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.