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Schütz, Buxtehude, Giles Swayne, Christopher Brown, John Rutter, Timothy Brown and Tarik O'Regan

Heinrich Schütz: Deutsches Magnificat
Dietrich Buxtehude: Jesu, meine Freunde
Giles Swayne: O Mysteria (2009)
Christopher Brown: Stille Nacht (2001)
John Rutter: The King of Blis (2009)
Timothy Brown: King Jesus hath a garden
Tarik O'Regan: The Great Silence (2009)
Heinrich Schütz: Historia der Geburt Jesu Christi (The Christmas Story)

Mark Dobell - tenor, Choir of Clare College, Cambridge, The Schütz Ensemble, Timothy Brown and Sir Roger Norrington

St John’s, Smith Square - 16 December 2009

For Clare College Choir’s 24th Christmas concert we were treated to some fine singing, solo and ensemble, and three UK premières as well as two reasonably recent pieces. Beginning and ending with Schütz we were treated to some very fine performances indeed. The small choir, divided into two, made the most of the Deutsches Magnificat and the antiphonal effect of the music, with the two choirs standing opposite one another on the stage this made for a thrilling start. The Christmas Story was given with a small instrumental group under the direction of Roger Norrington. Mark Dobell made a marvelously understated Evangelist – he has one of those pure “English voices”, the kind we find which comes from the Cathedral tradition – with prefect diction and a wide range of expression and vocal colour. It is unfortunate that the majority of this wonderful work is scored for either soloists or small groups of voices with instruments for I would have welcomed the chance to hear the full choir more often but I mustn’t complain for this was a fine interpretation of a major work, which I haven’t encountered for about 30 years so I am very happy, indeed, to have had this opportunity to make its acquaintance once again.

Apart from Mark Dobell, all the soloists were drawn from the choir and they all made a strong impression.

Buxtehude’s Jesu meine Freunde made a lovely transition from the old to the new, with its simple, straight forward setting, the instrumental writing proving very telling tonight.

For me, the prize of the evening was the five carols by British composers, and what a range of expression, they covered. Giles Swayne’s O Mysteria set words by Titus Lucretius Carus, in the composer’s own translation, and had an obligato part for flute, which heightened the overall effect of the piece. Christopher Brown’s witty setting of Stille Nacht starts and ends with three solo male voices, the programme note suggested that these might be the Three Wise Men, and he built an imposing structure from this somewhat inauspicious beginning. John Rutter can always be relied upon to delight and entertain and his new work – The King of Blis – did just that. It was full of the usual good things, a rousing and very catchy refrain and a straight forward verse. Timothy Brown’s (the choir master and brother of Christopher) gave a lovely setting of King Jesus hath a garden with a discreet organ accompaniment, and Tarik O'Regan’s setting of Edward Thomas, The Great Silence, employed a delicate harp solo which served to illuminate the music with its sparkle.

All in all, a very successful, and somewhat different, Christmas concert.

Bob Briggs