Returning to a favourite venue (St John’s Church, with its sparkling acoustic), the choir is poised to captivate its loyal audience with a programme of dramatic and resonant music.
This will be a unique concert with a dual centrepiece – Igor Stravinsky’s Mass and Zoltán Kodály’s Missa Brevis. Two very different, yet equally moving, settings of the age-old text, both written around the time of the Second World War. Each illustrates the indomitability of the human spirit, embodying the capacity for hope and faith during some of the darkest times the world has known.
Stravinsky stands firm as one of the greatest composers of the 20th century and has won widespread admiration for the elegant power and fresh expression of his, at times, controversial music. His Mass is one of only a handful of un-commissioned works, and thus it is believed that Stravinsky was driven to write it as part of his own personal spiritual journey.
“The Church knew what the psalmist knew: Music praises God. Music is better able to praise him than the building of the church and all its decoration; it is the Church's greatest ornament.”- Stravinsky
Kodály lived in Hungary during the Nazi occupation. He began writing his Missa Brevis in the cellar of a Benedictine convent in Budapest and completed it in the basement of the Opera House during the siege of the city. Despite its dark beginnings, the Mass shimmers with light and energy, concluding with grandeur.
Two shorter works round out the programme, Glinka’s Cherubic Hymn and Stravinsky’s Ave Maria; both choral gems in their own right. The choir will be accompanied by well-known local organist, Steve Bowey.
Review by Charles Medlam
5th July 2018 Newbury Weekly News
St. Johns Church was an oasis of cool and contemplation on Saturday evening with rich rewards for those who managed to tear themselves away from the barbecue or some vitally important football match. The Cecilia Consort’s concerts are always an education as well as a delight and you come away enriched and better educated, but without feeling you have been lectured at. Director Janet Coxwell’s latest interesting slice of the repertoire was “Faith in Adversity”, with works by two Russians and a Hungarian.
They opened with Glinka’s aptly-named Cherubic Hymn of 1837, a few simple verses, steeped in Russian orthodox mystery, delivered for the most part pianissimo and with a delicious stillness. Full marks to the choir for singing in Russian! Two Stravinsky pieces followed: his uncomplicated, almost homophonic setting of the familiar Ave Maria text, and the Mass, premiered in Milan in1948. It was difficult to make friends with all sections of this eclectic work, which has too little relief from eastern chanting and some quite acerbic textures. The sanctus stood out with its interesting references to French medieval polyphony.
There were no such difficulties with Kodaly’s Missa Brevis, composed mostly during the war-time occupation of Budapest. Here overt romanticism, finely crafted counterpoint and wide differences of mood and texture all indicated that Kodaly can easily sit at the same table as the greats of western church music. Definitely one to listen to again! (PS was that a voice from heaven or the conductor herself helping out with the stratospheric soprano parts?). “Organist” Steve Bowey battled impressively with the church’s not wholly adequate upright piano in the lengthy introit and postlude. With the main St. Johns organ under repair, would not some sort of small electronic keyboard have offered a better temporary solution? Nevertheless - another memorable evening from this fine group of singers.