Thursday, 18 February 2010

Glory of Christmas

Cantilena Choir brought the glory of Christmas to St John's Church, Glastonbury, on Saturday 12 December 2010 with a concert of seasonal music, including Vivaldi's Gloria.

Tackling such a popular piece poses the problem of generating freshness and sparkle, and Cantilena rose at least partly to the challenge.

There was plenty of the sort of musical detail that we have come to expect from their focussed but genial conductor, Oliver Walker. Cantilena delivered some very good sections, with increasing confidence and energy towards the end. But they were at times overpowered by the organ, and with some tuning problems in the exposed 2nd movement. The unavoidable positioning of the organ some distance from the singers clearly did not help.

Cantilena were complemented by sweet-voiced soprano soloists Catherine Hart and Becky Quiney and male alto Jonathan Woodhouse, with able accompaniment by organist Matthew Redman.

The choir seemed more settled and cohesive in the unaccompanied Marian pieces, and these were the most successful of the programme. Choir and a superb semi-chorus particularly shone in Benjamin Britten’s delicate Hymn to the Virgin, written when Britten was still a schoolboy.
Cantilena produced some magical moments in this, with particularly good tone, phrasing and dynamics. For me, it was the highlight of the evening.

There was confident attack in Victoria’s rather rumbustous Ave Maria and a pliant rendition of one of Rachmaninov’s fine settings from his All Night Vigil.

After interval refreshments of mulled wine and mince pies, with proceeds going to St Margaret's Hospice, there were carols for choir and audience, interspersed with readings by choir members.

Cantilena are continuing to set a high standard of music-making locally, and I look forward to their Spring concert on Saturday 27 March, featuring another oft-performed gem: Faure Requiem along with a Mozart mass.

Sweet Music

About Cantilena

"Cantilena" is a word meaning "a simple or sustained melody" and is an apt title for what has been described as the finest small choir in Somerset.

The Glastonbury Cantilena Choir was formed in 1978 to bridge the gap between church choirs and larger, 100+, choirs. Started under the direction of Robin Walker, the choir began life with thirty-one singers. During his time the choir developed its current practice of holing three concerts annually. Traditionally, our spring concert includes orchestral players who are supplied from the local musical community.

In 1988 musical direction came under the control of Tony Bevan. He introduced the choir to a large and challenging repertoire, giving us something of a reputation as exponents of early music, performing such works as the Machaut Messe de Notre Dame and the Monteverdi Vespers. A high spot was a performance in aid of the McMillan Cancer Fund in Sherborne Abbey where we performed John Shepherd's thrilling "Verbum Caro", Monteverdi's "Beatus Vir" and Mozart's tranquil "Ave Verum" to a capacity audience.

Tony left the choir in 2000 to spend more time with his growing family and since that time, Cantilena has benefited from a close relationship with Wells Cathedral, drawing conductors from the Cathedral Organ scholars and soloists from the Cathedral School and Vicars' Choral.

This period in our life is shortly to come to an end when the present Musical Director, Oliver Walker leaves Wells in Summer 2010. Tony Bevan has agreed to resume as Musical Director with effect from September 2010 and choir is looking forward to the next phase in its musical journey.

Want to know more? Contact the secretary Julia Barrett on 01749 841617 or