Capital Choir – Magnificat by John Rutter
Plus carols, traditional songs, organ pieces by Dubois and Guilmant, and a Telemann flute sonata
Conductor: Felicia Edgecombe; organ: Janet Gibbs; piano – Robyn Jaquiery; flutes: Elizabeth Langham and Megan Brownlie; Soprano soloist Belinda Maclean
Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, Hill Street
Sunday 2 December, 4pm
This concert was in part a fund-raiser by an unauditioned choir, to mark Christmas and the end of the year. It was brave to have tackled a fairly sophisticated contemporary work, though not written in an avant-garde style which an amateur choir would have difficulty making musical sense of. Nevertheless, there were challenges in Rutter’s rhythms and harmony, in control of dynamics and other interpretive aspects that would have demanded a great deal of rehearsal.
But to start at the beginning: the first half was devoted to carols and a couple of other pieces. One of the latter was the droll setting of Little Jack Horner, sung as a round, in crisp accents. Its origin was not revealed; I have a feeling Philip Norman wrote it. A number of carols followed: Rutter’s Shepherd’s Pipe Carol involving a delightful flute obbligato from Elizabeth Langham; Silent Night with soloists Belinda Maclean, Susan Hamilton and Sally Chapman, all drawn from the choir; the lovely Poverty Carol, a touching, traditional Welsh carol; Sweet Little Jesus Boy which involved a splendid introductory solo by bass Rhys Cocker; and finally O Little Town of Bethlehem in the charming traditional setting, again with Cocker as soloist.
A song setting arranged in mock-bluesy style by Bob Chilcott, The Gift, was too saccharine for my taste.
In between, organist Janet Gibbs whose accompaniments had been heard for some of the pieces, played music by French 19th century organ composers Dubois (Chant pastoral) and Guilmant (Invocation); and flutists Elizabeth Langham and Megan Brownlie played a flute sonata by Telemann. Other accompaniments were imaginatively supported by pianist Robyn Jaquiery.
The Magnificat is one of the earliest Christian hymns to Mary and has been set by scores of composers. It has been traditional to introduce other material into the work and Rutter follows that example, principally with his setting of the anonymous 15th century poem Of a rose, a lovely rose which provides an opportunity for contrasting musical emotions and characters, mostly reflecting the joyous and optimistic interpretation that Rutter invests the central Latin text with. A part of the Sanctus from the Latin Mass is found in the Quia fecit mihi magna, and an entire epilogue section, Gloria Patri and Sancta Maria, after the Esurientes.
There are passages, for example in the first section, Magnificat anima mea, quoting a Gregorian chant and again in the final Sancta Maria. Soprano soloist, Belinda Maclean, gave the Et misericordia – the words repeated several times to the enchanting melody – a distinct secular quality. Her later solo passages, in the Esurientes and Sancta Maria, were further chances to enjoy her vocal gifts.
While Rutter’s Magnificat has an interesting orchestral accompaniment, Janet Gibbs on the Cathedral’s main organ fulfilled the role with a keen sensitivity to the colours and instrumental indications in the score.
An amateur performance this might have been, but the results of dedicated work by Felicia Edgecombe, her choir and soloists, and instrumental collaborators gave this attractive and rewarding choral work a highly impressive and satisfying exposure.