Monday 12 May 2014

Ancient and Modern in Weston-super-Mare

Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra
Peter Leech and Harmonia Sacra
We were in Weston-super-Mare last night (11 May 2014)for a lovely concert given by Harmonia Sacra, conductor Peter Leech, at All Saints' Church. The event was a memorial concert for Christopher Manners LRAM who had been the church's organist from 1974 to 2013. It was also the launch of the choir's latest CD on the Nimbus Alliance label. The concert mixed earlier composers with more recentones , including one by Peter Leech and a group of my own motets.

The concert included music by a group of 18th century Italian composers, both well known and lesser known, Alessandro Scarlatti, Tommaso Bai, Giovanni Battista Costanzi, Giovanni Giorgi, and Antonio Bicci which echoed the theme of the choir's recent CD Princely Splendour: Choral works from 18th century Rome. From a non-musical point of view Costanzi is interesting because one of his patrons was Prince Henry Benedict, Cardinal York, who was Bonnie Prince Charlie's younger brother and the last direct Stuart claimant to the English throne. All the motets were fascinating works which certainly deserved the choir attention which the choir gave them, in a series of brilliant, bright-toned performances which were both technically strong and wonderfully involving.

They complemented the earlier items with more recent music, giving fine a fine account of three of my Advent motets from Tempus per Annum, Populus Sion, Ad te levavi and Rorate Coeli. Lovely to hear them again, especially performed by such a fine ensemble and it was fascinating to re-discover the music sung by a choir of 30 voices. Peter Leech's own Do not stand beside my grave and weep set a text attributed to Mary Elizabeth Frye and was dedicated to Christopher Manners memory.

All Saints Church, Weston super Mare
All Saints Church, Weston super Mare
The concert concluded with a group of rather more varied pieces including works by William Harris, Grigory Lvovsky, Tomas Luis de Victoria, Josef Rheinberger and Sergei Rachmaninov. Rheinberger's 1893 setting of Rorate Coeli was included partly as a tribute to Christopher Manners who was fond of the composer. The concert concluded with a lovely account of Bogoroditsye dyevo from Rachmaninov's All-night Vigil.

All Saints Church is a lovely early 20th century Gothic building. Designed by George Bodley it opened in 1902 and was one of his final buildings; the church was not completed until 1925 when Bodley's pupil F.C. Eden finished it by adding a Lady Chapel (though the bell tower was never built).

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