December 2023 Concert

7.30 pm, Saturday, 9th December 2023

St Edmund’s Church, Shipston-on-Stour

Ralph Vaughan Williams     Five Mystical Songs  and   Fantasia on Christmas  Carols

Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart     Ave verum corpus                   

…. and carols for all.


Thomas Humphreys, bass baritone*


The Royal Birmingham Conservatoire Orchestra

* Thomas Humphreys appears by arrangement with Ann Ferrier Artists – Concert Directory International.

For tickets, please click on the ‘Book now’ box below.  Alternatively, tickets (£16) can be bought at the door on the night of the concert (accompanied children free).

James Neville

James Neville

James Neville developed his love of singing as a chorister in Cardiff, and now combines a career in professional music alongside his role in senior educational management. As an undergraduate, James read Modern History at Magdalen College Oxford, where he was an Academical Clerk in the College’s Grammy-nominated Choir. He went on to complete an MPhil at the University of Cambridge where he was a Choral Scholar in the world-famous King’s College Choir and featured in the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, broadcast to an estimated audience of 120 million. As a countertenor soloist, James has gone on to sing in venues ranging from the Royal Albert Hall to the Amsterdam Concertgebouw.

Working with some of the UK’s leading conductors and ensembles, his solo engagements have included Bach B Minor Mass (Gloucester and Llandaff cathedrals), Bach Christmas Oratorio (Cambridge University Concert Hall), Bach Magnificat (Reading University Great Hall), Bach St John Passion (Hereford, Norwich and Ripon cathedrals), Bach St Matthew Passion (Colston Hall and Hereford Cathedral), Britten A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Chester Town Hall), Handel Israel in Egypt (Birmingham Town Hall, St Albans Cathedral and St Martin-in-the-Fields), Handel Judas Maccabaeus (King’s College Chapel), Handel Messiah (Wells Cathedral, Colston Hall and York Minster), Handel Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (Llandaff Cathedral), Monteverdi Vespers (Amsterdam Concertgebouw), Mozart Requiem (Rochester Cathedral) and Vivaldi Gloria (St David’s Hall, Bruges and Ghent cathedrals) and he is delighted to be singing Handel Messiah with Stour Singers in May this year.

James also directs The Neville Consort, one of the Midland’s finest vocal ensembles, specialising in one-voice-per-part performances of European sacred music:

William Burn

William Burn trained as a choral scholar at King’s College, London. As a bass-baritone, he is in demand as a performer of oratorio and consort music from the Middle Ages to contemporary music. William has performed many oratorio roles, including the Bach Passions, Messiah, Judas Maccabeus, The Creation (most recently for Sir Nicholas McGegan at Nottingham’s Royal Concert Hall), Elijah, Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs, the Dvorak Te Deum, Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and the Requiems of Verdi, Mozart, Faure and Duruflé. Staged operatic performances include Dido and Aeneas, Acis and Galatea, Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne, and Lampe’s The Dragon of Wantley as part of the Ross on Wye International Festival.

A particular area of interest is for song and Lieder, with recent programmes including Winterreise, Schumann’s Dichterliebe and Opus 24 and 39 cycles, Richard Rodney Bennett’s Songs Before Sleep, Wolf’s Michaelangelolieder and Quilter’s Seven Elizabethan Lyrics. This year his recital programmes have included Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad at Southwell Minster and Dichterliebe in Derby Cathedral.

William is the artistic director of The Nottingham Baroque Soloists, whose repertoire includes cantatas by Bach, Buxtehude’s Membra Jesu Nostri and Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. He studies with Lynne Wayman.

William also works as a translator and subtitler from German, specialising in academia and the social sciences. His recent work includes reports to the United Nations Human Rights Council and reports on human rights issues in Germany. He also provides English-language translations for the German Federal Government Press Agency. As a subtitler he specialises in documentaries for Arte, including work on hip hop culture and human rights.

Natalie Montakhab

Natalie Montakhab

Soprano Natalie Montakhab studied at the Royal Academy of Music and the RSAMD Opera school. She made her English National Opera debut as Angelina Trial by Jury and at Welsh National Opera, going on as the cover in the role of Gretel Hänsel und Gretel. She sang Marzelline Fidelio under Edward Gardner and the English National Opera orchestra.

Recent and future opera highlights include understudying Alice Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Will Todd at WNO, Zerlina Don Giovanni at Saffron Hall and recording Mozart arias with the London Mozart Players. Recent and future oratorio highlights include Handel’s Messiah, Rossini’s Stabat Mater and Messe Solennelle.

Most frequently performed operatic roles include Vixen Příhody lišky Bystroušky, Musetta La Boheme, Pamina Die Zauberflöte, Zerlina Don Giovanni, Susanna Le nozze di Figaro, Karolka Jenufa and Yum Yum The Mikado.

Conductors she has worked with include Sir Mark Elder, Edward Gardner, Lotar Koenigs, Martin Fitzpatrick, Stéphane Denève, Ilan Volkov, Christian Curnyn, Laurence Cummings and Masaaki Suzuki. Most recently, Natalie has sung Messiah at Worcester Cathedral and Judas Maccabeus with the Plymouth Philharmonic Choir at the Plymouth Guildhall.

Natalie lives in Hampshire with her husband and three small children.

Matthew Minter

Matthew Minter

Having studied singing at the Royal Northern College of Music, the critically acclaimed English tenor soloist Matthew Minter is in demand throughout Britain and on the international concert platform.

Matthew works regularly with many of Britain’s leading orchestras, including The English Symphony Orchestra, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. He has had the privilege of working under the direction of such distinguished conductors as Pierre Boulez, Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Bernard Haitink, and Sir David Willcocks and he has performed at a number of the most prestigious venues including the Bridgewater Hall, the Barbican Hall, the Royal Albert Hall and the Royal Concertgebouw.

Away from the oratorio concert platform, Matthew has made numerous broadcasts as a soloist for BBC radio and television. He has performed extensively with the BBC Singers over the past 25 years and was a member of the Netherlands Radio Choir for almost five years. Matthew continues to work with many other vocal ensembles, recording for radio, television and film. Matthew is currently a Vicar Choral at Wells Cathedral where he enjoys singing on a daily basis.

Selected career highlights to date include a gala concert performance in the presence of a former British Prime Minister, singing at a private party for members of the British Royal Family, and notably appearing on BBC’s Top Gear performing O Sole Mio whilst being driven in a Maserati sports car by the seven-time Formula1 world champion Michael Schumacher!


The birth of the English Oratorio

Back in 1718, Handel had composed a highly successful masque, Hamman and Mordecai, ‘writ’ by Alexander Pope. The year after his annus horribilis, 1731, he revived the masque and things started to take a turn for the better. On 23rd February, with boys from the Chapel Royal and Bernard Gates (one of his regular soloists), Handel staged performances of it, renamed The History of Esther, at the Crown and Anchor tavern. One person who witnessed the performance, the Earl of Egmont, commented:  ‘This oratoria or religious opera is exceeding fine, and the company were highly pleased, some of the parts being well performed.’

After this success, Handel proposed to stage it at the King’s Theatre, where his operas were usually performed. This caused a dreadful furore. Dr. Gibson, Bishop of London forbad it. He deemed it sacrilegious to perform a biblical work in such a theatre.  Handel’s response to the ‘ban’ was to extend it to a full-length work, and he proceeded to perform it at the theatre, renamed simply Esther, on 2nd May the same year. He was very careful with the publicity though: ‘there will be no action on stage’; ‘the house will be fitted up in a decent manner’; ‘the music is so disposed after the manner of the coronation service’. On 6th May the Royal Family attended the performance in state. The new form, the English Oratorio had been born, and approved.

The issue of oratorio being performed in a theatre would rear its head some years later. In 1741 Charles Jennens had given Handel the libretto for Messiah. Famously, Handel composed it in 24 days.  In April 1742 it received its first two performances in Dublin, to rapturous applause. In March the following year Handel performed it in the King’s Theatre.  Here it was a disaster. The ‘public’ were offended that such a deeply religious work should be performed in a theatre.  However, Handel would go on to give many performances of it, to great public acclaim, raising considerable funds for his favourite charity, the Foundling Hospital. 

The Foundling Hospital

The Hospital for the Maintenance and Education of Exposed and Deserted Young Children was the brain-child of Captain Thomas Coram, who was greatly concerned at the number of abandoned, destitute children on London’s streets.

In 1739 he persuaded King George II to grant a royal charter for the establishment of the hospital in Bloomsbury (in the region of the current British Library). Handel, along with his friend William Hogarth, became one of the governors in 1749. It was in that year Handel mounted a performance of his Music for the Royal Fireworks in aid of the hospital, to which the King subscribed £2,000.  Handel went on to compose an anthem for the hospital and to donate an organ which he had previously bought for himself. To mark the inauguration of the organ he arranged a performance of Messiah on 1st May 1750. Tickets cost half a guinea (now £150) and were available in fashionable coffee and chocolate bars.  Many seats were sold twice, and people were turned away.  Handel was much perturbed by this and arranged a second performance for those who had missed out the first time.

The Messiah charity performance was an annual event until Handel’s death nine years later. The performances raised £11,000 (modern equivalent £1,540,000).


Handel’s rise and fall

Since he was a very young man, Handel had been obsessed with Italian opera; indeed he travelled on his own to Italy where he was able to refine his setting of Italian texts.  During the three years he spent there he graduated from being a brilliant keyboard player nicknamed Il Sassone (the Saxon) to being lauded as Il caro Sassone, composer of the latest hit opera, Agrippina.

In late 1710, aged 25, Handel travelled to England and settled permanently in London.  Over the next 20 years opera would be his bread and butter.  Opera was all the rage and Handel was phenomenally successful, becoming wealthy in the process.

1730 had been a triumphant year, but all changed in 1731, first with the death of his mother, the only woman he was ever close to.  Opera had fallen out of fashion and consequently Handel made considerable losses.  Operas have always been very expensive to stage. His ‘friends’ of 1730 disappeared, and we now find him living as a recluse, although sometimes he would be seen ‘lumbering around’ in Hyde Park.

Click here for information on ‘The birth of the English Oratorio’.