Here is a review of our recent concert, 'Eternal Light' performed in Douai Abbey:
Cecilia’s light fantastic Newbury Weekly News Oct 23rd 2014
Janet Coxwell’s Cecilia Consort has long been a valuable component of Newbury’s cultural life. On Saturday evening they gave us a comprehensive celebration of Eternal Light using different parts of Douai Abbey’s exceptional space.
Mostly the choir stood next to the organ, one piece was given from the back of the church, another from the furthest recesses of the apse. Is there a more wonderfully cleansing sound than a small choir accompanied by an organ? As well as being simply enjoyable, such concerts keep the flame of English religious music alive amidst declining numbers of choirs and congregations.
In the first half we heard pieces by three established masters of the genre from the past: Edward Bairstow's “Blessed City”, William Harris’ “Faire is the Heaven”,
Charles Wood’s “O Thou, the Central Orb” as well as offerings by John Rutter, Gabriel Jackson and Cecilia McDowall who are still with us.
I can confirm that English church music is alive and well and that Elgar’s elegiac Nimrod from the Enigma Variations easily survives a transfer to voices in a version in which John Cameron has cleverly fitted the words of the Lux Aeterna to that most emblematic of British pieces.
A special excitement was the inclusion of local musician Fiona Bennett’s short “Let the Light Enter”, a beautifully crafted setting of Frances Ellen Watkins Harper’s description of the dying Goethe requesting to see daylight one last time.
Fiona Bennett’s vocabulary is accessible and immediate and her deft imagery and rich harmonies were gently beguiling. At the words “Softly let the balmy sunshine play around my dying bed”, we could all but see the aged poet straining his failing eyes for a last glimpse of God’s light. And what a bonus to hear this memorable work again as an encore from the depths of the apse!
The whole second half was given over to Howard Goodall’s Requiem, Eternal Light, for which we had to adjust our musical compasses. Here, unlike the first half, was a work rooted in film, pop and musicals (like Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Requiem from the 1980s) but with definite connections to the ethos of former centuries. Sections of the Vulgate were mixed with English poetry and well-known hymns, with recitative-style unison declamation next to lush textures pitting one, two or three of the choir’s able soloists against a curtain of vowels from the choir.
Organist Steve Bowey deserves a medal for steadfast support throughout but special thanks and praise be to Janet Coxwell (who also gave us a couple of fine solos) and her wonderful singers for an evening of unalloyed pleasure and edification.
You can listen to excerpts from previous concerts with the following links:
Bob Chilcott Little Jazz Mass: March 2014 concert in St Nicolas' Church, Newbury
Paul Mealor Ubi Caritas: November 2012 concert in Douai Abbey
Duruflé Four Motets: February 2013 concert in St George's Church, Wash Common