A Review of The Cecilia Consort’s
Silver Anniversary Concert
14th November, 2015 at Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton
Silver-toned sounds at a Silver Anniversary Concert
As a cornerstone of Newbury’s choral music scene for the last 25 years, The Cecilia Consort promised a “celebratory evening” for its Silver Anniversary Concert in the near-perfect acoustic of Douai Abbey on Saturday 14th November, and what a celebratory feast they gave us.
With the members of this auditioned, local choir dressed in their usual black attire, but adorned with silver trim for the occasion, their enthusiasm for enjoyment of the chosen programme was clear from the outset. Joined for many of the programme’s items by the rousing accompaniment of the 10-strong brass-players and timpanists, Bold as Brass, that jubilant mood spread quickly to the more than 200 strong audience assembled in the Abbey. Musical Director Janet Coxwell had balloted the choir earlier in the year for their favourite pieces to sing and the Cecilia Consort’s versatility was very much showcased in their choices. Opening with the first movement of the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, the choir moved straight onto a most exciting My Beloved Spake by 20th Century composer Patrick Hadley, before confidently criss-crossing the choral spectrum with pieces as diverse as Bob Chilcott’s Advent Antiphons and Herbert Howells’ Magnificat.
Helped by generous grants from both the Greenham Common Trust and the Vaughan Williams Charitable Trust, the singers gave a beautiful performance of the latter’s Mass in G Minor, this time under the baton of the choir’s Associate Director Patrick Craig, while Janet performed a stunning soprano solo alongside 3 former Cecilia Consort members: alto Kirsten Offer, tenor Matthew Smallwood and bass Gavin Jones. These were not the only familiar faces as, for 3 pieces in the programme, including a magnificent I Was Glad by Parry and contrasting, skin-tinglingly delicate Faire is the Heaven by William Harris, the current choir of close to 40 was joined by a further 13 former Cecilia Consort members. This choral group, despite its level of expertise, does have the feeling of a family to it and the warmth with which former members were greeted back into the ranks, plus a dedication in the programme of Howells’ Nunc Dimittis to ‘past remembered friends’ is testament to that fact.
The second half was graced with a virtuoso performance by the choir’s permanent accompanist and organist Steve Bowey of Patrick Hawes’ fiendishly difficult Toccata, which he tackled to the rapt amazement of singers and audience alike. Thereafter Britten’s beautiful and lyrical Hymn to St Cecilia, with several of the choir’s current members providing the solos. Rutter’s Gloria was the last big piece of the evening, performed with suitable verve and aplomb by organ, brass and singers before, as is the custom, the Abbey was restored to its role as a place of worship by a heartbreakingly delicate Panis Angelicus composed, appropriately, by this versatile and self-assured choir’s clearly inspirational director and mother-figure, Janet Coxwell herself.
The Cecilia Consort’s next performance, entitled Women in Music and Poetry is on Saturday 5th March, 2016, at St John’s Church in Newbury. See www.ceciliaconsort.org.uk for details.
Reviewer: Anne Allan