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Recent Concerts & Reviews

Saturday 17th December 2016

Carlisle: "Gloria! A Christmas concert" at St. Michael's church, Stanwix

On Saturday 17th the Abbey Singers presented a Christmas concert at St Michael’s Stanwix. Border Brass and organist John Cooper-Green were there to accompany and to play on their own.

There was a slightly unsteady start with the Vierne "Gloria" because the brass players had not had time to warm up, and the intonation was uncertain. This was soon remedied, and the brass ensemble later in the concert was stylish and entertaining. The programme as a whole was varied and challenging.

The Rutter "Gloria" in particular is rhythmically very tricky and the choir kept well together throughout. A Baltic influence was, as quite often these days, noticeable with the work of Ola Gjeilo and Eriks Esenvalds: "Stars" by the latter was performed with a particularly striking sense of mystery.

A conspicuous feature of the programme was formed by three pieces composed by the choir’s Director, Jonathan Millican, showing a remarkable range from the sixteenth century style of "Gaude et Laetare" via a jolly carol-medley to the intensity (Jonathan will acknowledge the Baltic influence here) of "O Magnum Mysterium", to which the choir responded magnificently. It was this reviewer’s favourite piece.

Very much deserving of mention was a fine Toccata by Garth Edmundson on "Vom Himmel hoch" excellently performed by John Cooper Green.

The programme was well received by a healthy-sized audience.

Keith Maclennan
 

Saturday 16th July 2016

Carlisle: Gilbert & Sullivan "Pirates of Penzance" at the University Arts Theatre, Stanwix

This semi-staged performance saw members of the choir cast in a variety of "interesting" and oft-times amusing roles. Although perhaps slightly slow starting, the cast soon warmed to their task and produced a memorable evening of hilarious entertainment to the large audience in the University's theatre, who soon became engaged in the various unlikely plots and romantic interests. It soon became clear that the choir was enjoying the experience of a live performance on stage, something it had not done in recent history, and that enjoyment transmitted itself to the audience.

The lead roles turned in very musical (and where required, amusing) performances and whilst it would be invidious to mention any one role, the police "company" as a whole must be mentioned as possibly the funniest set of performance witnessed for a long time. They certainly personified the half witted, headless chicken portrayal intended by G&S as they blundered their way from one misunderstanding to the next.

Altogether a fascinating evening's entertainment, and extremely amusing - perhaps rather more amusing than G&S might have intended, but all the better for that! Well done, Abbey Singers.

David Horne

Saturday 7th May 2016

Carlisle: An Intimate Evening With Russell Watson "Songs from the Heart"

We were delighted to be asked again to accompany Russell at The Sands Centre for his 2016 tour visit to Carlisle. After a fun rehearsal session, when we re-acquainted ourselves with memories from 2015, singing in darkness and smoke with a very limited view of our conductor, we remembered to just "let the force be with us" when it came to our appearance in front of the large and enthusiastic audience in the evening, and it all went off very well.

Russell is a great guy, and came backstage to say thanks to us all afterwards. Only one complaint - that's the second year we've rehearsed "Nessun Dorma" and you didn't sing it again! Maybe in 2017 Russell - we're waiting!

(Photo courtesy C. Vaughan)

Saturday 19th December 2015

St Michael's church, Stanwix, Carlisle: "O Magnum Mysterium", a programme of Christmas music by Bach, John Tavener, Ola Gjeilo, Cornelius and others.

This concert was very well supported and, after much heart-searching by the choir given that Carlisle had been overwhelmed by floods just prior to the concert, we were very glad that we decided not to cancel the concert. Over £1100 was raised by the choir which was donated to the flood relief appeal.

Perhaps because of the dramatic events of the previous few days, the choir felt very uplifted by the response of the large audience.

Sunday 1st November 2015

St John's church, Keswick: "Call to Remebrance" with the Budapest Gabrieli Choir

A poignant programme of choral music by Stopford, Gjeilo, Farrant, Macmillan, Bartok and Howells, including Maurice Duruflé’s Requiem, was enjoyed by a satisfyingly large audience at Keswick.

In the first half, pieces were sung separately by ourselves and by the Budapest Gabrieli Choir, a Budapest-based amateur chamber choir, which, uniquely in Hungary, specializes in the study and performance of sacred music drawn from the repertoire of Anglican Cathedrals. Its Musical Director is Richárd Sólyom. The wonderful Requiem by Maurice Duruflé was sung by the combined choirs, which produced a magnificent sound in this exquisitely personal and intimate requiem by one of France's greatest composers.

We had an inspiring performance, and members of the Abbey Singers very much enjoyed hosting members of the Gabrieli choir and showing them the scenic attractions of Cumbria during their stay here!

Sunday 26th July 2015

Bristol Cathedral: Morning Eucharist and afternoon Evensong services

We were very privileged to be invited to sing the Sunday services at Bristol Cathedral and Jonathan chose a very inspiring set of music for us.

Our Eucharist Mass setting was the very powerful Louis Vierne "Messe Solennelle" which worked well in the long reach of the Cathedral's Nave, Choir and Chancel. This was complemented with Jonathan's own composition of the Ave Maria, this time with an organ accompaniment. Ed Taylor made the most of the Cathedral's organ, especially in the Vierne!

For Evensong, we sang the beautiful Ayleward Preces & Responses, together with the magnificent and moving Herbert Howells "St. Paul's Service" Magnificat and Nunc Dimmittis, again a good combination for our surroundings. Our anthem was Balfour Gardiner's "Evening Hymn". Our efforts were spurred on by the unusually large congregation for an Evensong service, which filled the Choir and a substantial part of the Nave, due to the presence of the Dickens Fellowship in the city that weekend.

Saturday 18th July 2015"

Our Lady & St. Joseph, Warwick Square, Carlisle: "Oh for a Muse of Fire!"

To commemorate the 600th Anniversary of Agincourt, we presented a musical reflection on the anniversary in the context of the glory and grief of war. The two central pieces were the complex and unusual Requiem composed by the Swiss-French composer Frank Martin, and the Oratorio "Agincourt" by Sir George Dyson, probably better known for his Anglican Evensong settings.

This music was interspersed with Shakespearean readings including "Oh for a Muse of Fire!" from Henry V, and shorter pieces of music - "Finlandia", and three short American songs by Aaron Copland, "Ching-a-Ring Chaw", "I got me a cat" and "Long time ago".

Saturday 16th May 2015

The Sands Centre, Carlisle: An Intimate Evening With Russell Watson "Up Close & Personal"

We had an interesting afternoon rehearsing to support "The Voice" and an exciting second half on stage with the spotlights and microphones for a varied collection of songs from 8.45 to around 10.30.

Including "Va Pensiero", "Funiculi Funicula", "Toreador", "Faith of the Heart" and "You raise me up", it was certainly an experience!

Saturday 25th April 2015

Carlisle Cathedral (sung in conjunction with Carlisle Cantate Children's Choir and the children of Petteril Bank Primary School as part of the Carlisle 2015 Classical season).

The Cataract of Lodore         (Adrian Self)

The Ballad of Semerwater

Open Thy Gates                   (Edgar Bainton)

Water Night                         (Eric Whitacre)

Ahoy! Sing for the Mary Rose (Alexander L'Estrange)

December 2014: Feast of Mary

The Abbey Singers Christmas concert, “Feast of Mary”, indeed provided a feast of festive fare to an appreciative audience at St James’, Denton Holme, on 20th December 2014. Around a common theme focussed on Mary, mother of Jesus, the music wove a tapestry notable for variety of style and era.

Victoria’s Magnificat Primi Toni and Ave Maria were a brave opening choice, given the challenges of this early music. After a slightly hesitant start the choir quickly warmed to its task and thrilled us with well-executed climaxes and sensitive pianissimo in more lyrical phrases. Pieces by Bruckner and Grieg provided a gentler contrast and contained some beautiful singing.

Flor Peeters’ Ave Maria Stellis , for organ, was convincingly played by Edward Taylor, after which we moved to Russia for Rachmaninoff’s Bogoroditse Devo , sung from the rear balcony of the Church: this provided an element of surprise and worked well. The acoustic helped to bring out the choir’s warmth of tone, evident in both singing locations.

A first performance of director Jonathan Millican’s Ave Maria successfully balanced lower voices with higher melodic lines. It was followed by “Gentle Mary” composed by Tamsin Jones, one of the choir altos. The choir coped well with both contemporary settings.

Howells’ "St. Pauls" Magnificat was movingly performed with excellent ensemble during tempo changes. It was good to see attention by singers to the director, so important in this music; this was evident throughout the concert.

The sizeable audience sang lustily with the choir in three well-known carols. Firmly in the 20th century, lesser known pieces by Mathias, Hamilton and Gjeilo were followed by Harold Darke’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” ; soprano and tenor solos were beautifully sung.

In Morton Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium tuning was excellent, as it was, for the most part, throughout. Diction was also clear throughout the concert.

Sisask’s Benedictio was another brave choice as a finale; here repetition combines with rhythmic excitement and jazz influences. It got my feet tapping at the end of a joyous evening.
Roger Brown

 

July 2014: In Memory of the First World War

The Abbey Singers returned to Keswick St John’s church on Saturday 19 July for a concert to commemorate the centenary of World War I.  A substantial audience enjoyed works by British composers, starting with Vaughan Williams’ rousing setting of The Old Hundredth, sung with depth and richness. Later came Holst’s setting of Turn Back, O man, an interesting inclusion with similar stirring harmonies. The Five Spirituals from the oratorio Child of Our Time by pacifist Michael Tippett were sung with passion and effective dynamic contrasts; and solo parts were ably sung by members of the choir both here and later.

A performance of six songs from Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad was a surprising item in a choral programme but proved movingly appropriate. Butterworth died in 1916 in the Battle of the Somme and the poignancy and wistfulness of the songs was beautifully rendered by Jonathan Millican accompanied by David Sutton (piano).

Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, dedicated to victims of the Kosovo crisis, formed the second half of the concert. An anti-war piece, it uses sections of the Mass combined with other poetry, set to plaintive weaving harmonies, or strong rhythms with energetic singing. There were martial trumpets played by Border Brass; ominous percussion; and a terrifying call to arms. The words were grim, making uncomfortable reading, and Tammy Jones sang a moving aria of loss. Edward Taylor accompanied the choir on the organ and also played Walton’s march Crown Imperial.

Overall, it was a thought-provoking evening with much fine music-making.
Janet Hornby

 

March 2014, Paris: Ville Musique

The Abbey Singers' concert on 29th March 2014 was devoted to French music of the late 19th and early 20th century, a style obviously loved by Jonathan Millican and the organist Edward Taylor. They brought a depth of understanding to the lush harmonies and warm textures.

The first half contained a mass by Louis Vierne, Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine and two secular unaccompanied songs by Saint-Saëns, Calme des Nuits  and  Les Fleurs et les Arbres which were beautifully contrasting, the first sonorous and legato, the second light and lively. Baritone Andrew Johnston sang two contrasting solo songs, Massenet’s Epause quelque brave Fille and Duparc’s Lamento with beautiful richness and even timbre.

The second half of the programme consisted entirely of Duruflé: Edward Taylor excelled as organist in these pieces – Duruflé had been a famous organist in his day. The choir sang a wonderful line in the Requiem. Andrew Johnston sang the baritone solos with expert energy. Joan Gordon’s exposed solo Pie Jesu was beautifully done, with a rich, bright alto sound.

Altogether a very enjoyable evening.
Mary Hitch

 

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