Concert Reviews

St John Passion with the English Touring Opera, October 2016

English Touring Opera’s latest presentation is Bach’s St John Passion, but their approach is not operatic in the sense of staging the work with the trappings of costume and props. Neither is it touring in the conventional way of a production doing the rounds. Rather, ETO’s soloists and regular accompanists, the Old Street Band, are working at each venue with choruses from within that community, in a natural extension of the company’s outreach and education programme. 

The impact of the opening chorus Herr, unser Herrscher, delivered by the joint forces of the Cantamus Chamber Choir, the Wiltshire Music Centre Chorus and choristers from St Laurence School with a considerable body of sound, was testimony enough to a worthy endeavour. 

ETO’s most imaginative and radical intervention has been commissioning new English translations of the words of the Bach chorales, each from a different writer and embracing a wide range of beliefs. It underlines very strongly a basic principle of Bach’s structuring of the passion, where the communal voices of the Leipzig community would have joined in the periodic choral commentary and corporate affirmation. Thus John McCarthy’s experience as a hostage in Beirut brings a particular force to the chorale that focuses on Christ’s capture, and the vehemence with which the voices articulated Giles Fraser’s words “Drenched in spit and mockery” adds a vivid contemporary resonance.

Bach Advent Cantatas with the English Touring Opera, October 2014

So many elements combined to make this one of the most divine enterprises of English Touring Opera’s outstanding season.

And what an incredible mixture of talents it was, from the ebullient conducting of the highly disciplined Cantamus Chamber Choir by Jonathan Peter Kenny, through four outstanding soloists, to The Old Street Band playing period instruments it was truly an evening to remember.

Kenny’s crafting of Bach’s chorales, seemingly almost woven by his hands, brought out the intrinsic sinews of heavenly harmony. Baritone Grant Doyle’s singing of the famous aria with only pizzicato accompaniment was surreal, and underpinning much of the solo work was the sympathetic continuo work of cellist Kinga Gaborjani.

Cantamus director of music, Michael Daniels played the trumpet in Cantata BWV 147 with his usual aplomb, and not one split note from his Bach trumpet, a most difficult instrument.

As much as anything, it was the human touch that gave the performance another dimension: the cameo of oboist Leo Duarte telling the story of his prized instruments and, joy of joys, the audience practising and eventually singing – in English, of course – the choral movement Jesu, joy of man’s desiring.
REG BURNARD - WILTSHIRE TIMES, OCTOBER 2014

Petite Messe Solenelle, November 2013

It's never been my luck previously to review Cantamus, a compact chamber choir under the hand of Mike Daniels, a jovial musician of diverse genres.

Truly my misfortune, for in this concert of Rossini’s “poor little mass... the final sin of my old age” (the composer’s words) there was so much of which they can be mightily proud.

Daniels worked them hard: They didn’t just sing the notes; they poured their hearts into a performance that captured the operatic opulence of a work that is almost a caricature. They are well schooled and their discipline is admirable. How refreshing, these days, to see 30-odd singers able to sit and stand without shuffling, fidgeting and flapping about. That is so important.

Their tone held through a lot of singing, their attack was incisive and their counterpoint un-muddied: but, like most choirs these days, they do need more basses for those that they have sounded, accurate as they may be, at times like a thin red line.

This mass needs piano and harmonium and Stephen Cooke (harmonium) and the redoubtable, unflappable Steven Hollas, on piano, laid a perfectly balanced and sure bedrock.

The soloists, Cheryl Enever (soprano), Jeanette Ager (mezzo), Paul Badley (tenor) and Colin Campbell (bass), all added the icing on an early Christmas treat – surely a tasty aperitif for the choir’s next offering, carols, Christmas music, readings (and mulled wine) at Christ Church, Worton, on December 18.

REG BURNARD - NOVEMBER 2013