There is Sweet Music
4th November 2017
Church of St John the Evangelist, Taunton
The ever-enterprising Collegium Singers, under their talented and urbane new Director Tomos Watkins, provided an unusual, intriguing and deeply satisfying programme of mostly modern British music at their concert at St John’s, Taunton on 4 November.
After a slightly uneasy start with Elgar’s technically challenging ‘There Is Sweet Music’ the choir delivered the rest of the programme with confidence, precision and a wide tonal and dynamic range. Elgar’s ‘The Owls’ was futuristic in its elusive impressionism. James MacMillan’s ‘The Gallant Weaver’ was haunting in its deceptive bitter-sweet simplicity, with delicate interwoven soprano lines. Bob Chilcott’s ‘The Runner’ introduced unusual effects such as rhythmic breathing and repetitive Minimalist techniques – one could visualise the effort of the athlete.
The most substantial work was ‘The Passing Of The Year’ by Jonathan Dove – settings of seven texts about the passing of time. Dove’s style, while harmonically and technically adventurous, is rooted in the past, accessible to the modern ear, and speaks directly to the emotions. Here the choir showed that it could roar as well as whisper. Karen Paul was the sensitive and virtuosic piano accompanist.
Tomos Watkins complemented the choral music with organ pieces by Vaughan Williams and Maxwell Davis, sensitively played on the fine Willis organ of St John’s.
Clearly Tomos has already bonded with his choir and created a versatile and flexible ensemble. The respectably-sized audience who responded to the challenge of the unfamiliar were richly rewarded and responded enthusiastically.