The audience at the closing concert of the inaugural Boxgrove Choral Festival was treated to an enchanting evening of music performed by The Beaufort Singers.
This concert was the culmination of three days of plainsong and polyphony all performed by The Beaufort Singers, which included a new commission by Piers Connor Kennedy of a Nunc Dimittis, and a service of Compline which was sung partially in candlelight.
It is a mark of The Beaufort Singers that it champions new music by commissioning works from young composers. All the members of the choir are currently either completing their studies at Cambridge University or embarking on the early stages of their careers.
The programme included a cappella music from many periods of history. Of special note was the juxtaposition of two contemporary works with two pieces from many centuries ago, which the contemporary works responded to.
Composer (and schoolmaster) Neil Cox was inspired by the beauty and compositional rigour of Jean Mouton’s Nesciens Mater to write his own ‘quadruple canon’, O Maria, vernans rosa. It contains a direct musical quote from the Mouton in the opening tenor solo.
In a similar vein, Owain Park’s Upheld by Stillness was commissioned by ORA and Suzi Digby in 2014 as part of a set of commissions to several composers to write a musical response to movements from Byrd’s Mass for Five Voices. Owain, who performed at this concert, was given the Sanctus and Benedictus with which to respond. Quoting Byrd’s music as a dreamy ‘backing track’ to a setting of a poem by Kathleen Raine, Byrd’s music comes in and out of focus during the work.
Joseph Wicks, Assistant Director of Music at Truro Cathedral and founder of the choir, directed the choir with aplomb. There was great depth of the talent in all the singers, adept at creating slow-moving soundscapes in some of the Owain Park pieces as well as lively and intricate rhythmic singing in Swayne’s Magnificat and Howells’ Antiphon.
I particularly enjoyed the contributions of these soloists: Louis Watkins (tenor in Cox’s O Maria vernans rosa), Fiona Fraser (soprano in Park’s Upheld by Stillness, Rosanna Wicks (soprano in Swayne’s Magnificat), Henry Laird (tenor in Rachmaninov’s Nunc Dimittis), Anita Monserrat (soprano in Rachmaninov’s Tebe Poyem), Helena Moore (soprano in Park’s The Wings of the Wind) and Ed Cunningham (tenor in Cox’s Keep me as the apple of an eye).
Boxgrove Priory, with its frescoed ceiling and glorious acoustic, made an ideal setting for this special music.