Notes on Winter 2019 Concert
Geistliches Lied Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
John Rutter, who edited this piece for Oxford University Press’s anthology of European Sacred Music, writes: “Brahms wrote this in 1856 as one of a number of compositions which he and his friend Joachim exchanged for mutual criticism, both men having the aim of improving their (in Brahms’s case already considerable) contrapuntal mastery. The Geistliches Lied [Sacred Song] wears its learning lightly: despite being a strict double canon in the vocal parts, with canonic writing in the organ too, the music projects a mood of gentle, lyric serenity, clearly foreshadowing the Requiem.”
CORO LONDON CHAMBER CHOIR:
My Soul, there is a Country Hubert Parry (1848-1918)
This is the first of Parry’s six Songs of Farewell, composed during the dark days of the First World War when he was in declining health and in despair over the world situation. His choice of texts, and especially perhaps this one, by the 17th-century Welsh poet and physician Henry Vaughan, suggests a yearning for heavenly peace and an escape from the violence of war.
Never weather-beaten sail Richard Shephard (b. 1949)
Richard Shephard is a composer and teacher whose formative years were spent at Gloucester, Cambridge and Salisbury and whose work has included many years as Headmaster of the Minster School, York, and the Minster’s Director of Development. He has composed prolifically for the Church, as well as operas, orchestral works and musicals; the anthem Never weather-beaten sail dates from 1983.
Valiant-for-Truth Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958)
Vaughan Williams’s opera, or ‘Morality’, as he liked to call it, The Pilgrim’s Progress, based on Bunyan, took shape throughout his life and was first performed in April 1951 at the Royal Opera House. His fascination with the subject is clear from other works written at various times including this motet, a setting from 1940 of the scene in which the pilgrim Valiant-for-Truth meditates on his approaching death, and passes into heaven to the accompaniment of trumpets.
Os Justi Anton Bruckner (1824-1896)
Bruckner is most known for his symphonies and many large- and small-scale sacred choral works. Among the latter, the eight-part gradual Os Justi, which celebrates saintly life, dates from 1879 and was composed for the Augustinian monastery of St. Florian, Upper Austria, where Bruckner had studied as a boy and later became organist.
The Road Home Stephen Paulus (1949-2014)
This is an arrangement of a melody originally found in William “Singin’ Billy” Walker’s hymn tune book Southern Harmony and Musical Companion of 1835, which the American composer Stephen Paulus made in 2000, and for which he asked his long-time collaborator, the English-born writer Michael Dennis Browne, to provide new words. Browne remembers this renewed collaboration as a “great joy”, but for him “a challenge as well as a joy to try to match the beauty of the music”; ultimately it was “a privilege to contribute this piece to the choral repertory”.
A German Requiem (Ein deutsches Requiem, Op 45) Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Ein deutsches Requiem is without doubt Brahms's great choral masterpiece, a work that, more than any other, assured his fame as a composer. Its origins may date back to 1856 and the death of his early champion Robert Schumann or even earlier, for part of it derives from an abandoned D minor symphony which Brahms began in his youth, and which eventually became the Requiem's second movement, completed in 1857. By 1861 Brahms had accumulated enough material for a four-movement cantata, but it was the death of his beloved mother in 1865 that probably gave him the motivation to finish the piece. The remaining movements were added by 1868, and the first complete performance of the Requiem was given in the Leipzig Gewandhaus on 18th February 1869 under Karl Reinecke.
Ein deutsches Requiem is not a liturgical piece, although it is based on scripture. The text, carefully selected by Brahms from Luther’s translation of the Bible, reflects not so much a prayer for the souls of the dead as comfort, solace and hope for the living. Brahms chooses passages from the Old and New Testaments and the Apocrypha. The resulting text makes no mention of Christ by name but is nevertheless a profound statement of the composer’s Christian faith. Musically, it is both romantic and lyrical, yet it is also infused with classical and baroque influences, especially the counterpoint of Bach. The work is predominantly choral, with contributions from a solo baritone in the third and sixth movements and a solo soprano in the fifth.
(Extracts from programme note by William Gould ©2019)
CHARLOTTE SHAW – Soprano.
British soprano Charlotte Shaw (née Beament) is a first class honours graduate of the Guildhall School of Music and a ‘Rising Star of the Enlightenment’ for the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment. She is a regular soloist for English National Opera and Glyndebourne Festival Opera and has also sung for Glyndebourne Jerwood Artists, the Garsington Festival, the Brighton Festival, the London Handel Festival and Barber Opera in Birmingham. Her operatic repertoire includes Tytania in Britten’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Lucia in The Rape of Lucretia, the title roles in Handel’s Semele and Berenice and Michal in Saul, and Mozart’s Barbarina in Le nozze di Figaro, Zerlina in Don Giovanni and Serpetta in La finta giardiniera. She has also appeared in works by Purcell, Rameau, Niccolo Porpora and Marc-Antoine Charpentier and, on the contemporary scene, in Julian Philips’s chamber opera The Yellow Sofa, Philip Glass’s Satyagraha and the ENO’s 2017 première of Nico Muhly’s Marnie. On the concert stage she has sung many favourite Baroque and Classical works from Bach’s Passions, B minor Mass and Christmas Oratorio and Handel’s Messiah, Israel in Egypt and Saul to Mozart’s solo motet Exsultate, Jubilate and Requiem, and Haydn Masses, The Creation and The Seasons. Charlotte’s repertoire extends also to Vivaldi’s solo motet Nulla in mundo pax sincera, Mahler’s Fourth Symphony, Strauss’s Vier letzte Lieder and the famous fifth of the Bachianas Brasileiras of the Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, in venues including the Queen Elizabeth Hall, Cadogan Hall, Kings Place and Snape Maltings as well as on European and Asian tours.
JONATHAN BROWN – Baritone.
Jonathan Brown was born in Toronto and studied at the Royal Conservatory of Music there, the University of Western Ontario and, after moving to England, at Cambridge University and the Britten-Pears School in Aldeburgh with Sir Thomas Allen and Anthony Rolfe Johnson. He made his solo debut with Sir John Eliot Gardiner in Holland on the Bach Cantata Pilgrimage and thereafter was a regular soloist with performances in Zurich, Brussels and Paris and on the subsequent CDs. Recent solo concert work has included Handel’s Messiah and Bach’s B minor Mass and the St. John and St. Matthew Passions at Westminster Abbey, Haydn’s The Seasons for the Norwich Philharmonic Society and Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony for the Portsmouth Choral Union. He was also a soloist on the Harmonia Mundi recordings of Purcell's Dido and Aeneas and Blow's Venus and Adonis under the direction of René Jacobs, in Sullivan's The Golden Legend for Hyperion and, for Priory Records, a recently-released world première recording, also with the Portsmouth Choral Union, of Samuel Wesley’s masterpiece Confitebor tibi, Domine. His wide-ranging operatic roles have featured composers as diverse as Puccini, Leoncavallo, Donizetti, Mozart, Handel, Purcell, Cavalli and Monteverdi, including Mozart’s Idomeneo for Sir Simon Rattle with the Berlin Philharmonic in the Salzburg Easter Festival and Monteverdi's L'Orfeo at the Opéra de Lille, the Théâtre du Chatêlet, Paris and L'Opéra du Rhin with Emmanuelle Haim.
MARK GRIFFITHS – Musical Director
Mark Griffiths began his musical training as a chorister at St John’s College, Cambridge and returned to the university as a Choral Scholar at Trinity College. While at Trinity he started conducting the college orchestra, gaining experience of large orchestral works including Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No 2 and Vaughan Williams’s 5th Symphony. During postgraduate studies at the Royal College of Music he began to conduct singers and, soon after, began a long association with the multi-award-winning Berkshire Youth Choirs, initially as Associate Conductor and latterly as Acting Musical Director. Recently he spent thirteen years as Choral Director and Lead Tutor in Voice for the Junior Department of Trinity College of Music. In 2003 he became Musical Director of Coro, a prize-winning London-based chamber choir with whom he won the Grand Prix at the Tallinn International Choral Competition and prizes at festivals in Arezzo, Italy and Tours, France. They have recorded three CDs and sung backing vocals for a number of classical crossover albums. With Coro he was a Founder of the London International Choral Conducting Competition and is a member of its National Jury. Mark has worked with the Philharmonia Chorus, preparing them for concerts at the Royal Festival Hall and on tour, and for small professional groups including Trinity Voices. He also coaches choral conductors for the Association of British Choral Directors at whose National Convention he has been a presenter. He is an adjudicator for the National Festival of Music for Youth and a former recipient of a Winston Churchill Travelling Fellowship.
ST PAUL’S SINFONIA
Orchestra leader James Widden writes: “ St Paul’s Sinfonia was formed in 2004 to perform concerts at the fine Baroque church of St Paul, Deptford. We spent our first seven seasons there very happily, but in 2011 we spread our wings and moved to new venues, principally St Alfege Church, Greenwich, but also St Margaret’s Church, Lee and Cadogan Hall. This season is our fifteenth, and we continue to go from strength to strength, always supported by an ever-growing audience whose never-ceasing enthusiasm and support is the reason why we enjoy performing so much. The Sinfonia players are delighted to be working with Beckenham Chorale again, and we are already looking forward to the exciting programmes for the rest of this season and the next “
The orchestra gives monthly concerts between September and June usually at St Alfege Church, Greenwich . Full details are on the St Paul’s Sinfonia website.