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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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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