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By This is Dorset  |  Posted: August 14, 2009

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Somerset Chamber Choir, Wells Cathedral

WHEN you have 25 years of successful music making behind you it is worth celebrating in style. So the Somerset Chamber Choir chose a programme entitled "Brilliant Baroque!" and treated its capacity audience at Wells Cathedral last Saturday to an impressive array of soloists, a fine orchestra (Canzona), an inspired choir and music for a festive occasion. This celebratory cocktail was masterly directed by the choir's conductor since 1990, Graham Caldbeck.

The celebration of sound opened with Charpentier's Te Deum of 1706, a work full of majestic music. The choir and soloists enriched this noble music with a French baroque pronunciation of the Latin text. The work was also an inspired choice for introducing all five of the evening's soloists - Emma Kirkby, Sophie Bevan, Tim Mead, Thomas Hobbs and Derek Welton.

Having whetted our appetite, Handel's Dixit Dominus of 1707 was by any standards a meaty main course. This work is a hefty challenge. The choir must have stamina and substantial technical competence; the soloists must have beauty of sound, technical agility and great breath control; the orchestra and continuo need to be accomplished and balance well with the singers. None of these requirements was found wanting and through Graham Caldbeck's clear, decisive and dedicated approach they were effectively co-ordinated. Indeed the momentum of the work was maintained and gathered power and pace through the final movements to end with a regal flourish.

The non-Baroque gem of the evening, Jonathan Harvey's The Angels written in 1994, is a short unaccompanied piece for double choir with a pantheistic text and an inspired setting. There are a number of testing aural challenges here but some slight imperfections were amply overcome by the appropriate acoustics and the spiritual essence of the piece emerged unscathed.

Vivaldi's Gloria was the evening's delicious finale. This could have been a sedentary performance where familiarity breeds a dull reaction in performers and audience alike. Although the singing and playing did feel somewhat measured, it was directed and performed with convincing integrity.

Of the soloists, Emma Kirkby seemed curiously restrained in the Te Deum but with Sophie Bevan was a real joy in Vivaldi's Laudamus te, both singers displaying an empathetic musicianship and a sound that was both graceful and polished. In the Charpentier Tim Mead, Thomas Hobbs and Derek Welton proved that soloists can also be good ensemble members when necessary. Tim Mead's counter-tenor solo, Virgam virtutis, revealed a voice, musician and performer that was both captivating and exciting.

This gala occasion was a remarkable milestone in the history and development of the choir. Its singers - past and present, Graham Caldbeck and the Board of Trustees are to be warmly congratulated on the first 25 years of the Somerset Chamber Choir.

Andrew Maddocks

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