After the overload of concerts and carol singing around Christmas, most choirs have a well-deserved break before starting for another year, but not Vivamus. This young London-based choir entered 2013 in style with a candlelit concert for Epiphany. The concert’s main advertised work was Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, with other composers on the programme including Leighton, Howells and Whitacre.

Vivamus
Vivamus

This concert was part of the Brandenburg Choral Festival, which is only in its fourth year. There was a lovely atmosphere amongst audience members and organisers, and some of the best venue management I’ve ever seen. Although the festival was only started recently, this year it can boast 66 concerts featuring 71 choirs in ten landmark venues, as well as a new patron, John Rutter. This concert in particular provided a perfect transition into the New Year, and what struck me first was absolutely perfect programming.

The six short works preceding the Britten were beautifully chosen and contrasted, ranging from Renaissance music by John Sheppard and Jacob Handl to modern pieces by Herbert Howells and Kenneth Leighton. Although quite spread out across the stage, the unaccompanied choir really felt like a tight unit, with synchronised breathing and perfect anticipation of entries. The sound made by the choir was extremely impressive, but they were let down with the solos. This was especially true in Holst’s Lullay my liking, as although the solos are only short, none of the voices stood out. This was resolved in the unison refrains, and as the overall sound was so good, the problems must have been due to nerves. The audience favourites amongst the six shorter works seemed to be Sheppard’s Reges Tharsis, with its plainsong and beautiful first soprano lines, and Howells’ Here is the little door, where the choir responded perfectly to the changes of mood, with pianissimo phrases alongside powerful ones.

The programme enlightened us on conductor Rufus Frowde’s impressive experience, and although the choir in some places seemed self-sufficient, this quality is thanks to his training. The singers responded very well to his directions and he maintained a strong performance throughout.

Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols was written in 1942, with Middle English text for the eleven movements from The English Galaxy of Shorter Poems by Gerald Bullett. This Christmas favourite was sung by just the women, as it is originally scored for three-part treble chorus. The accuracy and balance were good throughout, with the best movements being “Balulalow” and “This little Babe”. Again the soloists were generally quite weak and still seemed taken over by nerves, which was a shame, although the alto for “That yonge child” had an extremely impressive rich tone. Harpist Daniel de-Fry played well, and although there were a few co-ordination issues with singers, he really flourished in his solo. The harmonics and glissandos featuring in the opening “Hodie Christus natus est” Gregorian melody made for an intense and impressive performance of this solo movement.

The last piece was a performance none of the listeners in attendance will ever forget, Whitacre’s atmospheric Lux Aurumque, with the choir stood in the balcony surrounding the audience. This was the most confident and successful piece of the night. Whitacre’s vocal lines are too beautiful to describe with words but have an incredibly deep effect, and the sound created was stunning. The solo soprano soared above the beautiful wash of noise that filled the building, and this really ended the concert in the best possible way.

I hope this concert sets the standard for the choir’s year and that they continue to deliver such well-considered programmes spanning so much musical history.

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