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A review by Geoffrey Bennetts of the concert given by ‘Cantamus Giessen’ on Friday 17th May 2013 at St Cross, Winchester, 7.30pm.
Giessen is Winchester’s twin town in Germany and this concert, attended by our new Mayor, Cllr. Ernest Jeffs, was the first in aid of his charities this year.
There is in Germany a tradition of unaccompanied choral part-singing going back to the Renaissance and before. In 2009, Axel Pfeiffer continued this in setting up a choir of about 35 younger people, with a wide repertoire of unaccompanied works as well as solos, duets and trios, ranging from the Renaissance to modern times. They have quickly established a considerable reputation in north Germany, winning several Festival prizes.
The 21 pieces they performed for us were therefore a real treat. The choir’s ability to grasp different styles across such a range was stunning in so young a group. To pick out individual items is to take a risk; but for me the Saint-Saens Ave Verum showed great devotional warmth; and Simon Wawer’s setting of O magnum mysterium (a hymn on the Nativity) was also warm and controlled. Ernani Aguiar’s setting of the 150th Psalm and the spiritual Ezekiel saw de wheel both exhibited rhythmic strength in very different contexts.
Now is the month of maying, Morley’s well-known madrigal, with its speed, and light but vigorous rhythms, is demanding; and the choir grasped its dynamic contrasts brilliantly. Strong rhythms were evident too in Stanford’s Shall we go dance, with its high soprano lines, and also in Erdmann’s Tanz mir nicht with its drone bass and contrasting melody. There were solos and duets as well, which demonstrated individual developing talents in Mendelssohn’s Gott, sei mir gnȁdig, Ich wollt meine Lieb, and the Abendlied.
A high point of the evening was Sleep, by Eric Whitacre, where the choir split forces and sang from the back as well as the front of the nave; the piece is a modern reflection on what Shakespeare called ‘the knitting-up of the ravelled sleeve of care’, a gentle, slow resolving of the day’s worries. The cheeky setting of The mermaid was a cheerfully humorous end to the evening.