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If Music be the Food of Love

‘If Music be the Food of Love…’ is, of course, from the opening line of Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night, and this concert was to mark the four hundredth anniversary of the poet’s death.

Love, the Spring, Marriage, Courtship and sometimes Loss were our themes. All was under the figurative eye of Oriana (Queen Elizabeth I) as she is so powerfully celebrated in Eric Whitacre’s Her Sacred Spirit Soars. The piece was new to the choir’s repertoire and programmed as the pivotal concert item, coming immediately after the interval. To perform it, Music Director Elisabeth Croft took the decision to ‘hide’ the choir from the audience’s view in the massive stonework of the venue’s eastern vault, in order to exploit its extraordinary acoustic potential. Constructed 1000 years ago, Holy Trinity, Cookham, is ‘a classic Norman church, built on the site of an earlier Saxon church’, and the sound from under the arches has a magnificent life of its own. This was the characteristic that enabled Whitacre’s soaring, cathedral-like choral sonorities—and also those of Tavener in the much-loved Song for Athene—to fill the nave quite magically. Around these thrilling moments flowed a programme of works written entirely in the twentieth or twenty-first centuries, with each composer seeking to capture in music a personal impression of Shakespeare’s words or Shakespeare’s world. The Rutter and Shearing jazz cycles were upbeat and delightful. The Vaughan Williams Three Shakespeare Songs and the Finzi pieces dreamed musically of a lost emotional and spiritual landscape. E J Moeran’s Songs of Springtime, another new addition to our repertoire, exploited the experimental possibilities of both harmony and dissonance latent in the English madrigal. The final medley of numbers from West Side Story prompted numerous calls for an encore: for which the choir sang an arrangement of Fix You by Coldplay, part of our entry in the recent Choir of the Year auditions. A very warmly received concert!