Review of our May 2018 concert


The Shipston Stour Singers under their creative musical director, Richard Emms, gave us a night out to remember at St. Edmund’s Church, Shipston on Stour on the 12th May.  They were beautifully accompanied by the talented  Queen’s Park Sinfonia chamber orchestra of young graduate musicians who, with professional skill, put their heart and soul into the performance. The choir’s own musically sensitive Rachel Bird was on keyboard.

Richard had chosen a challenging and exciting programme, in terms of contrast for both choir and audience, with the Rutter Magnificat followed by the Fauré Requiem:  a vividly joyous and celebratory work by Rutter and the all-time favourite Fauré with its core serenity and sublime tenderness.  Both these works required a great deal from the interwoven voices of the choir in terms of dynamic control and timing.  In my view and according to audience response they succeeded magnificently with a full bodied performance of the Magnificat, which one person described to me as the popping of champagne corks, bubbling with vivacity.  To follow this with the quietly controlled and sustained vocal demands of the Requiem was difficult but this generally mature choir managed to achieve that intrinsic sweetness and clarity of young voices the work really needs.

But neither work could have succeeded so well  without the lovely professional voices of the soloists, Soprano, Ruth Holton and last minute replacement baritone, Andrew Mayor.  Ruth, in a varied career has developed a huge repertoire ranging from music of the Middle Ages to the Contemporary.  Her voice has a ringing, bell-like clarity, a really pure sound with which she brought a gentle flow to Rutter’s Et misericordia  and in the Requiem’s Pie Jesu a spiritual purity which brought a lump to the throat.  And from my point of view I found the Italianesque operatic approach of Andrew Mayor to the Fauré distinctly appropriate and very moving.  He also brought a strength and richness to the Requiem’s Libera Me, in its supplication to the Lord to be delivered from everlasting death.

The two profoundly religious works are to my mind about love and one would assume it was an over-riding love of God in the world and for life which inspired both Rutter and Fauré and even perhaps, under the mystical power of music for one evening, the capacity audience at St. Edmund’s.

Maggie Goren

Haydn’s ‘Creation’

The Creation 

Josef Haydn (1732 – 1809)

by Joseph Haydn

First bilingual oratorio?

Haydn’s greatest hit….



The Handel Festival, Westminster Abbey


In 1791, during Haydn’s last triumphant visit to London, he attended the annual Handel Festival in Westminster Abbey.  The tradition at the time was to perform Handel’s oratorios with as many as 1,000 performers, and that year Israel in Egypt and Messiah made a huge impact on Haydn. He resolved to compose something similar himself, particularly inspired by the vivid musical pictures in Israel in Egypt.

Initially a suitable libretto did not materialise, but four years later, just as he was leaving London for home, he was given a libretto, The Creation of the World, based on Genesis as it appears in the King James Bible, and on Milton’s Paradise Lost.

When Haydn arrived back in Austria he had the libretto translated into German by that great musical connoisseur and pillar of Viennese society, Baron Gottfried van Swieten.  Then he got to work on what would be one of his final masterpieces.  It took him more than a year to complete and left him ill with exhaustion.  But at the first performance, before a private audience of the great and good, the listeners were so completely bowled over by the musical picture of the creation of Light that the performance had to stop while they recovered.  The Creation proved to be an instant huge success, too, with the wider public.

In fact, Haydn had decided to publish The Creation in both German and English, making it probably the first bilingual musical composition.  He also published and distributed it himself, with the aid of subscriptions, which proved to be very lucrative.  Also, he conducted many lavish charity performances raising huge sums for the Tonkünstlersocietät, a charity supporting widows and orphans of musicians, very much in the vein of his inspiration, Handel, in his support for the Foundling Hospital in London.

Back to December 2018 concert 

Magnificat – John Rutter

The UK premiere of John Rutter’s Magnificat was given in Coventry Cathedral, but this was a year after the world premiere, which was in the Carnegie Hall, New York. Indeed, most of Rutter’s larger choral works were written for American choirs.

It is an immediate, tuneful, sunny work, which has the added bonus of being performable by amateurs. Its directness is explained by Rutter himself: he says, ‘In countries such as Spain, Mexico and Puerto Rico, feast days of the Virgin are joyous opportunities for people to take to the streets and celebrate with singing, dancing and processions. These images of outdoor celebration were, I think, somewhere in my mind as I wrote, though I was not fully conscious of the fact till afterwards.’* It should be added, that it is highly singable because Rutter happens to write very well for the voice.

His conscious model, however, was J.S.Bach’s Magnificat, specifically the earlier E flat version which has a set of so-called Lauds, or Songs of Praise, which were traditionally inserted amongst the Latin text (these included the popular German hymn, Martin Luther’s Vom Himmel hoch, and the plainsong Virga Jesse floruit). So similarly Rutter has interpolated a setting of the anonymous 15th century English text Of a rose, and he uses the plainsong tune for the Sanctus, which, again, would not normally be part of the Magnificat. (There are other bits of plainsong lurking amongst the orchestra.) Rutter has also dipped into other ‘traditional’ formal ideas, such as in the Doxology, as it was in the beginning. Here he has employed the common practice of making this a repeat of the opening music (as did Bach (Magnificat), Handel (Dixit Dominus), Vivaldi (Gloria) – and many more).

Rutter has made this piece available in a version for full orchestra and also for a smaller ensemble. Stour Singers will be using the latter version, for the simple reason, the smaller orchestra will fit in the church.

*© Collegium Records

If you would like to listen to John Rutter talking about the Magnificat on YouTube, please click on the following:

back to May Concert 2018

Requiem – Gabriel Fauré (1845-1925)

Fauré’s Requiem does not follow the traditional pattern of a mass for the dead. It was not triggered by the death of someone he knew, nor was it a commission. He said it was ‘composed for the pleasure of it’.

Gabriel Fauré

It was started when Fauré was 32, and it took him 16 years to finish. It is a wonderfully serene work, despite being composed during what might now be called a protracted ‘mid-life crisis’.

He had been appointed choirmaster at the famous Madeleine church in Paris and had become engaged to Marianne Viardot – he had been in love with her for 5 years. In October Marianne broke off the engagement because she felt, not love for him, ‘only affection mixed with fear’. It appears that behind his outwardly charming manner Fauré hid a darker side.

Fauré was devastated and immediately went away on long travels in Germany, England and Switzerland. He met Liszt twice, but it was Wagner and his operas which particularly fascinated him. Despite this obsession, strangely there is no trace of Wagner in his style of composition.

Eventually returning to Paris aged 38, he married and settled down to the tedium of organising services at the Madeleine, and teaching piano and harmony – what he called his ‘mercenary work’. But his ambition was to flourish as a composer. Sadly the daily grind ensured he only had time to compose during the summer holidays, and he despaired of ever reaching the public. Being so grossly thwarted in his real calling, perhaps it was not surprising that privately he suffered from what he called ‘spleen’, which took the form of depression and anger, perhaps violence. Things did not improve until he was 45, when he did start at last to gain some recognition. He finished work on the Requiem 3 years later, in 1893 (although he would go on to reorchestrate it in 1900).

Considering the turbulence of his spirit during its composition, the serenity of the Requiem is quite extraordinary.

Back to Concert May 2018

Alan Fairs

I was born at Gateshead on Tyneside. My father was a well-known local amateur singer who had studied with the prominent Newcastle singing teacher, George Dodds, whose publications are still available. My early memories include being taken to concerts given by the Felling Male Voice Choir. We moved to Glasgow when I was eight years old, and I sang as a treble in the local church. For secondary schooling I went to Barnard Castle School in the north of England. It had an excellent chapel choir. Here too, I gained valuable stage experience. While my subsequent career has been short on Gilbert and Sullivan and there has been no opportunity to repeat my interpretation of Mabel in Pirates of Penzance, school opera provided an introduction to grand opera in the form of Mozart’s Magic Flute in the role of Papageno. I also appeared as Ithamore in The Jew of Malta alongside a younger boy by the name of Kevin Whately in what was possibly his first experience of being on-stage.

From school, I won a choral Exhibition to Caius College, Cambridge where I read economics. Alongside my duties in the college chapel, I regularly took part in concerts. I was also a member of a ‘group’, the Gentle Power of Song, which recorded for Polydor Records, and appeared several times on television. One of our songs, Constant Penelope, by Richard Hill, can be heard on Youtube. That’s me singing the bass part. I hoped to proceed to the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, but was disappointed to learn that having already gained a degree, I had made myself ineligible for further grants to study at a music college.

There followed a career in banking, which began in September of 1968, but ended that December after I was persuaded to apply for a bass lay-clerkship which had become vacant at Worcester Cathedral. This was the start of more than a decade in which I sang in Worcester Cathedral Choir, while teaching economics locally, and I’ve lived in Worcestershire ever since.

Offers of oratorio engagements began to come my way. The very first was for a performance of Stainer’s Crucifixion at a fee of four guineas! My oratorio work grew steadily and I found myself travelling ever further afield for concerts. I also auditioned successfully to sing with the wonderful BBC Singers and with other professional choirs, mainly in London, until in 1980 I left teaching, having already resigned my cathedral lay-clerkship in order to be more available for oratorio. I enrolled as a part-time student at the Birmingham School of Music (now the Conservatoire). Also in 1980 I entered the Incorporated Society of Musicians NatWest Festival Days Competition with my wife Heather as accompanist and we emerged as joint winners.

1982 brought my first venture into the world of professional opera when I auditioned successfully for the Glyndebourne Chorus, and this brought tremendous opportunities both as an understudy and in performing several small roles. Only a few weeks before the start of my first Glyndebourne season I had appeared as bass soloist in Haydn’s Creation alongside the late Elizabeth Harwood. My first appearance at Glyndebourne was in Der Rosenkavalier in which Elizabeth Harwood was the Marschallin, and she was extremely helpful and supportive during my first very nervous experiences as a chorister on the Glyndebourne stage.

At Glyndebourne a kind colleague suggested I ought to have more singing lessons and provided a valuable introduction to the world-renowned teacher, Audrey Langford. I studied with Audrey until she died some ten years later. I continued my studies with Andrew Field, and subsequently with Robert Dean and Graeme Broadbent; this over a period of more than twenty years.

Having left Glyndebourne’s chorus in 1985 I spent two summers in the chorus at the Bayreuth Festival. There were other chorus and extra-chorus engagements at Covent Garden, at Amsterdam and Enschede in Holland, and at the Wexford Festival.

After 1989 I sang three seasons as a principal with Pavilion Opera, and gave many performances in several roles. My three years with this company provided extremely valuable experience that would have been hard to find elsewhere. It was followed by several roles with Travelling Opera, Crystal Clear Opera, the Craig y Nos Opera Festival, London Opera Players, European Chamber Opera, Mid-Wales Opera, Nurnberg Pocket Opera, Castleward Opera and Holland Park Opera among many other companies and festivals. I’ve performed as Alberich in Wagner’s Der Rheingold at the Longborough Festival, receiving excellent press reviews, and I have appeared as Osmin, Don Pasquale and Don Alfonso (Cosi fan tutte) with the excellent Diva Opera.

My first engagement with Welsh National Opera came in 1995, understudying Don Alfonso in Cosi fan tutte. Since then at WNO I’ve sung Sacristan (Tosca), Bonzo (Madama Butterfly) – both for several seasons, Monterone (Rigoletto), Dikoj (Katya) in two seasons, Foreman (Jenufa), Basilio (Barbiere di Seviglia), Swallow (Peter Grimes), Dulcamara (L’Elisir), Talpa (Il Tabarro), Magnifico (Cenerentola) and Bartolo (Figaro) in two seasons.  I’ve understudied Baron Ochs in Der Rosenkavalier twice for English National Opera and in German at Scottish Opera and for Covent Garden.  I appeared as the Attorney in Der Rosenkavalier at Covent Garden.  With English Touring Opera, there was Pistola (Falstaff) and Melisso (Alcine).

Roles at Glyndebourne were Antonio (Figaro) and Starveling (Midsummer Night’s Dream) in early years, but more recently I’ve appeared there as Micah and Kezal (Bartered Bride). I also understudied excellent Italian artists in Rossini buffo roles as Don Magnifico (Cenerentola) and Bartolo (Barbiere di Seviglia) while at Glyndebourne.

My first engagements at Scottish Opera were to understudy Alberich (Das Rheingold) and Dulcamara (L’Elisir). There followed engagements to perform as Bonzo (Madama Butterfly) and Kommissar (Der Rosenkavalier). An engagement to understudy Raimondo in a season of Lucia di Lamermoor became an opportunity to perform the role in all performances when the casting was unexpectedly revised, and I was delighted to read some of the most pleasing national press reviews of my career. Since then I have also appeared as Dr Grenvil in La Traviata, and most recently as Le Comte des Grieux in Manon, where once again, my contributions won plaudits in the press. Scottish Opera also engaged me in a ‘gala’ opera concert, as well as for a concert performance of I Puritani. I’m especially pleased to feel I’ve achieved two of my greatest successes in what was once my home city.

There have been many engagements abroad, including a long tour as Sarastro on the eastern side of the USA from Florida to Maine, a tour of Switzerland and Germany with Opera Factory Zurich in their production of Marschner’s Vampyr and at Geneva in Berio’s Un Re in Ascolto.

Alongside my progress as an operatic principal, I’ve been very pleased to continue accepting regular engagements as an oratorio soloist. After emerging successfully from the competitive auditions, one of my earliest engagements was to appear in ‘Messiah from Scratch’ at the Royal Albert Hall, conducted by Sir David Willcocks, and I’ve continued singing Messiah throughout my career. I wish I’d kept count! It was gratifying recently to be asked back by the Leeds Festival Choral Society for a Dream of Gerontius immediately after singing in one of their Christmas Messiah’s at the splendid Leeds Town Hall! My most recent engagements include four favourite works – Verdi’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, Bach’s St Matthew Passion (as Christus) and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.

After the ISM/NatWest Festival Days Competition, Heather and I enjoyed many song-recital engagements. I gave lieder recitals on BBC Radio 3, appeared on Radio 2’s ‘Friday Night is Music Night’, and also on Independent Television singing songs by Ivor Gurney. Heather and I have continued appearing from time to time with Gabriel Woolf to perform his excellent Far from Home, a delightful collection of songs, poetry and other readings, light-hearted as well as tragic, from the First World War. This was first performed at Worcester’s Three Choirs Festival, then at London’s Wigmore Hall, and for many music societies and festivals.

Programme biographies often include a section listing ‘Awards’. Apart from the ISM/NatWest Festival Days Competition success, there has been one other award, which I received at the Holland Park Opera Festival in 1997 for my appearance in Tosca. At that time, awards were normally given for the best male and female principal, which of course tended to go to those performing the biggest roles. However, the judging panel decided to create an ‘Extraordinary Special Judges’ Award’ just for me! Quoting from their press release, the award was, “in recognition of his outstanding contribution to the…production in the role of Sacristan. It was felt that his ability to engage the audience so completely in such a small role was a great achievement.”

I’m happy to say I’m in excellent vocal health. After a ‘slow-burn’ career of gradual improvement and development, I feel I’m singing better than ever.

Richard Dowling

Richard Dowling

Richard Dowling is a graduate of the Royal Academy of Music’s Opera Course, where he was privileged to perform the role of Tom Rakewell in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress. He also particularly enjoyed appearing as Le Prince in Massenet’s Cendrillon, performing in the Wigmore Hall with the Academy Song Circle and as a soloist in the Academy’s complete Bach cantatas series. He is now generously supported by Opera Prelude, with whom he appears regularly in their lectures and recitals.

He recently sang the role of Ferrando in Mozart’s Cosi fan tutte with West Green Opera and, working with the inspirational Graham Vick, performed the role of the Sailor in Birmingham Opera Company’s production of Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas. He has also worked in educational outreach, singing the role of Nemorino in Donizetti’s Elisir d’amore with Jackdaws OperaPLUS.

With Garsington Opera he performed as the Glassmaker in Britten’s Death in Venice conducted by Steuart Bedford, as Selimo in Rossini’s Maometto II, and Mosquito in Janacek’s The Cunning Little Vixen. He was pleased to be awarded Garsington Opera’s 2014 Simon Sandbach Award. He also sang the role of Count Almaviva in Rossini’s The Barber of Seville as a young artist with Mid Wales Opera.

Richard is a keen recitalist, was a participant in the 2015 Wigmore Song Competition and recently gave a recital at Leighton House, Kensington, inspired by his life and paintings. He is also an experienced oratorio artist, engagements including Britten’s Ballad of Heroes and Mozart’s Requiem in the Bridgewater Hall, Finzi’s Dies Natalis in Brentwood Cathedral, Janacek’s Otcenas in Gorton Monastery and Handel’s Messiah in Lincoln Cathedral.

He also enjoys singing with the Gabrieli consort and with the Choir of the Age of Enlightenment, including a recent tour of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio under maestro Masaaki Suzuki.

Richard originally studied Chemical Engineering at The University of Manchester and went on to complete a PhD in the field of crystallisation while working as a Lay Clerk at Manchester Cathedral.

Raphaela Papadakis

Raphaela Papadakis

Winner of the National Mozart Competition 2015, Raphaela Papadakis is a British soprano of Greek, Italian and Seychellois descent. Whilst still a student at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, she made her professional début at Garsington Opera, for which she was praised by the Financial Times as giving “the most attractive solo performance” of the show. Since then, she has performed roles with Independent Opera and Bury Court Opera, and covered at the Royal Opera House and the Berlin Staatsoper. Recent and future roles include the cover of the title role in Cavalli’s Hipermestra at Glyndebourne Festival Opera and Orestilla in Porpora’s L’Agrippina in its British première with Barber Opera.

A passionate recitalist and concert singer, Raphaela made her début at Carnegie Hall in 2014, and was a Vocal Fellow at the Ravinia Festival, Chicago. This season sees her return to the Oxford Lieder Festival with Sholto Kynoch and the Piatti Quartet, and appearing as a featured artist at the 70th birthday celebrations of the celebrated composer Nicola LeFanu. Raphaela’s awards and prizes include the York Early Music Festival Prize at the London Handel Festival, 1st Prize and Audience Prize at the Clonter Opera Competition, and 1st Prize at the Maureen Lehane Vocal Awards. She is a Samling, IMA, and City Music Foundation Artist, and a winner of the Making Music Award for Young Concert Artists.

Recent and future plans include Haydn’s Creation with Paul McCreesh, performances with Multi-Story at the Aldeburgh Festival, creating the role of Doria Manfredi in a new play about Puccini’s life called Il letto by Christopher Hogg, a Helios Collective production for the Buxton, Copenhagen and Grimeborn Opera Festivals, and concerts of French song with Tom Poster, Elena Urioste and the Navarra Quartet at the Roman River Festival, recorded for broadcast on BBC Radio 3.

Raphaela studied at Clare College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class degree in English Literature, and at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama with Janice Chapman.

Robert Rice

After a choral scholarship at King’s College, Cambridge, British baritone Robert Rice gained a DipRAM in London under Mark Wildman, continuing his studies with Richard Smart, Sheila Barnes and Nicholas Powell.

Robert Rice

As a concert artist his repertoire is extensive and varied: highlights of last season included singing Humperdinck at the Berlin Konzerthaus, Mozart at the Worcester Three Choirs Festival, and concerts of Monteverdi, Bach, Dvorak, Vaughan Williams, Walton and Carl Orff.  Robert’s interest in performing contemporary classical music as a soloist began in his twenties when he tackled the modernist expressionism of Peter Maxwell Davies and Ligeti, and this led to staged premieres of works by Judith Bingham, Paul Clark and Nigel Osborne (with Opera Circus, touring the UK and Bosnia & Herzegovina).  In recent years he has been involved in premieres of diverse new works, those by Jacques Cohen, Philip Cooke, Paul Drayton and Piers Maxim being notable examples.  His future plans include further appearances as the various love interests of Alma Mahler in Elizabeth Mucha’s Art Sung project, and he debuts in April as Mydas in Franz von Suppé’s The Beautiful Galatea.  As a recitalist he often collaborates with German guitarist Erich Schachtner on programmes of lieder and lute songs.

Robert has recorded Judas in The Apostles with Canterbury Choral Society and the Philharmonia Orchestra, and his version of Cornelius’ Die Drei Könige (The Three Kings) with the choir Polyphony is a favourite on both Classic FM and BBC Radio 3 whenever Christmas approaches. When not performing, he leads workshops, adjudicates, and teaches widely, including for the National Youth Choir, Eton Choral Courses, and at Oxford and Cambridge Universities. Novello & Co. Ltd have published many of his vocal arrangements, while others are sung worldwide, and have been recorded, by the King’s Singers. His nickname Berty has confused countless acquaintances. He often tries to arrange his singing engagements around skiing trips to the Alps, although aware that it should be the other way round.

Ruth Holton

Ruth Holton (Photograph by Gerald Place)

The soprano Ruth Holton has enjoyed a varied career as an oratorio singer and recitalist in repertoire ranging from medieval to contemporary music. Her interpretations of the passions and cantatas of JS Bach established her as a leading baroque soloist through concerts and recordings for Sir John Eliot Gardiner, the Leipzig Thomanerchor, Amsterdam Baroque and the Holland Boys Choir. She has sung with leading ensembles throughout the world including the Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment, the Hilliard Ensemble, Fretwork and Ensemble Modern.

The clarity of Ruth’s voice makes her a popular choice for newly commissioned music and she has sung in premières of works by Steve Reich, Peter Salem, David Briggs, Guy Woolfenden and others.

In 2014 she toured Germany, England and the USA with the forte pianists Malcolm Bilson and Zvi Meniker in recitals marking CPE Bach’s 300th anniversary. More recently her concert repertoire has included Vaughan Williams Sea Symphony, Verdi Requiem, Howells Hymnus Paradisi and Strauss Four Last Songs.

This season Ruth gives recitals of Schubert Lieder and new works by Robert Scott, and performances of Rutter Magnificat, Brahms Requiem and Mendelssohn Lobgesang.

Ruth has given masterclasses at Dartington, Madrid and Gdansk. She is the
Organist and Director of Music at All Saints West Dulwich, and she founded the community choir Sing4ALL in 2014.