Brilliance and Beauty in Equal Measure – Choir of King’s College, Cambridge
It’s been 13 years since the Choir of King’s College, Cambridge last visited Australia and a full City Recital Hall Angel Place greeted the singers’ arrival on stage with thunderous applause. Music Director Stephen Cleobury noted that when he first toured Australia for Musica Viva in 1983 no one else on the stage was alive; equally, some of the boy choristers were not born the last time I saw the choir perform in Sydney in 2001. Yet here they were singing some of the most challenging choral repertoire ever written as they though were part of either of those previous tours!
And challenging repertoire it was, mostly for the Choir but also for the audience as many of the works are not often heard outside the king’s College Chapel. The first half’s mix of pieces by the some of the great composers of Renaissance and Baroque music saw the Choir singing a number of different compositional styles in quick succession. I especially enjoyed their interpretations of English composers Thomas Tallis’ Suscipe quaeso, Domine (1575) and Jehova, quam multi sunt hostes mei (c.1680) by Henry Purcell as well as Italian Claudio Monteverdi’s Adoramus te, Christe (c1620); each of these works saw the four sections of the Choir brilliantly realising the challenges of their individual parts as well as creating a rich and varied ensemble sound. Special mention must be made of tenor and bass soloists in the Purcell, Joel Williams and Henry Hawkesworth.
The second half featured, for me, the evening’s standout performances and was incredibly rewarding listening overall. Two pieces by Charles Stanford for a single soprano line accompanied by piano framed the late Romantic masterpieces by Charles Parry. The Choir’s performance of Parry’s very moving seven-part Lord, let me know mine end from Songs of Farewell (c1916-1918) was virtuosic and brilliantly shaped, highlighting both the high quality of the singers as well as Stephen’s great experience in this repertoire.
The opportunity to hear together the three Australian carols commissioned by the Choir from Peter Sculthorpe, Brett Dean and Carl Vine for their Nine Lessons & Carols Christmas Eve Service is rare and I’m glad Stephen agreed with our suggestion to perform them. Each work is very different to the other yet formed a very satisfying set, as well as being a terrific way to lead into the concert’s closing work, Benjamin Britten’s masterful Hymn to Saint Cecilia (1942). I have always loved this work, as both audience member and chorister ̶ though it does instil fear in me being the latter due to its significant demands. I thought the Choir’s performance was superb, with every member of the Choir giving 150% including the youngest boy sopranos. The soft singing was especially beautiful and to hear it in Angel Place’s warm acoustic a very special experience.
Britten’s work is in praise of the patron saint of music, and it seemed a fitting close to a concert that celebrated the beauty of the voice and the richness of the choral music tradition. On this hearing, the 2014 iteration of the Choir seems a very special one to me, and the sustained applause at the end of the concert by 1,200 others seemed to indicate that everyone else was of the same opinion.
Director of Business Development, Concerts