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Magnificats and Fantasias

A Christmas programme from Derby Cathedral Choir
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


What's the opposite of an encore? We need a word for an additional piece at the beginning of a concert. The preliminary spoken health and safety announcement regarding procedure in the event of an emergency was, on this occasion, sung to Anglican chant by the men of Derby Cathedral Choir. It got the message across, while also putting everyone in a nicely relaxed frame of mind for the main part of the concert (Derby Cathedral, Derby, UK, 15 December 2007).

This was billed as 'Four Magnificats and Two Fantasias'. It began with the Magnificat attributed to Buxtehude, a charming work, whoever wrote it. The Cathedral Choir gave a glowing account of music well off their usual beaten track. Stanford's Magnificats in G and A, on the other hand, are meat and drink to most Anglican choirs, and they were handled with the sure-footed expertise of singers who have this music in their bones. Samuel Mount was the confident treble soloist in the G major setting. It was interesting to hear the A major setting sounding even more Brahmsian than usual in its original version with orchestra.

The other Magnificat, after the interval, was the one by John Rutter. It's a work I can happily live without, but it got a committed performance here, with Anna Gould as the beautifully clear, bright-toned, though occasionally under-powered, soprano soloist.

The two fantasias were by Vaughan Williams. The one on 'Greensleeves', coming between the Stanford pieces, was given a warm, perfectly scaled, performance. The concert ended with Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Christmas Carols, the composer's first homage to the folk carols that became a life-long enthusiasm. The performance had a firm grasp of the work's overall shape, beginning in timeless quiet, and gradually expanding into a big celebratory climax before receding at the end.

Throughout, the Heart of England Orchestra's polished playing gave the singers dependable support.

Copyright © 22 December 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK



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