Friday, 3 December 2010

Baroque Special: Exeter Chamber Choir and Devon Baroque:Bach Christmas Oratorio

Conductor Andrew Daldorph
plays, sings and conducts the Exeter Chamber Choir in rehearsal
(obscuring wife Sally)
 On Tuesday evening the Exeter Chamber Choir held their final rehearsal for the Bach Christmas Oratorio at Exeter Cathedral this Saturday - in the main hall of Alphington Primary School.  Despite having only the school piano as accompaniment and no soloists the choir produced an incredibly professional sound under the direction of conductor Andrew Daldorph.  You can hear some of that rehearsal this afternoon on the Classical Journey 'Baroque Special' from 2-4pm.  Considering what they can achieve in rehearsal, the performance on Saturday evening is going to be very special indeed.  Not only will they have four professional soloists to perform the recitatives (including Andrew's sister soprano Amy Daldorph) there will also be the full support of the marvellous Devon Baroque orchestra.  In the atmospheric and superbly acoustic setting of Exeter Cathedral this will be a really exceptional concert.

. . . and turns his own pages!
(Sally Daldorph extreme right)
There are many wonderful choirs in Devon, so who exactly are the Exeter Chamber Choir?  It wasn't possible to ask Andrew.  His attention was fully focussed on the music.  Fortunately his wife Sally, who is also a choir member, was able to take a break from rehearsal to fill out the details.
The choir was formed in 1997 and formerly directed by Antony le Fleming.  There are currently about 40 singers from all over Devon, selected by audition for clarity of voice and sight reading ability.  There repertoire extends from the early music of the Renaissance to the twenty first century.  They have performed with Devon Baroque several times already.  In their first year they got together to perform Bach's B Minor Mass in Exeter Cathedral.  Since then they have given joint performances of Handel's Messiah at St George's Church in Tiverton for Christmas 2005 and, more recently, Bach's John Passion at Dartington Hall in March this year.  Rehearsal for the current project started in September.  Bach's Christmas Oratorio, composed towards the end of his career in 1734 when he was Cantor and Musical Director in Leipzig, is his most complex oratorio involving six whole cantatas.  It would be wonderful to hear the complete work but, for an evening performance, it will be necessary to omit cantatas 2 and 4.  This still leaves three hours of baroque magnificence for us to enjoy on Saturday night.
Exeter Chamber Choir also perform modern works.  In October last year the choir performed Andrew Daldorph's own oratorio 'Songs of Hope and Creation' to a sell-out audience and a standing ovation.  For that concert they were singing in collaboration with the East Devon Choral Society.  The soprano soloist? Amy Daldorph! The orchestra on that occasion included some other familiar names: Hilary Boxer led the 'cellists, Julie Hill was amongst the violins and the organist was Andrew's former mentor at Guildford Cathedral, Andrew Millington (who is directing his own concert 'Christmas with the Cathedral Choir' next Saturday).
The Exeter Chamber Choir will be performing again on the evening of Tuesday 14th December, a Christmas Carol Service at Buckfast Abbey with a retiring collection in aid of Age Concern Exeter.  Next year on 5th March they will be performing at Crediton Parish Church with the Beare Trio.  Regular listeners to the 'Classical Journey' will know that the trio is: 'cellist Hilary Boxer from Kentisbeare, clarinettist/saxophonist Chris Gradwell from Beer and the pianist - Andrew Daldorph - who enjoys his beer!

Actress and singer Susan Gunn-Johnson
marks Tuesday 30th November
(St Andrew's Day!)
by wearing the Gunn dress tartan
Even with the limited acoustics of the school hall the sound of the choir was very satisfying with lovely sustain, which will be even better in the Cathedral.  Andrew explained that the trumpets will open the first cantata which will be one long blast of energy.  Working with an orchestra of the standard of Devon Baroque in such a wonderful building as Exeter Cathedral is a highlight of any musical career, so we can expect to see the choir members wreathed in smiles from start to finish.  Hard work but pure pleasure!

One interesting feature of Tuesday's rehearsal was that it was held on St Andrew's Day.  (How could Luch Càise-Dearg forget that!)  One choir member proudly sporting the family tartan was Susan Gunn-Johnson.  Susan is familiar to us for her acting performance as Lady Bracknell in 'The Importance of being Earnest' with the Exeter Little Theatre Company at the Barnfield Theatre at the end of September.  Her husband is, of course, The Venerable David Gunn-Johnson, Archdeacon of Barnstaple.

If you tune in to the Classical Journey Baroque Special this afternoon from 2-4pm you can hear recordings of the rehearsal (which are outstanding), interviews with the choir members (particularly Sally Daldorph) and recordings of Andrew Daldorph's own oratorio 'Songs of Hope and Creation'.  In a two hour programme of baroque we will also have time to hear some of the greatest baroque masterpieces in full: Arcangelo Corelli's Sonata No 12 'La Follia',  Pietro Locatelli's Concerto Grosso in C minor and the sumptuous opening chorale of Bach's St John Passion, 'Herr unser Herrscher'.  We also have a beautiful recording of Broadclyst soprano Bethany Partridge singing an aria, also from the John Passion, 'Ich folge dir gleichfals' (I follow you also).
'Cellist Hilary Boxer is performing with pianist Susan Steele in the Exeter Central Library Music Room on Monday in a lunchtime concert (tea and bakewell tart at noon, Bach Boccherini and Beethoven from 12.30-1.30, admission £4).  So we can look forward to that with a recording of Hilary playing the Bach 'Cello Concerto.
There will also be time for some more modern music - Jazz performances by Andrew Daldorph on piano with Chris Gradwell playing clarinet and saxophone.

Details of tomorrow's Oratorio?

Bach Christmas Oratorio

Saturday December 4, 2010 at 19:30
Exeter CathedralExeter
£22, £18, £15, £12, £8. Children under 16 and full-time students £3 off.
Phone for tickets:01404 813 041 Daily 9am to 9pm.
Other Sources:Exeter Phoenix Box Office (01392 667 080 or
Tickets "at the door" - until sold out

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