Apparently written by Henry VIII, this was a work performed at Dore Abbey last Friday as part of the MiQP series of concerts, and what better title for the entire evening? In a predominantly (but not exclusively) modern programme, Hereford Cathedral School fielded four choirs who entertained a packed Abbey, (standing room only), Cantabile, (voted Children’s Choir of the World, 2018, at the International Musical Eisteddfod in Llangollen), theSenior Chamber Choir, Colla Voce a choir from the younger members of the Senior School and also the Junior School Choir. It was not a choir as such that performed ‘Pastime with good company’, but the Gilbert Consort. Named as it is after the C14th bishop, it should come as no surprise to learn that this is an early music consort; it is not, however a group of recorders as one might expect (after all, this is just a school ensemble and early music is not a common genre among schools). It came as a great surprise and gave great excitement to the church mouse to hear the nasal notes of a crumhorn and a melodious harp alongside the more usual instruments. The music of Henry VIII (possibly) and Claudin de Sermisy were an enjoyable addition to the programme.
The evening began, however, with ‘The Reproaches’ by John Sanders, longtime Organist and Director of Music at Gloucester Cathedral. It is an a cappella piece which brings to mind the famous Miserere by Allegri, using plainsong as well as harmonies in a similar way. Sung by the Chamber Choir from the choir stalls and therefore largely hidden from the audience, the serenity of their lines set the scene for us, evoking a time when the monks would still have lived and worshipped in the Abbey, once a centre of Cistercian austerity. In contrast, the next piece, ‘The Bluebird’ by C.V.Stanford, showcased a different, more modern, style of singing with a lovely clear soprano solo. In total contrast, the choir also sang ‘I am the very model of a modern….’ (with a slight change in the words!) to a certain Rear Admiral with a close connection to Dore Abbey.
What was very impressive about all the choirs was their ability to sing almost entirely without scores; this makes such a difference as all the singers watch the conductor and can be much more responsive to their directions, producing a much better overall performance. Colla Voce demonstrated this very well, but impressed still further by their pronunciation. Using the Italianate versions rather than the English in words such as ‘miserere’ (no ‘misereray’ here) they were better than many adult choirs. Hereford Cathedral School Junior Choir were not overawed and sang three pieces with some excellent dynamics, especially their pianissimo which is so much harder to sing than fortissimo.
Cantabile produced a full, rich tone as part of their usual polished performances, with some beautiful dynamic changes particularly in ‘…Luciferum…’ by Robert Peate. He is a local composer born in Ewyas Harold in 1987 and currently completing a PhD at the Royal Academy of Music. ‘…Luciferum…’ a technically demanding piece,was written specially for Cantabile and their director Jo Williamson and was only premiered in April 2019 at the International Choral Festival Wales 2019. Dore Abbey was only its second performance and we were delighted to be part of it and proud that MiQP was selected for its first airing outside a competition setting. Their rendition of the plaintive Irish folk song ‘Carrickfergus’ included some beautiful solo singing and the ‘Cuckoo cries’ was as joyous as ever.
John Rutter’s ‘The Lord bless you and keep you’ enabled all the choirs to sing together at the end, while the encore in the shape of ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ sung by the older pupils and watched in awe by the youngest, was extremely well-received and left the audience buzzing with excitement.
I What was so clear to the audience was that these fearless, talented and versatile young people are able to tackle so much and so well entirely because of the wonderful staff in the Music Department who inspire them. They all have so much to be proud of, and the Church Mouse has no hesitation in saying what a wonderful evening it was, drawing compliments from as far away as Brighton.