Choir Retrospect July 1996 to June 1997

Exceptionally, two CDs were recorded in July 1996. Decca brought a formidable array of equipment to record ‘popular’ repertoire in ‘surround sound’. When the recording industry decides which model of ‘surround sound’ to market, our disc will be ready as one of the first releases. John Wallace (KC 1967), trumpet, joined us for Burgon’s Nunc dimittis, and Nicholas Daniel, cousin of Charles Daniels [sic] (78-81 CS), played the oboe in Jesu, joy of man’s desiring. This album will appear in the usual stereo format in the meanwhile.

Columns Classics recorded music for Vespers and Evensong. We subsequently recorded pictures for Dutch television: two programmes were envisaged, with a commentary describing how Evensong grew out of Roman Vespers. The men’s singing of the plainsong psalms at these sessions moved me very much.

Our friends from St John’s joined us for Evensong, at which Christopher Robinson directed a fine performance of Finzi’s Lo, the full, final sacrifice.

The highlight of the summer was the tour of South Africa. This took us to Johannesburg, Pretoria, the Drakensberg Boys’ Choir School, Durban, Pietermaritzburg, Port Elizabeth and along the Garden Route to Cape Town. The warmth of the welcome we received, and the beauty of the country, will long remain in the memory. It was also enormously rewarding to be in South Africa at a time when so much change was afoot. Nowhere were we greeted with more affection and enthusiasm than at the church in Soweto where we sang a Sunday morning Mass with the local choir.

The customary concert at the end of the non-residents’ weekend saw the Choir at Uppingham School. There is an active two-way traffic with Uppingham: a number of former choristers are presently flourishing there, and Andrew Kennedy (tenor) is to be joined by two more choral scholars from the school in October ’97. (The excellence of the school’s music was demonstrated in January, when the orchestra and choir under Neil Page gave a magnificent concert in Chapel, in memoriam Douglas Guest (35-39 OS).

The Founder’s Day concert in December included the Sanctus, Benedictus and Agnus Dei of the B minor Mass, of which more later. Charles Brett (60-63 CS) and John Bowen (82-85 CS) were the soloists. BBC Television pre-recorded Carols from King’s, and A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols included Pilgrim Jesus! by the Minnesotan composer, Stephen Paulus. The text was by Kevin Crossley-Holland. This was the first time that both music and words were commissioned together – courtesy of the Minnesota Commissioning Club.

Other events in December were an appearance at the Opening Gala of the refurbished Arts Theatre, followed by a Soirée d’or at the Royal College of Music, and a Christmas programme in the Royal Albert Hall with the Philharmonia orchestra and chorus. The boys joined the BBC Singers in a live relay from Chapel, excelling themselves in Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols and A Boy was born.

After a well-earned break, the Choir was back in January, recording Credo for EMI. This album comprised music by Rakhmaninov, Penderecki, Stravinsky and Panufnik, interspersed with plainsong. Honza Lochmann (bass) was a great help here with hints on the pronunciation of Church Slavonic, supported by Vera Butina-Corby, who came with a formidable reputation, but had to be persuaded to make strict demands on the boys, whom she considered "very sweet"!

After a long period of preparation, a performance of the Mass in B Minor, with the Brandenburg Consort, was given in St John’s, Smith Square, in March. This concert was arranged as a ‘thank you’ to all members of the College who had contributed to the appeal. Michael Chance (74-77 CS), Martyn Hill (62-63 CS) and Stephen Varcoe (67-70 CS) generously gave their services as soloists. This was an enormous undertaking for members of the Choir, and they responded magnificently. More Bach, St John Passion, was given in Chapel on Holy Saturday. Robin Tyson (89-92 CS), Robert Rice (89-92 CS) and Paul Robinson (79-83 C, 89-92 CS) were among the soloists.

The summer saw a BBC Choral Evensong, and the May Week concert. The period covered by this retrospect ended with a concert on 28 June with the Britten Sinfonia, to launch the King’s College Chapel Foundation. Robert Tear (Hon. Fellow, 57-60 CS) generously gave his services in a performance of Britten’s St Nicolas. St Mary, the other dedicatee of the Chapel, was alluded to in the other main work, Mozart’s Coronation Mass, written to commemorate the coronation of an image of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the church of Maria Plain, near Salzburg.

The King’s College Chapel Foundation, which represents the next public phase of the College appeal, has been created to help to conserve the fabric of the Chapel for future generations, to provide additional bursaries to supplement choristerships in cases of need, and to build and provide performance space and more practice rooms in College and at the School.

Stephen Cleobury

KCCA Events in 2015

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