Christmas 2017 saw Cantorum Choir enter a new era.
Initially asked to take this concert as guest conductor, Oliver Gooch was appointed as permanent MD during the rehearsal run, and so ‘Candlelight Christmas’ became his official debut. The occasion was always going to be a demanding one for both conductor and choir, as many of the rehearsals had to be given over as audition opportunities for others of the shortlisted candidates. The programme, however, had been carefully planned in advance by Oliver and Jenny Knight (Chairwoman), which meant that in spite of the disruption everything was able to come together very successfully on the night, with Ollie making himself an instant favourite with our audience.
In a first half devoted to advent, two particular and contrasting highlights were new to the choir: the glittering Seek Him That Maketh The Seven Stars by Jonathan Dove and the magical O Magnum Mysterium by the American composer Morten Lauridsen. These were fascinating both to prepare and to perform, and their warm reception justified all the work and attention to detail. The larger works bracketed three beautiful musical celebrations of the Virgin Mary.
The focus after the interval was on the Nativity itself, again with two important and demanding musical ventures alongside the more traditional carols. The first of these was the world premiere of Anthony Dowlatshahi’s striking new setting of The Coventry Carol. As Anthony is a member of the choir, we were naturally very keen to do the piece justice. We need not have worried: Oliver’s direction brought out with great drama and excitement the work’s compelling power. There followed several simple carols showcasing some of the choir’s lovely soprano voices, and then the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols with baritone and cello provided a magnificent finale to a very memorable concert. That was not to forget, of course, Let it Snow, and Rudolf the Red Nosed Reindeer—as demanded by the audience by way of an encore!