The Voice of My Beloved


10th March 2018

St George's RC Church, Taunton

The theme of love was the unifying factor in a rewarding concert of choral music from the 15th century to the present offered by the Collegium Singers at St George’s Church Taunton on 10 March. Musical Director Tomos Watkins is to be complimented on devising a programme which addressed the theme in different ways, with a rich and – it must be said – sometimes challenging diversity of musical styles. 


Immediately appealing, and delivered with warm, well-balanced vocal tone and impeccable tuning, were pieces by the Anglo-Canadian composer Healey Willan, the Victorian madrigalist Robert de Pearsall (the tender and moving ‘Lay A Garland’), and the American Edward MacDowell (a vocalise based on his piano piece ‘To A Wild Rose’).


The same qualities were displayed in sensitive interpretations of two Renaissance settings of words from the Song of Songs, by Lobo and Clemens non Papa, and the performance by the upper voices of the poignant and haunting ‘Ah, Robin’ by William Cornysh – a good example of the gift for melody which distinguished English composers of the 15th and 16th centuries from many continental contemporaries.


The highest mountain to climb, technically, was another setting of words from the Song of Songs by the British contemporary composer Frances Grier whose ‘Dilectus Meus Mihi’ was refused publication by OUP because of its sheer difficulty! Passages of dissonant counterpoint alternate with calmer, harmonically consonant sections, rather as if the sun were periodically emerging from dark clouds. The choir made a brave attempt at an intriguing and gripping work. It would have been good if they had sung it twice in the programme, to allow the audience better to appreciate its qualities and absorb its emotional impact.


Further elements in this musical kaleidoscope were ‘Rakastava’ - a setting by Sibelius of Finnish folk poetry in a charming and accessible idiom, which was given a highly successful performance featuring soloists Matthew Dietz and Fiona Hobday -  and two settings by contemporary American Morton Lauridsen of two poems in French by the German poet Rilke. Lauridsen’s instantly recognisable harmonic language served these texts well, complemented by an agreeable melodic gift, especially in ‘Dirait-on’.


The programme was completed by three madrigals by the Italian genius Monteverdi who pioneered the transition from Renaissance to Baroque and was one of the founders of opera. His music is tempestuous, virtuosic, full of abrupt contrasts. The choir sang with skill and mastery of the many intricacies, but it would have been good if their mellifluous, quintessentially English tone had yielded to something more red-blooded and – well, operatic!


In sum – congratulations to Collegium Singers for an accomplished and always absorbing concert of beautiful music.


Andrew Carter