This was one of our most ambitious concerts ever, but we were able to secure the resources to do it is such a way that it must have been one of the best musical events ever in Congleton.
We had two major stars, and in addition the choir performed a world première.
The concert opened with the second of Bach’s Brandenburg Concerti, which features a notoriously high trumpet part, for which reason it is comparatively rarely performed. For this work we had been able to secure the services of the trumpeter Simon Munday, principal trumpet of William Christie’s Les Arts Florissants, and regular performer with baroque orchestras including The English Baroque Soloists, The English Concert and The Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. Together with David Rimbault (vn), Claire Fillhart (flute) and Bethan Roberts (oboe), and the excellent players of the Cantilena Orchestra, a fine classical performance was given of this taxing three-movement piece with its stratospherically high trumpet part.
William Dutton, aged 13, is the BBC Young Chorister of the Year, and was the next star of the evening. Accompanied by Andrew Donaldson he sang John Ireland’s “Ex Ore Innocentium”, followed by the “Pie Jesu” from Fauré’s Requiem. His clear voice and stage presence were remarkable, and won him massive applause.
These pieces, much appreciated by the hitherto uninvolved choir, were followed by their big test of the evening, the first performance of the complete Missa Brevis by Andrew Burr.The Kyrie and Gloria of this work were given their first performances at our Christmas 2006 concert. The choir found much of this mass quite difficult at first, but with hard work we “peaked” just in time, and with the splendid orchestra to lift us higher than usual, we fluffed only a couple of bars, and perhaps that was not too conspicuous. Simon Munday played trumpet in this work, and the composer Andy Burr told him at rehearsal to extemporise in the Benedictus as he saw fit – carte blanche for a virtuoso individual performance, which Simon clearly appreciated. Afterwards members of other choirs expressed their intention to have a go at this exciting composition. The vocal soloists in the mass were Judith Tinston (mezzo-soprano) and James McVicar (baritone).
After a much deserved interval, the choir was able to sit back and enjoy a performance of the Mozar5t serenade “Eine kleine Nachtmusik” . This was quite wonderful. The performance was classical, without romantic rubatos, but warmly played by the string section of the Cantilena Orchestra.. For them too it was a labour of love. A familiar work to them, it was a matter of thoroughly enjoying (and playing espressivo) the motifs, as they are passed to and fro from one instrument to another. The body language of playful enjoyment where appropriate was tangible to audience and choir alike. It was instructive how Mozart’s use of the single double bass gave an underpinning heartbeat to the whole piece. The violins produced a most beautiful chorus of a single sound, unified not just in playing together, but in the very tone they produced, as if any vibrato was also completely synchronised. .
Next, William Dutton returned to the stage to sing the Schubert “Ave Maria”, many in the audience wiping the odd tear away at the sheer beauty of the music and its performance.
The choir’s rest was now over, as they rose to sing two old favourites, the Cantique de Jean Racine by Gabriel Fauré, followed by the dramatic “Hear my Prayer” by Mendelssohn, featuring William Dutton once more, rising wonderfully to the occasion in the “Oh for the Wings of a Dove” part. This was a fitting end to a splendid evening of singing and playing, with young William winning the plaudits in this finale. Graciously, and actually taking charge himself, he then gave, as an encore, the contrasting, and very secular Italian popular song “Funiculi funicula”, with audience and choir participation in the refrains. This boy was clearly in control of the choir, the audience and the orchestra, and the audience loved it. It was a great treat for Congleton, as it was for the choir.