avon.