In Dulci Jubilo
Christmas Music from German Lands
18th December 2009
Parish Church of St John, Wellington
SEASONAL CHEER - Review by Andrew Carter
A near-capacity audience reacted with enthusiasm to the Christmas concert of Collegium Singers (formerly Taunton Camerata), held in St John’s Church, Wellington on 18 December.
Entitled ‘In Dulci Jubilo’, the programme contained seasonal music of the Medieval, Renaissance and Baroque eras from German-speaking lands, focussing on tunes which in their modern versions are familiar to anyone who attends a Christmas Carol Service. This was popular music from a bygone age, performed with verve, enjoyment and a sense of fun entirely appropriate to the season.
The composers featured – Schein, Scheidt, Lassus, Michael and Hieronymus Praetorius, among others – are not exactly household names. But the programme notes by Musical Director Peter Leech brought them and their world vividly to life with a wealth of fascinating detail, as well as explaining how the tunes evolved and were adopted by both the Catholic and Protestant traditions. Not many people knew – until now – that the rhythm of some carols was dictated by the need to rock an eight-foot long model cradle in time to the music!
Strong, catchy rhythms were the common feature of most of the works performed: here the choir excelled with alert, disciplined, bright-toned singing, with Peter Leech laying down his baton to play a drum – in authentic period style. Momentary lapses of concentration in two extended motets served only to underline how high is the standard of musicianship routinely achieved by this choir.
Another authentic feature was the presence of a quintet of distinguished instrumentalists – Collegium Bläser – playing cornettos and sackbuts. These instruments were widely used (including no doubt by the predecessors of the Wellington Silver Band!) until the seventeenth century but either fell into obsolescence or (in the case of the sackbut) evolved into the modern trombone. As well as accompanying the choir, the quintet played with impeccable virtuosity a number of solo pieces which would have resounded in churches or princely residences – or from the roof of the Town Hall!
The audience were invited to join in the festive spirit by singing two of the carols, and responded lustily.
Collegium Singers have a reputation for carefully researched and constructed programmes of less familiar, but beautiful music: judged by the size of Friday’s audience, they have hit upon a winning formula.