The Sitwell Singers' established track-record of mixing unfamiliar ingredients alongside the more familiar ones in their Christmas concerts is clearly in safe hands with their new conductor Dexter Drown. Tenor Martin Power was doing double duty, nipping up to the organ loft for the audience participation carols - St John's Church, Derby, UK, 19 December 2022.
There was plenty of expressive contrast, from exuberant energy to hushed concentration. Sweelinck's Hodie Christus Natus Est was a robust curtain-raiser, followed by the flowing lines of Victoria's motet O Magnum Mysterium, whose concluding 'Alleluia' went with a real swing. There was an engaging lilt to Robert Pearsall's arrangement of In Dulci Jubilo.
At the quiet end of the spectrum, the choir captured the serenity of John Joubert's There Is No Rose and Morten Lauridsen's O Magnum Mysterium, though the big climax of this was not short-changed. Herbert Howells' A Spotless Rose, with David Tudor the expressive soloist, and Here Is The Little Door, were both highly atmospheric. For Peter Cornelius' The Three Kings, in the familiar Ivor Atkins choral transcription, Dexter Drown moved to the church's east end and the choir turned to face him. Apart from a slight loss of co-ordination in the last verse, it was an imaginative way of ensuring the chorale - the piano part in the original song - was a discreet backdrop to Chris Motley's sonorous account of the solo part.
Other numbers included Sullivan's jolly I Sing The Birth, whose music could easily slot into one of the Savoy operas, Welsh composer Garth Tredseder's engaging setting of fifteenth-century words in Blessed Be That Maid Marie, and the teenage Britten's remarkably mature A Hymn To The Virgin, with the solo quartet effectively placed off-stage.
Of the two pieces by Peter Warlock, Bethlehem Down was taken at a riskily slow tempo, but it was well sustained, and the tricky tuning mostly came off, a telling contrast to the choir's ebullient take on his Benedicamus Domino.
Dulce Jesús Mío is an anonymous piece from the huge repertoire of South American baroque music which many people will have first met in recordings by Ex Cathedra and conductor Jeffery Skidmore in the past twenty years. With its text in both the Chiquito Indian language and Spanish, it is a hauntingly lovely hymn which Ex Cathedra performed as a recessional. The Sitwell Singers did the same, processing through the church, humming as they reached a side room, and reverting to words in the distance. The effect was utterly magical, and I could happily have left it there. But the choir came back on for the applause, and sent us on our way with a perky Swedish carol whose title I didn't catch from the spoken introduction.
Copyright © 27 December 2022