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Past Concerts with Some Reviews
The following is a list of the concerts performed by The Abbey Singers since 2001. Where there is a review of the concert, there is a hyperlink to the review given below.
December 2016 St. Michael's church, Stanwix, Carlisle - "Gloria! A christmas concert"
July 2016 Stanwix Theatre - "The Pirates of Penzance" (Semi-staged)
May 2016 The Sands Centre - "Songs from the Heart" with Russell Watson
December 2015 St. Michael's church, Stanwix, Carlisle - "O Magnum Mysterium"
November 2015 St John's church, Keswick - "Call to Remembrance" with the Budapest Gabrieli Choir
July 2015 Bristol Cathedral - Eucharist and Evensong: Vierne & Howells
July 2015 The Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph - Oh for a muse of fire!
May 2015 The Sands Centre - An intimate evening with Russell Watson
April 2015 Carlisle Cathedral - Ahoy! Sing for The Mary Rose
December 2014 St. James Church, Carlisle - Feast of Mary July 2014 St. John's Church, Keswick - The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace March 2014 St. James Church, Carlisle - Paris: Ville Musique December 2013 The Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph - Monteverdi Christmas Vespers June 2013 Stanwix Theatre - The Gondoliers March 2013 Carlisle Cathedral - A Feast of Music for Voices and Brass December 2012 The Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph - O Magnum Mysterium July 2012 St. John's Church, Keswick - 50th Anniversary Concert July 2012 Carlisle Cathedral, as part of Carlisle Festival - Celebration! March 2012 St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle - Agnus Dei - Music for Passiontide December 2011 The Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph - A German Christmas July 2011 Carlisle Cathedral (as part of Carlisle Festival) - Zimbe! May 2011 St. Barnabas' Church, Carlisle - Madrigals April 2011 St. Patrick's Church, Patterdale - Madrigals January 2011 Austin Friars'/St. Monica's School - "No Small Wonder" October 2010 St. Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle - German Tour programme June 2010 Grasmere Parish Church - A Lakeland Celebration December 2009 The Church of Our Lady & St. Joseph, Carlisle - In Dulci Jubilo September 2009 St. Cuthbert's Carlisle June 2009 Crosthwaite Church, Keswick April 2009 St. John Passion December 2008 Lanercost October 2008 Newcastleton June 2008 Sedbergh April 2008 Sweetest Notes, St Cuthbert's December 2007 Messiah, Cathedral October 2007 Over the Rainbow, Penrith and St. Cuthbert's July 2007 Burgh-by-Sands April 2007 St. Mark Passion February 2007 Appleby December 2006 Magnificat (FAB): Cathedral and Keswick October 2006 Favourite Things: Snowball Farewell May 2006 (7th) Let us Garlands Bring, Lanercost and Keswick May 2006 (2nd) Seivewright Concert December 2005 World Christmas, Hawick and St. Cuthbert's October 2005 Fund raiser at Tithe Barn June 2005 Somewhere Over the Rainbow St. Cuthbert's March 2005 St Matthew Passion December 2004 (FAB) Cathedral and Keswick September 2004 Tithe Barn July 2004 Mozart Requiem with WWS etc May 2004 Lanercost and Keswick: Hurd, Shearing, & Rutter November 2003 St Cecilia, Cathedral Handel Ode to St. Cuthbert's October 2003 German Tour July 2003 Penrith: Bax, etc April 2003 St Cuthbert's: Allegri and Britten December 2002 (FAB) Cathedral and Keswick July 2002 African Sanctus: Cathedral April 2002 40th Anniversary Concert, Keswick December 2001 Britten: St. Nicolas, Cathedral December 2001 Hawick Music Club July 2001 Wadeley Concert, Cathedral June 2001 Joint concert with Cantate, Carlisle PA: St Cuthberts April 2001 Schutz, Finzi, Dvorak: Cathedral
Gilbert & Sullivan
"Pirates of Penzance"
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.
A programme of Christmas music by Bach, John Tavener, Ola Gjeilo, Cornelius and others.
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.
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.
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.
Christmas Concert 2013: Monteverdi "Christmas Vespers" & Adrian Self "Hodie Christus natus est"
The Abbey Singers, directed by Jonathan Millican,
presented a very ambitious concert at Our Lady and St Joseph’s Church in
Carlisle. The first half of the concert was taken up with a complete
performance of Claudio Monteverdi’s ‘Christmas Vespers’, a sequence
of Latin Psalm settings followed by the hymn ‘Christe Redemptor Omnium’.
Each psalm is introduced by a plainsong intonation, and then the verses
are set for various parts of the choir, and sometimes for the whole choir.
One felt that the choir was most at home where they were all singing
together: there were some signs of uncertainty where verses were allocated
to individual voices or groups. However, the performers did make the whole
work flow together – always a problem in music of this kind, and they
did look as if they were enjoying themselves – which counts for a lot in
a choral concert. A notable feature of Monteverdi’s setting of the final
hymn in this sequence was the very modern-sounding chromaticisms, which
injected a new level of interest and enthusiasm towards the end of a long
A feast of music for voices and brass - Saturday 9th March 2013, Carlisle Cathedral
Cumbria Rural Choirs were joined by Abbey Singers,
choristers from Carlisle Cathedral and brass and percussion from the
Manchester Camerata for a feast of music for voices and brass in their
annual concert, held in Carlisle Cathedral.
Review: "O Magnum Mysterium" Our Lady and St. Joseph's Church, Carlisle Thursday 20th December 2012
A pre-Christmas evening with the Abbey Singers under their new Musical Director, Jonathan Millican. A lovely night out with two courses. The meaty first half was Bach's Magnificat in E flat, with Ed Taylor at the organ.
A slightly hesitant beginning of the first movement was offset by a fine sound, and considerable volume in the louder passages. Despite a modest number of Tenors, there was excellent balance between the vocal parts, and also between the chorus and the organ. The balance between the organ and the soloists was less sensitive, at least where I was sitting near the back, i.e. near the organ. One or two of the soloists were completely drowned, and a couple were invisible behind the conductor. Perhaps having them step forward would help? In any case, it was a bold and almost entirely successful venture to have all the solos in this very challenging piece sung by members of the choir.
Jonathan Millican held the Chorus together well, particularly in the Omnes Generationes, but some of the running passages became detached from the organ in patches. The two final choruses made a fine, secure finale, perhaps from relief! It is a stiff hill to climb.
The second course was sensational, particularly the concert's title piece, Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium. All but the very first entry were perfect, silent breathing, excellent open vowels and non-explosive "Ts". We were wrapped, and rapt, in a magical sound, with a lovely, perfect ending.
The Carols were excellent, John Gardner's Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day is one of my favourites, with a wonderfully dense texture. Vaughn Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols was lovely, with superb solo work by baritone Geoffrey Gray. The choral accompaniment was particularly fine, while the lush harmonies in the Herefordshire Carol raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
The last course, (cheese and biscuits?) was Benedictio by Urmas Sisask. I know some of the chorus were anxious about this. They needn't have been, it was a fine ending to a good evening out, and a great start for the new Director.
Review: CHORAL CONCERT AT St. JOHN'S CHURCH, KESWICK - Thursday 19th July 2012
The choral concert at St.John's Church last Thursday celebrated the work of two of this county's foremost choral groups. It is fifty years since Andrew Seivewright, when Master of the Music at Carlisle Cathedral, founded the Abbey Singers, a group which has a high reputation of excellence both here and abroad. 'Carlisle Cantate' is an off-shoot of the Cathedral's Outreach programme working with junior schools and consists of around thirty singers below the age of fifteen.
The concert opened with both choirs combining together in a performance of Orlando Gough's 'Traditional Values' a piece commissioned by 'Making Music' as part of the London 2012 Cultural Olympiad. The work celebrates three aspects of Britishness - tea, weather and cricket and is suffused with influences of pop music, gospel, reggae, calypso, bhanga and gawwali and reflects the diversity of cultures in our nation.
Singing alone and entirely from memory we were then treated to a group of songs including 'Feeling' good', 'What a wonderful world', 'I just can't wait to be King' and television music sung by 'Cantate'. It was a real joy to listen to these young voices singing with such clarity, excellent tuning, discipline and enthusiasm. How fortunate the young people are to work with their musical directors Jonathan Millican and Edward Taylor.
For their fiftieth Anniversary the Abbey Singers commissioned a work from well-known local composer Adrian Self, a setting of Southey's poem 'The cataract of Lodore'. Performed by both choirs this is wonderful and highly effective vocal work full of delightful word-painting and contrasts with very effective percussion and piano accompaniment. This work deserves to establish itself as an important part of twenty-first century choral repertoire and the Abbey Singers are to be congratulated on commissioning it.
The second half of the programme featured one work Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's 'Hiawatha's 'Wedding Feast' a setting of Longfellow's poem. The warmth of the Abbey Singers voices underpinned by some excellent male voices was ideal for this work. Throughout the concert the singers performed with good balance, clear diction, musical phrasing, good dynamic contrasts and rhythmic security all under the excellent direction of Edward Taylor. Chris Hardman's voice was just right for the tenor solo and special mention should be made of David Sutton's superb and seemingly effortless piano accompaniment which did so much to support the choirs. Andrew Seivewright would have been delighted to hear his choir in such fine voice and know that his work is still continuing. In August Jonathan Millican takes over as the choir's musical director and we all wish him well as he takes the choir forward.
Review: Saturday 14 July 2012, as part of Carlisle Festival - CELEBRATION !
To mark their 50th anniversary the Abbey Singers, partnered by the children's community choir Carlisle Cantate, performed a unique programme in the Cathedral on Saturday evening July 14th 2012. The centre-piece was the first performance of The Cataract of Lodore, commissioned for the occasion from Cumbrian composer Adrian Self. This is an inspired setting of Robert Southey's poem, written in 1820 when he was Poet Laureate in response to badgering by his children to write them a poem about the Lodore Falls. The combination of the strong voices of the Abbey Singers, accurate and articulate in what must have been highly challenging cross-rhythmic polyphony, the rushing excitement of the children's chants, and virtuoso performances on percussion by Jonathan Millican and on piano by David Sutton, combined to produce an astounding impact. When the torrent of Southey's some 150 consecutive adjectives finally splashed into Derwent Water, there was a stunned silence and the audience knew that they had witnessed a spectacle perhaps as striking as that which greeted the first prehistoric wanderers who climbed the forested gorge of Lodore.
The concert opened with another 2012 composition "Traditional Values" by Orlando Gough, commissioned by Making Music for the London Cultural Olympiad. Three riffs of poetry by John Agard celebrate the Britishness of tea, weather, and cricket. The changing rhythms and rapid words for the two choirs, solo percussion and piano must have required a great deal of homework, rehearsal and direction. The result was a confident performance, convincing the audience that none of the performers was even worried about getting lost.
Carlisle Cantate then gave us a rich mix of songs, all learned by heart, with musical sensitivity inspired by Edward Taylor and Jonathan Millican, who leapt with versatility from podium to piano. The singing of Louis Armstrong's What a wonderful world, especially the hushed passages, was particularly beautiful, truly challenging the audience to do rather better than we are at present at looking after the planet for future generations.
The evening closed with a performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, celebrating the centenary of the composer's death. This was clever programming, linking Longfellow with Southey, contemporaneous romantic poets across the pond from each other. The final antiphonal climax between the organ and the piano (replacing orchestra in this arrangement) formed a fitting triumphal exit for Jeremy Suter as Choral Director of the Abbey Singers. Over 11 years he has grown and sustained a reputation for eclectic programmes, meticulously directed, which have developed the musical awareness of both singers and audiences in Carlisle.
Agnus Dei - Music for Passiontide, St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle - Saturday 24th March 2012
When we arrived at St Cuthbert's Church on Saturday evening Mr Jeremy Suter was limbering up The Abbey Singers as though they were preparing for an Olympian feat. And what a feat it was. Focussing on the passion of Christ, they sang works by Byrd, Morley, Tallis, Schutz, Brahms, Barber and Finzi. Ian Hare, Chairman of the Cumbrian Society of Organists, gave two fine organ solos by Bach and Elgar. With such a lot of music to think about I asked a young lady on my right what she enjoyed most. Her choice, Barber's Agnus Dei, started life as a string quartet and has been popularised through its use as film music. The choir rose well to its challenges with the tenors and basses providing a rich and surging background to the plaintive pleading of the sopranos. Richard, on my left, loved the Brahms pieces with their atmospheric warmth, colour and transparency. But, for me, Schutz's Seven Last Words was the most interesting and moving, with the three different voices of the Evangelist. Kath Peacock's sonorous alto took gold medal of the evening as she is retiring after forty years singing with the Abbey Singers......Judith West
Many a chamber choir sticks to the standard repertoire of Renaissance and Baroque music, along with corresponding late 20th century compositions. Not so the Abbey Singers, directed by Jeremy Suter, who gave a concert based around Hugo Distler's 'The Christmas Story'.
Distler was a German composer who flourished in the 1930s, but fell foul of the authorities because of his strong connections with the church. He studied very closely the music of Heinrich Schütz, who lived 100 years before J S Bach, and as an organist he was very interested in the return to the styles and sounds of 18th century organs and organ music. The harmonic language of 'The Christmas Story' however, comes over as clearly of the 1930s, whilst using some of the structural patterns of earlier periods. And the word-painting which is such a characteristic of this piece, is also of its time, though reflecting its notable predecessors.The music clearly makes major technical demands on the singers. The whole piece is unaccompanied, and the chords given at the start of each section, whilst necessary, jarred on the ear and interrupted the flow. The choir did, however, rise to the occasion and produced a convincing performance. There were notable solo parts taken by members of the choir, Susan Fullelove, Anne O'Mahoney and Geoffrey Gray. Soloists brought in for the occasion were Cameron Mitchell, a former Cathedral Chorister and certainly a voice to look out for in the future, and Philip Harper, a current Cathedral Chorister. The performance as a whole came over as rather understated, as if the choir were accustomed to singing in a more resonant acoustic. The piece is structured around variations on the hymn 'Es ist ein Ros entsprungen' (known in English as 'A great and mighty wonder'), and these moments, if no others, might have been the opportunity for a more forthright delivery.
The second half of the evening, still on the 'German Christmas' theme, was quite different. Perhaps the music was technically less challenging, but the sound was much more confident. The addition of Eden Brass, four very competent local brass players, gave a new sound and a new focus. These players all appear to come primarily from the brass band tradition rather than from orchestral brass, so they produce the warm sound which is so much a part of that tradition. The first item in the second half had the choir initially at the west end of the church. The sound from there was much more direct and focussed. A pity, perhaps, that more of the concert was not done that way round. We had a variety of items using the brass and the choir together and separately, some sacred, some secular, in a well balanced programme. Two items, 'Maria Wiegenlied' sung by Mary Miller and Philip Ledger's 'Still, still, still' sung by the choir, had an important piano accompaniment played by David Sutton. It was a pity that Mr Sutton had to make do with a very poor electronic instrument which did no justice to the music or to his playing. In the final item, the audience was invited to join in. Nothing new in that. But it was 'Hark, the herald-angels sing' - in German. This was evidently a new experience for many, but everybody joined in with enthusiasm.
Altogether, a most interesting and enjoyable evening, and well worth the effort put in by the performers.
It was a very entertaining and ambitious programme. It began innocently enough with some well-known Elizabethan madrigals, but continued with three much more exhibitionist pieces by Monteverdi and two of Howells' challenging recreations of the Elizabethan style. After the interval, they sang Debussy's three chansons by Charles of Orleans, beautifully atmospheric pieces with highly independent vocal lines and shifting harmonies. Next was a section devoted to 'Sleep', chiefly a homage to their founder the late Andrew Seivewright, a section of whose 'Clouds of Glory' was most movingly performed. The last section consisted of four of Bob Chilcott's highly entertaining and rhythmically complex folk song settings. The programme was articulated by organ and piano pieces, excellently played by Jeremy Suter and David Sutton. Overall the singers responded well to the demands of the programme, which they clearly enjoyed performing. A few lapses of intonation in the Debussy and misread rhythms in the Chilcott did not prevent the whole programme being much appreciated by a small but enthusiastic audience. The choir has gained markedly in confidence since its successful visit to Germany in the autumn and their Director is expecting great things of them.
In probably the first musical event of its kind, two of Carlisle’s music groups joined forces at St Cuthbert’s Church on the 26th September to present a very unusual event. Entitled “In the Mood”, the concert was presented by the Abbey Singers chamber choir, and the Lazy River Jazz Band. Each group is well-known locally in its own field, but the decision to appear and perform together was a bold decision by both, as their different kinds of music would often be thought incompatible.
Subtle and relaxed direction from their leaders, Jeremy Suter for the singers, and Chris Perrin for the band, set the tone for the evening. The programme alternated separate items from the normal repertoire of each group, with more adventurous collaborations. The singers performed two groups of high art choral songs: the band played four sequences of vintage and traditional jazz, and joined the singers for joint performances of three groups of popular standards in a jazz idiom.
The choral singing was well up to the Abbey Singers’ usual high standard, always precise and confident even in the most difficult passages. The Jazz Band created an exciting and energetic sound, full of imagination and good humour. The highlights of the evening were the combined performances, with each member demonstrating fine skill and musicianship, working together in special arrangements which combined the talents and styles of all into a unique mixture of lively rhythm, melody and harmony which left the audience at St Cuthbert’s wanting more.
The Carlisle-based Abbey Singers have been a leading force in North Cumbrian music-making for almost 50 years and, as demonstrated last Saturday in the “Music at Crosthwaite” series, can be guaranteed to attract a large and enthusiastic audience. Under their acclaimed director Jeremy Suter, Master of Music at Carlisle Cathedral, they presented a cleverly planned sequence of choral works by three of the composers whose special anniversaries are being widely celebrated in 2009.
The recital was bounder by two of the large-scale Coronation Anthems composed by Handel (d.1759) to mark the accession of George the Second in 1727. The Singers capturer appropriately both the joyfulness of their opening “Let thy hand be strengthened” and the ceremonial grandeur of their much-loved finale, “Zadok the Priest”. The central pivot of the programme was music by Purcell (b.1659). Two predominantly optimistic anthems, “I was glad”, and the well-known 'Bell Anthem' (“Rejoice in the Lord always”) framed the poignant and sombre 'Funeral Sentence for the death of Queen Mary', which drew from the choir perhaps the most intense singing of the evening.
The Mendelssohn (b.1809) movements, which separated Purcell and Handel in each 'half' of the concert, provided marked contrasts of style and texture. They gave the choir opportunity to display its lyrical prowess and warmth of tone, notably in “How lovely are the messengers” from the oratorio 'St Paul', and in the familiar anthem for soprano and chorus “Hear my Prayer”. In which Mary Miller was the accomplished and compelling soloist. Also expressive soloists were Peter Bowyer and Geoffrey Gray, in the duet “Now we are the ambassadors” - again from 'St Paul'. We heard in addition a shorted choral work by Mendelssohn, “Grant us Peace” which underlined his startlingly early gift and forward-looking idiom.
Throughout the evening the hidden pillar of strength was Crosthwaite's (and formerly the Cathedral’s) organist, Ian Hare, whose virtuosity and understanding of his splendid instrument meant that the Choir was constantly enhanced by the firm rhythm and imaginative colouring of his accompaniments. He also impressed with two organ solos: Handel's sparkling Organ Concerto in F major, and Mendelssohn's truly imposing Sonata No. 3 in A. As the organiser of this series of concerts, which ends with a 'cello and harpsichord recital on 22 July, he is to be warmly congratulated on bring The Abbey Singer to Keswick for our delight.
B.R., For Music at Crosthwaite – The Keswick Reminder
The Palm Sunday performance was a truly thrilling account of this great work - a dramatic setting of words from St John's Gospel, telling of Christ's trial and crucifixion.
Jeremy Suter, Master of Music at the Cathedral, directed the combined forces of Carlisle's Abbey Singers, the visiting Gabrieli Choir from Budapest, the cathedral choristers and youth choir, a fine team of soloists and the Northern Chamber Orchestra, with Edward Taylor, organ.
In unifying this large number of performers, Jeremy's firm direction and judgement of tempi was exemplary, and we were assured of a performance of very high standard. Click photo to see large version.
The task of the Evangelist, sung by Stephen Brown, is to narrate events, and his clear, ringing tenor voice responded to every nuance of the text. Paul im Thurn delivered the words of Christ with quiet dignity, contrasting with the authority of Geoffrey Gray's vibrant bass in the role of Pilate. Susan Jordan and Peter Bowyer were reliable in their minor roles as the maid and the servant.
The chorales were a notable feature of the performance, with their wonderful harmonic changes and contrapuntal effects. Here the fresh voices of the choristers and youth choir added extra vibrancy, and each chorale had its own momentum and character. The choruses depicting the mob who demand the death of Jesus were sung with savage intensity, supported by equally incisive playing by the talented Northern Chamber Orchestra.
In Bach's passions, the solo arias contemplate and comment on the events taking place. Soprano Lisa Swayne's voice is strong and clear, with fine diction, and her expressive final aria was beautifully matched by gently sobbing woodwind and continuo. Stephen Brown, in addition to his tour de force as the Evangelist, sang the tenor arias with enviable ease. Cathedral lay clerk Adam Crewe's light and flexible alto voice came into its own in his second aria, accompanied by organ and cello playing of authentic style. Jonathan Millican is an elegant singer with a refined tone, and his bass arias were particularly pleasing, especially that which followed the death of Jesus, accompanied by a hushed and beautifully sung chorale.
The final Chorus, a prayer that Christ may rest after his suffering and that Christian souls will see him again in heaven, closed an evening of intense emotion and drama, convincingly conveyed by Jeremy Suter et al, who richly deserved our gratitude and praise.
On the evening of Saturday 13th December, a capacity audience gathered in Lanercost Priory for the Abbey Singers’ Christmas concert. The ancient building is always a fine setting for musical performance, but a uniquely seasonal atmosphere was created by lovely decorations for the Lanercost Christmas Tree Festival.
Part One of ‘Messiah’ tells the Christmas story, and can stand alone without the rest of the work. With fine soloists (mainly from the choir), and Edward Taylor, organ, Director Jeremy Suter presented a well-paced performance. Although very well known, the music sounded fresh and original, as well suited to chamber choir and organ as to the large choral society and orchestra we often hear.
After a short interval, the carols began with some traditional favourites, before developing into a stunning choral recital, the singers being ably accompanied by David Sutton, Piano, and Naomi Dodd, flute and percussion.
An assured performance of the fast-moving and complex ‘Tomorrow shall be my dancing day’ by John Gardner was followed by a sustained and peaceful setting of ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ by Morten Lauridsen. An interesting elaboration of the simple ‘Silent Night’, by Philip Stopford contrasted with John Rutter’s ‘Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’.
A fine climax to the performance was provided by Bob Chilcott’s lavish arrangment of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’, originally written to showcase a wide variety of first-class choirs in many different styles, where the Singers transformed themselves to play all the roles superbly.
Abbey Singers excelled themselves in this concert, filling the building with a subtle blend of sound, speaking to the audience as only vocal music can, communicating their joy in singing.
The Choir looked and sounded good as they surrounded Fine Arts Brass, who sat centre-stage in the vast area of the Cathedral chancel with the Great East window as a backdrop.
The programme, music in celebration of the Virgin Mary, was thoughtfully devised and time stood still as the unmistakable sound of the opening chorus from Bach’s Magnificat heralded the concert.
What followed was a series of contrasting musical cameos. After the sound of unaccompanied voices, Fine Arts Brass played music sometimes quiet, sometimes loud, ’kicking’ the wonderful Cathedral acoustic into life again. The sound had hardly echoed away before the choir was singing Edgar Pettman’s arrangement of an old Basque melody Gabriel‘s Message. Bob Chilcott’s Nova! was well managed, the music being both rhythmically and harmonically challenging. The first half of the concert ended with Buxtehude’s Magnificat. The blend of voices, brass and organ was most impressive together with the fine soloists.
After the interval, we had music from Shephard, Hadley, Irving Berlin and Tavener. Fine Arts Brass excelled themselves with their director, Stephen Robert’s, arrangement of Vaughan Williams’ Sussex Carol for brass and organ in the form of a Toccata. This was followed by Bruckner’s Ave Maria - a stunning contrast in unaccompanied singing. The finale was Finzi’s Magnificat with voices, organ and brass - a thoughtful conclusion to a wonderful concert.
Congratulations to Jeremy Suter, the conductor and Director of the Abbey Singers on an imaginative programme. John Robinson showed what a fine organist he is, using the vast array of tone colours available on the Cathedral organ.
THE ABBEY SINGERS’ WORLD CHRISTMAS TOUR COMES TO CARLISLE
From the first notes, sung by a high soprano voice from the gallery of St Cuthbert’s Church Carlisle, to the final rousing chords of ‘Hark the Herald Angels’ enthusiastically sung by choir and audience, the Abbey Singers’ concert for this Christmas season was a great success.
Their Musical Director Jeremy Suter had prepared a demanding programme of carols from the five continents, and the singers rose to the occasion. Framed by some well-known favourites, we heard little-known words and music from the 16th century, along with many new carol settings, and delightful piano interludes played by the choir’s accompanist, Helen Snowball.
The ageless images of Christmas recur in carol writing across the world, with different colourings in different ethnic settings. The programme included some fiendishly difficult singing, yet the most exotic and demanding pieces brought out the best in the choir. I particularly enjoyed the Latvian “Bring us Fire, Bring us Light”, the wonderful Nigerian setting of “Unto us a Child is Born”, and Alan Simmons’ setting of “Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day”, a new version, but still true to the English carol tradition.
From their magical soft singing in the lullabies, to the glorious songs of celebration, the Abbey Singers performed with precision, finesse, and evident enjoyment, holding the attention of the audience throughout. The happiness and the mystery of Christmas were perfectly captured on this adventurous musical journey.
If The Abbey Singers have a fine reputation for polished performances of predominately classical material, they’re pretty terrific when they’re having a bit of a night off too, judging from this eclectic programme of English and American music.
From classics through Beatles and Bach (though I don’t suppose the great man ever envisaged his piece being played in Carlisle by three ladies with recorders) to Barber shop Quartets (love the waistcoats, chaps) to the final, rousing, explosive crescendo of Rhythm of Life, this was an evening of phenomenal versatility and foot-tapping fun.
There really was something for everyone: we were on familiar territory with The Turtle Dove, a quietly rhythmic humming providing a marvellous tonal backdrop for Geoffrey Gray’s solo bass. Sarah Gait a startlingly young yet highly accomplished ’cellist, followed a Chopin sonata with a sprightly Humoresque before the Singers, again unaccompanied, came back with a Beatles medley that did full justice to the poetic purity of the lyrics.
The folksy Li’l Liza Jane and Go Tell Aunt Rody (the old grey goose is dead - an early case of avian flu, surely), sea shanties and Old McDonald charmed, Frank’s rendition of “I am my own Grandpa” was nicely daft and satisfying for anyone having difficulty controlling their desire to singalong but for me, the real joy was listening to the quite astonishing richness of the Abbey Singers’ unaccompanied voices soaring into the mighty beams of the wonderfully atmospheric Tithe Barn. Brilliant!
And as Abba, who snuk in somewhere after the wine and refreshments, said “Thank You for the Music”. Thanks indeed.
A substantial audience in Carlisle Cathedral enjoyed yet another fine Christmas concert by the Abbey Singers.
On this occasion, the choir was supported by the internationally acclaimed Fine Arts Brass, who excited with playing of superb dexterity, rhythm and, at times, ear splitting vigour. Their solo programme, which ranged from an arrangement of Michael Praetorius’s carol, ‘A Great and Mighty Wonder’, through Schutz, Bach and Prokofiev to, eventually, a drunken rendition of ‘Come, Landlord, fill the flowing bowl’, demonstrated to the full, the range of talents on offer by this splendid group.
The choir began the evening with music from the 16th century and here the formation adopted for the evening of two curved rows of singers, eighteen in each row, stood them in good stead, giving a stereophonic effect in which the interweaving vocal parts were clearly heard. Susan Jordan featured in a short Christmas selection from the Messiah, which ended with the ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ and in the second half of the concert, Christmas arrangements by Paul Trept and John Gardner were, in their turn, jovial, attractive and highly entertaining. Intonation and ensemble were almost impeccable, although a slight lag in the bass line was occasionally evident.
Naomi Dodd and Michael Jay expertly supplied timpani and percussion in Rutter’s Gloria. Here a more compact choir formation may well have helped to focus an unequal balance of the voices against the intense sound of the brass, but there were many thrilling moments in this extrovert piece. Jeremy Suter conducted the whole evening and was ably assisted by David Gibbs on the organ.
The feast-day of St Cecilia, patron saint of music, was the occasion for the Abbey Singers' major autumn concert in the cathedral on 22nd November, with a programme of six works composed in her honour by great English composers.
The Singers presented a strong line-up of soloists, both visitors and members of the choir, and were supported by a very fine instrumental ensemble, whose opening piece, an overture by William Boyce, set the tone of the evening with authentic style and grace.
In their unaccompanied singing, Abbey Singers demonstrated delicacy and impressive unanimity, vocal balance, and presence of tone which brought out the full scope of the settings by the early composer Peter Philips, and of the late 20th century work by Bernard Rose which achieved a haunting beauty. The most technically demanding music of the evening was Britten's 'Hymn to St Cecilia', setting words by W.H.Auden: this was a most convincing performance of a work which requires wide variation of tonal colour reflecting both the serene and the darker sides of Auden's poetry. The thrice-repeated invocation "Blessed Cecilia, appear in visions to all musicians, appear and inspire", produced moments of mystical magic.
In the larger, oratorio-style works by Purcell and Handel, the balance between the orchestra and singers was well-judged, and the complex richness of the music filled the building, especially in the most exciting movements of Handel's 'Ode on St Cecilia's Day', set to fine words by John Dryden, where the choir threw caution to the winds and produced some wonderfully thrilling sounds, making the cathedral ring in response.
This was a very substantial programme, yet concentration and audience attention did not waver. Jeremy Suter's authoritative musical direction takes no prisoners, but its good-humoured lightness of touch and attention to detail brought the very best out of the performers, achieving in the most emotional passages an intense intuitive engagement with the music which communicated itself to the audience in a very powerful way.
At this impressive standard, Abbey Singers future concerts are certainly not to be missed!
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