The English Music Festival

Dorchester Abbey, Oxfordshire, was the venue for Bath Camerata’s performance in the 2017 English Music Festival. We were lucky enough to be sharing the stage with the Bristol Ensemble, Soprano Johane Ansell and baritone Alex Otterburn. The repertoire matched the wonderful performers and venue we had: Vaughan Williams Dives & Lazarus and Serenade to Music (choral version); Britten Simple Symphony; Bridge Nocturne from Suite for Strings; and Paul Carr’s Requiem for an Angel.

The concert began with the sublime Dives and Lazarus played by the Bristol Ensemble. As Vaughn Williams explained himself “These variants are not exact replicas of traditional tunes but rather reminiscences of various versions in my own collection and those of others.” In this piece I particularly appreciate the lines between variants and sections obscure, giving extended contemplation on the melody. Personally, for me, it’s up there with Vaughan Williams’ best pieces, filled with guile that goes unnoticed as you focus on the cognitive experience.

Next, Simple Symphony, by Benjamin Britten. Filled with a virtue of textures and harmonies, this is a piece completely constructed on material which Britten wrote between the ages of nine and twelve. The second of the movements Playful Pizzicato is indeed my favourite of the movements; it was truly joyous to hear the playful rhythms of the strings.

Before Bath Camerata entered the stage, Frank Bridge’s Nocturne from Suite for Strings. I enjoyed the playful yet restrained rusticity of the intermezzo, and indeed the elegiac elements of the nocturne.

It was then Bath Camerata’s turn to join the Bristol Ensemble to perform the well known Serenade to Music. The work is for 16 vocal soloists, with text by William Shakespeare in a discussion about music and the music of the spheres. The piece was written in tribute to Sir Henry Wood to mark Wood’s fifteenth anniversary of his first concert. Focus was put on the importance of the text and diction, especially in the quieter sections of the piece, allowing word painting to be achieved to accompany the gorgeous music. It was a real pleasure to hear the soloists in the choir as it allowed members of the choir to showcase their wonderful voices. Tutti interjections, with the call and response from the brass section, built tension in the middle parts of the piece, which then erupted in pure fortissimo singing, which the basses certainly enjoyed (well I did), singing top E’s in unison with the rest of the choir. Benjamin [Goodson, conductor] didn’t tell us off for being too loud as well… For me, that was the moment the hairs stuck up on my neck.

Talking about hairs standing up, the finale of the concert was Requiem for an Angel by the renowned composer Paul Carr. The piece certainly provided that effect also. I would like to congratulate Paul on the work and allowing us to sing and share his touching piece. The opportunity to sing with soloists, Johane Ansell (soprano) and Alex Otterburn (baritone) was a great pleasure, and as a young singer is something I always learn a great deal from.

The concert was a fair distance from Bath but I am sure I can speak on behalf of the choir that it was certainly worth the travel up the M4. Not only did we have to develop the soundscape for the pieces together with Benjamin’s help, but it required us to work on our solo interjections. I think the choir were so professional with the approach to this concert and the meticulous work that was required to do the music justice. I am always blown away by the pace that we are constantly developing and all with the guidance and trust of Benjamin. As a developing professional, I am constantly overwhelmed with the opportunities Bath Camerata gives me. To have the opportunity to perform alongside successful artists is always a big inspiration and a real pleasure. I also had the opportunity to sing a solo in the most amazing venue – that is something I am always grateful for.

Congratulations to all that took part, I look forward to the future with Bath Camerata.

Ben Knight, Bass