A New Beginning

By Andrew Gordon – 3rd December 2019 – published on haddenham.net

Saturday evening, 30th November brought us an exhilarating launch of the Christmas musical season with the winter concert of the Witchert Chorale. Director David Quinn, as ever, had put together a fascinating programme combining the spiritual and the secular, the entertaining and the inspiring, and the familiar with the fetched from far.

The theme of the concert was ‘A new beginning‘. Was this the start of the new Christian year in St Mary’s, the concert’s venue? Or was it perhaps the concert’s glorious opening number — Purcell’s ‘I was Glad’ — celebrating the coming together of disaffected parties at the coronation of James II (a rejoicing all too brief in that short reign)?

The dimension of David Quinn’s search for musical treasure was revealed in the next number, a recent setting by the Norwegian Ola Gjeilo of a chant by the 12th century nun Hildegard of Bingen, ‘Ave generosa’. The plainsong based chant in praise of the inviolate virgin, passing back and forth among the women of the Chorale, was strangely affecting in these impure times.

The highlight of the evening was perhaps the remarkable performance at the piano of A level student Jason Kessler of the last, and by far the most difficult, movement of Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. One marvelled at the professional control of all the dynamic elements in the movement’s cascade of sound. But the chief pleasure was to share in the turbulent flood of emotion of the young person discovering Beethoven. The youthful passion will have raised the heartbeat of many an older listener. Both Jason’s parents were among the singers — a proud moment for the family.

Top technical challenge for the singers was Bach’s ‘Singet den Herrn’ (Sing to the Lord a new song). The Witchert has sung this before and the complex motet bears many hearings, but, for foot-tapping rhythms, intricate counterpoint and punchy dialogue between two choirs, it is hard to beat. The work admirably suits the Witchert’s small choir (20), clean blend of sound, highly accurate rendering and unfailing good humour.

Adding to the evening’s variety was Haddenham’s favourite storyteller, Andy Hardy, extracting every last ounce of drama from the original (1822) Santa story, ‘Twas the night before Christmas. Nor was the audience entirely passive, giving spirited renderings of Sleepers Awake! and O Come Emanuel. Finally, after a surprise encore of Nessun Dorma from the choir, one left exhilarated into the frosty night air all but ready to shout ‘Vincerò!’

Proceeds from the concert will go to the Friends of St Mary’s and to the Haddenham Village Society, which provided front of house and much appreciated hospitality.

Friends Reunited

By Andrew Gordon – Saturday 4th May

The Witchert Chorale’s spring concert brought us, as ever, a package of surprises and some great musical moments.  It also brought the welcome return to Haddenham of the Witchert’s partner choir from Berlin – the Golgatha Kantorei.

While Director David Quinn’s search of the musical world roams far and wide, treasure for this year’s concert was found closer to home.  After a pop warm-up – an unaccompanied version of Rossini’s William Tell overture, performed with great precision – we had a motet, Ubi Caritas (Where there is charity and love, there is God), by Simon Shaw, who is a former member of the Chorale. 

The work was an excellent vehicle for the Witchert’s controlled blend of sound, while the surge of contained emotion perfectly captured the medieval spirit of this ancient text.  And with the evening sunlight filling the church, alive with its 800 years of village worship, who of whatever faith could not be moved?

Among secular pieces, listeners were much affected by a lament by Janacek, sung in czech, about a wild duck wounded by an unruly child and unable to fly back to its children on the Danube.  A good choice for Haddenham:  a pause here would have had folk slipping out to check the pond.

The Golgatha Kantorei, directed by Martin Krűger, is a church choir with enterprise.  While much of their offering was devotional, it was shot through with joy and rhythm and a delight to their foot-tapping listeners.  For two substantial works the choirs joined forces:  for Schutz’s Singet den Herrn (Sing unto the Lord a new song) and the 8-part madrigal Lay a Garland by Robert Lucas Pearsall (1795-1856), a Bristol Quaker who lived part of his life in Germany.

This year’s visit included a further German connection – with the Auenkirche, Leipzig, which has links with Golgatha.  Their musical director Susanne Blache appeared to enjoy the Haddenham organ, especially exploiting its ethereal upper reaches in a prelude and fugue of Pachelbel. 

The Golgatha and the Witchert choirs have been exchanging visits between Haddenham and Berlin for 7 years.  It is clearly a happy partnership and the shared cultural heritage is much to be valued in these difficult times. 

Among the surprises in this concert were two piano pieces brilliantly performed by our Hugh Stradling.  The Chopin Ballade in particular, with its rhythm and coloratura above, drew exceptional applause.

Back to Caritas.  The Witchert Chorale’s concerts are always in aid of charities and this one was for the Haddenham Syrian Family Project, which the village has been putting together over the last few months.  The project needs £30,000, of which more than half has now been raised.  An ambitious project with admirably wide support, now well on the way to success.

Blow the Wind Southerly

By Anthony Windsor – Saturday 30th March 2019

The Spring concert by the Witchert Chorale took place on 30th March in St Nicholas’ Church, Cuddington. A full house heard an eclectic mix of music celebrating the varied patronages of St Nicholas which include sailors, brewers, archers, unmarried mothers and students.

The evening got off to a rousing start with an unusual setting of the March of the Swiss Soldiers from the opera William Tell by Rossini. Sailors were represented by a beautiful rendition of Tennyson’s Crossing the Bar by Hubert Parry and by a folk song of Swansea Town by Holst. Despite the evening being supposed to be the first after our departure from the EU we then moved to some French folk songs dealing with the courting of young women written after WW2 by Poulenc. The first half finished with an invitation to drink wine and eat refreshments as we followed the choir to the tables laden with delicious snacks.

We returned to our seats as students to hear the familiar words and music of Gaudeamus igitur. There followed a most interesting early seventeenth century madrigal in six parts about a world trip, after which the ladies of the choir took a rest and listened to the male voices who sang a selection of sea shanties. The ladies returning provided the listener with two children’s rhymes set by John Rutter and a lovely setting of Blow the Wind Southerly before the final sea shanty.

Throughout the evening, which was in support of the charity CRY (Cardiac Risk in the Young) in memory of a Cuddington girl, Freya Cox, who had died suddenly at the end of 2017 at the age of 19, the choir sang with precision and obvious enjoyment in four languages – plus da-ba-da-ba-da for Rossini – and provided a full church with much pleasure. 

When Handel came to Haddenham

Thank you to Andrew Gordon for his kind words on our latest concert ‘When Handel Came to Haddenham‘ on Haddenham.net.

By Andrew Gordon – 2nd December 2018

Followers of the Witchert Chorale have come to expect an evening of first class music with a mix of well-loved and recondite numbers delivered with the group’s trade-mark humour and sparkle. Saturday’s Christmas concert in St Mary’s was no exception.

Poster for When Handel Came to HaddenhamIt was to be an evening of Handel and his contemporaries, than which, with this group in that setting, a more delightful prospect could hardly be imagined. The added bit of fun this year was the arresting theme: ‘When Handel came to Haddenham…’. This was a story, written and told by Ed Cairns, spun out between musical numbers and thoroughly engaging if only for the bits of eighteenth century local history worked in.

The canard should have been spotted by historians (but not this one) from the dates in 1752, which never existed, any more than Handel’s visit, having been eliminated when Britain belatedly joined the rest of Europe in adopting the Gregorian calendar.

But, as Ed observed, we were there for the music.

To listen to the eighteenth century harmonies from this well-blended, spirited but disciplined choir, wonderfully accompanied by the 4-member Witchert Ensemble, was as uplifting as ever and would have soothed the most troubled soul.

The programme included some pieces intended for very large choirs, such as the Coronation Anthems and the splendid Worthy is the Lamb from the Messiah, and it was remarkable how these numbers took new life from this small group, of 18, singing with such intimacy and pin-sharp accuracy.

While Handel dominated the programme, there was an outstanding piece from an older composer, Henry Purcell. The crescendo at the end of his Hear my Prayer, for its sheer beauty of sound and in the setting of St Mary’s, will for many have been the emotional high point of the evening.

After the singing there were heartfelt farewells to Alison Court, who, with director David Quinn, founded the Witchert Chorale in 2004 and who (with Ed’s constant support) has always been the chief animator of the group and author of its distinct personality. The batten passes to Ann Millar, organiser of this year’s concert (a triumph).

Proceeds from the concert, very well attended as usual, will go to the Haddenham Village Society and to Friends of St Mary’s.

A Fond Farewell to Alison Court and Ed Cairns

It is with an awful lot of sadness that the Witchert Chorale is saying goodbye tonight to its longest standing member Alison Court and her husband Ed Cairns. Alison founded the choir with David Quinn in 2004. Jenny Hardy recalls how Alison along with Sally McCloy knocked on her door one day and asked if she would like to join a new choir! And thus Alison pulled together 12 local singers and a choir was formed. Its first engagement was to celebrate the reopening of the Methodist church, just opposite her house.

From then on the choir grew and began to perform in and around Haddenham on a regular basis. The founding principles of the choir have not changed in the 14 years it has been singing; to raise as much money as possible for charities and good causes whilst providing audiences with high quality musical entertainment.

Of course, all choir members should be enjoying themselves along the way! Alison has been at the forefront of all this for the vast majority of these years and it is largely due to her endless energy and contagious enthusiasm that the choir has kept moving onward and upward, attracting new members and taking on new challenges.

Ed too has not just been a supportive husband, but a frequent reader at the concerts. Many audiences have enjoyed his performances of Shakespeare, Blake and many other poets. He has employed his wit and creativity to write a total of three scripts for the choir, which have produced the most entertaining and memorable of evenings. On the first occasion we were then treated to a ride on the Orient Express. To celebrate the 10th anniversary of the choir we were Around the World in 80 Minutes, and finally tonight we will hear all about When Handel Came to Haddenham…

Not only the chair of Witchert, Alison has been busy with many things in the village. She was the driving power behind Homemade in Haddenham, has furnished many people with a beautiful bag or cushion and has been seen for many years walking her beloved Rusty. Not to mention being the perfect hostess! Her cheerfulness, friendliness and willingness to get stuck into anything and everything have made her a very well- known and well-loved member of our community.

If all goes to plan, when you read this Alison and Ed will have already moved to their new home in Norwich. Thankfully they have seen fit to return tonight to enjoy one more evening with us. We hope that they will have much joy building their new lives in Norfolk and no doubt being welcomed as a great addition to the community there.

Thank you Alison for all you have done for us! We will miss you.

Ann Millar (with thanks to Jenny Hardy)

Sing a Song of Maytime

Reviewed on haddenham.net

Members of the Witchert Chorale returned to the church towers in Long Crendon and Cuddington on Bank Holiday Monday, 7th May, to sing May Madrigals in the delightful Spring sunshine

Some key skills required by those who participate: 

1. A good voice — even early in the morning

2. Physically fit — lots of steps to get up the tower

3. No problems with claustrophobia — the vertical stairwell is steep, very narrow and seems to go on forever

4. A head for heights once on the roof!

Songs of Innocence and Experience

Reviewed on haddenham.net

Over its fifteen-year history, the Witchert Chorale and its musical director David Quinn have always provided interesting and original themes and narratives for its concerts, and this latest offering was no exception.

Selections from Blake’s two volumes of poems from the 1790s, which range from pointed social
commentary to the mystical and religious, were beautifully read by Ed Cairns, and provided a
framework for a selection of music hugely varied in style and era: from a 16th century Mass by
William Byrd to a contemporary setting of The Tiger by Italian composer Mattia Culmone. Each
poem was cleverly matched with one or more complimentary pieces, in some cases settings of
Blake’s text.
 
The first part of the concert had a quiet, almost ethereal atmosphere: three movements from the
1592 Byrd ‘Mass for Four Voices’ – the earliest and cleanest of his three settings – along with
Tavener’s ‘The Lamb’ and the ‘Divine Image’ by Gibbons. This section was followed by poems ‘The Chimney Sweeper’ in its Innocence and Experience forms, and the ‘Little Girl’ – Lost and Found – withmusic from Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Brahms lieder as commentary.
 
The choir’s accuracy and tonal blend in performing this quite difficult repertoire were splendid
throughout, and these qualities were maintained in the second half, in which poems ‘To Terzah’ and ‘The Lily’, were accompanied by strong contrasts – from the dynamic sound-painting of bells in Senfl’s ‘Das Gelaut zu Speyer’ from around 1500, to the nostalgic Sullivan ‘The Long Day Closes’ and atmospheric ‘Northern Lights’ of Ola Gjeilo: here composing in what he considered his native Norwegian style.
 
In the final section, a progressively lighter style to the music allowed the choir to relax and enjoy
delivering twentieth century favourites including Porter’s ‘Miss Otis Regrets’, Gershwin’s ‘Fascinating Rhythm’ and finishing with Youmans’ ‘Tea for Two’.
 
Overall this was a real treat for both the mind and the senses, and with a healthy audience turnout should build further on Witchert’s admirable record of over £40,000 raised for good causes: this time in aid of the Friends of St Mary’s. Congratulations to all involved.

Witchert Chorale’s International Travels

The Witchert Chorale has just returned from their second visit to Berlin, where they have enjoyed such warmth and welcome they could hardly believe their eyes and ears. Their friendship with the Golgotha Kantorei of central east Berlin is now in its sixth year and both choirs have now visited each other twice. The friendship is deepening.

The central point of the weekend was a joint concert on Saturday night in the amazing acoustic of the Lutheran Zionskirche. (The Zionskirche was incredibly important before the fall of the
Berlin Wall as a meeting point for opposition groups, often lead by Dietrich Bonhoeffer.) The twochoirs sang separately and together a programme of varied music from the 16th century right up to an arrangement of the Beatles number Because. The concert was most warmly received by a good audience. Jenny Hardy, former members of the Witchert Chorale, travelled all the way to Berlin in her campervan with her husband Andy, and she reported that Witchert “sounded sublime” Here is a little of her report back:

“Silence is golden. So it was as the final note of several songs ascended into the lofty space of Zionskirche. The acoustics lent themselves perfectly to the slower songs — some of the best singing I have heard from Witchert. The dissonances of Little Lamb — a personal favourite — beautifully executed…. How well I recall rehearsing these over and over to achieve perfection!

“Northern Lights -both ethereal and dramatic with more gorgeous dissonances… closing my eyes the sounds matched the colours of the Northern Lights… and my, how the audience responded. The silence before applause was breathtaking.”

Beyond the concert there was much convivial celebration over copious and delicious amounts of Würst and Kartoffelsalat, and beer and wine, culminating in a barbeque on the banks of the river Spree in the garden of one of our hosts, a beautiful afternoon of sunshine, swimming and friendship.

The singers of Witchert say it is an enormous privilege to have made this connection across international borders. They may not always understand each other since not every member of each choir has fluency in the language of the other’s(!) but through singing and smiling, a great bond has been formed.

Christmas Concert 2016

Reviewed on haddenham.net

On Saturday evening 3rd December the Witchert Chorale, conducted by David Quinn, presented another of their popular and always enjoyable concerts at St Mary’s Church in Haddenham. The choir has raised in excess of £35,000 over the years for charitable causes. On this occasion funds were being raised for the Society for Mucopolysaccharide Diseases. As the concert was organised by the chorale with the assistance of Haddenham Village Society in various ways, they will also receive a small portion of the proceeds.

The programme was Advent/Christmas orientated. In the first half the choir sang several items, all by Russian composers, which often displayed a warm intensity of feeling and emotional depth. An exception to this, however, was an arrangement of Tchaikovsky’s dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy which, in complete contrast, all but drew laughter from the audience.

The second half of the programme was in lighter vein — and the choir seemed more confident and relaxed. Particular mention should be made of an arrangement of ‘O Little Town of Bethlehem’ (no, not the usual tune at all). Some lovely sensitive singing enhanced with a most pleasing baritone solo by Jon Smith. Also enhancing the choir’s performance was Fionnuala Prosser who expertly accompanied two items on the piano. The evening concluded with two well deserved encores.

The programme was shared by accomplished Haddenham pianist Hugh Stradling performing music by Grieg, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. The latter’s Prelude in C# minor was perhaps the most well-known to the audience and they were not to be disappointed. The piece takes the listener from gentle serenity to thunderous intensity and Hugh had the audience spell-bound throughout.

In contrast to this Andrew Hardy gave a reading entitled ‘Carol Barking’ from Laurie Lee’s ‘Cider with Rosie’. This was as good as anything heard on Radio 4 and, furthermore, Andy was dressed appropriately for the part!

Lastly the audience was invited to sing two hymns, one in each half of the programme. This might have been a damp squib but, far from it, the singing, accompanied imaginatively by the church’s fine organ, was full throated and heart-warming.

The audience left in good cheer and the choir left deservedly congratulating themselves on another enjoyable concert.