All Saints’ Church Leamington Spa reverberates to the thrilling sounds of Italian Baroque
The choir’s first complete season of concerts since lockdown reached a dramatic climax on Saturday 18 June, with a programme of works from northern Italy dating from around 1700. We were joined by five wonderful soloists: the sopranos Philippa Hyde and Faye Newton, alto Cathy Bell, tenor Matthew Sandy and bass Philip Tebb. The concert was also our first collaboration with the period instrument ensemble Charivari Agréable, directed by Kah-Ming Ng - who, we are delighted to say, have already agreed to return next spring for Bach’s Mass in B minor.
The concert began with a performance of Antonio Vivaldi’s well known and deservedly popular Gloria from 1715, which opens with the dramatic sounds of trumpet, oboe and strings, before the voices burst in with their first ‘Gloria’. The oboe came to the fore again partnering the second soprano in the lyrical ‘Domine Deus’ solo. After the Vivaldi, our Musical Director Lee Dunleavy introduced a musical rarity - a setting of the Magnificat by the Ursuline nun Isabella Leonarda. Sections for four part choir alternate with short solo passages, and there is an extended duet for the two violins. It is strange to think that this piece, like the Vivaldi, would originally have been performed entirely by women, with the lower parts adjusted to fit the range of the singers available.
The second half the concert featured G F Handel’s ebullient psalm setting Dixit Dominus. In this piece, the German-born composer (who later became a naturalised British subject) proved he could ‘out-Italian the Italians’, absorbing their musical forms and styles and producing a work that arguably beats them at their own game. The martial texts of Psalm 110 are brilliantly depicted through driving rhythms, clashing harmonies, and dramatic rhetorical effects. This is complex and challenging music to sing, and choir numbers were somewhat depleted on the night due to Covid and other enforced absences, but as always Lee’s hard work, boundless energy and infectious enthusiasm for the music ensured that the choir gave of their very best.
A review in the Leamington Courier the following week was full of praise for the choice of music, the soloists, the instrumentalists, and last but not least, the choir: “RLSBC’s strengths were best demonstrated in the second half of the concert, with an assertive performance of Handel’s Dixit Dominus. A vast amount of rehearsal work has been undertaken to deliver their splendid-sounding five part chorus. Handel would have been very pleased with the tenacity shown by members from those opening cascades to the final colourful conclusion which requires the considerable agility of all five soloists and chorus.”
A few weeks before the concert, Lee shared some important personal news with the choir. He has been accepted for ordination training by the Church of England, and begins his studies at Cuddesdon College near Oxford this autumn. We are very pleased that Lee intends to stay with the RLSBC until summer 2024. We will miss Lee very much, but we are thrilled for him that his vocation has been confirmed, and we offer him our warmest congratulations on this significant life change.