Purcell & Charpentier: Te Deum

Schola Cantorum of Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School
Spiritato!  Iestyn Davies
St John’s, Smith Square. 29 April 2015

Purcell: Suite from Abdelazer, Jehova Quam Multi Sunt Hostes Mei, Te Deum and Jubilate in D. Rameau: Suite from Les Indes Galantes, Charpentier: Te Deum

I wouldn’t normally review a concert given by a boys’ school choir, but the Cardinal Vaughan Memorial School is well-known for their music education and performances.  The Schola Cantorum supports the liturgy of the school services, but is better known as one of the few school choirs that are regularly called upon for professional engagements. These have ranged from the Harry Potter films to a recent live broadcast on BBC Radio 3 of James MacMillan’s complex St Luke Passion. Individual boy singers are also often to be heard at Covent Garden and the Coliseum.

In conjunction with the enterprising period instrument orchestra, Spiritato!, the 46 boys of the Schola gave a concert in St John’s, Smith Square contrasting English and French music of the late 17th to mid 18th century, starting with Purcell’s instrumental suite from Abdelazer. The Schola Cantorum then sang the motet Jehova Quam Multi Sunt Hostes Mei, one of only two surviving Latin motets by Purcell. The start was rather timid, and I did wonder whether starting the choir with a piece accompanied just by organ, rather than the orchestra, was the best idea. But the boys soon got into their stride, helped by some solos by three professional soloists – notably tenor Josh Cooter and the headline soloist, the outstanding countertenor Iestyn Davies, the latter no doubt responsible for increasing the audience. They both got brownie points for managing proper trills. James Arther’s bass voice was rather too vibrato-laden for my taste, not least because it made his intonation sound rather insecure and blurred his attempt at ornaments. But he managed a spectacular low E.

A far more confident performance from the boys came with Purcell’s 1694 Te Deum and Jubilate in D, and in the concluding 1692 Te Deum by Charpentier. There were a few slightly uncertain moments, notably in exposed choir entries, perhaps suggesting the inevitable lack of rehearsal time with an orchestra in the concert venue. But the choir produced a coherent and full sound, with a good sense of consort. There were three very fine boy trebles in the Charpentier Te Deum, one being exceptionally good (in Te ergo quaesumus). The programme didn’t specify who sang what, so Leo Blair, Alessio D’Andrea and Harry Fetherstonhaugh all get a mention. The three younger trebles in the Purcell Te Deum, will soon be deserving of similar praise.

Spiritato! introduced each half with instrumental suites from each country (Purcell’s 1695 Abdelazer and Rameau’s 1735 Les Indes Galantes), the players showing a clear understanding of the contrasting styles of the two composers and countries. Particularly important contributions came from their leader, Julia Kuhn and Karin Björk, violins, Joel Raymond and Merlin Harrison, oboes/recorders, Russell Gilmour, trumpet, and Henrik Persson, continuo bass viol. Scott Price, Director of Music at Cardinal Vaughan, conducted the choral pieces, giving clear and encouraging directions.

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