The Cathedral Girls’ & Youth Choirs took part in an end of year concert celebrating a year full of wonderful singing at services, concerts and also a year filled with choir trips to chapels and Cathedrals all over the UK. The repertoire of the concert featured pieces written by composers born during the 20th and 21st century with the centrepiece of the concert being Will Todd’s ‘Jazz Missa Brevis’ sung in full by the youth choir and accompanied by a jazz duo of Jane Dench on piano and Shaun Bajnoczky on drums. See below for the full review of the concert by Julia Bentham:

On 12th July at Brentwood Cathedral, two choirs came together to give a concert of 20th and 21st century pieces, which was directed by Art Wangcharoensab, Assistant Director of Music at Brentwood Cathedral and Youth Music Co-ordinator in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brentwood.  Art trains and conducts the Cathedral Girls’ Choir and Cathedral Youth Choir, whose beautiful voices we had the pleasure of hearing this evening. 

The concert began with Brentwood Cathedral Youth Choir singing two ‘a capella’ pieces, which immediately immersed the audience in a quiet prayerfulness.  ‘Ubi caritas’ by Maurice Durufle (1902-1986) is one of four motets composed in 1960: ‘Quartre Motets sur des themes gregorians’.  Durufle was a boy chorister at Rouen Cathedral, where the choral plainsong tradition became a strong and lasting influence.  This was followed by ‘Mother of God, here I stand’ by John Tavener (1944-2013), with the Choir’s attention to diction clearly announcing the words of devotion, such as “…now praying for the icon of your radiant brightness”.

The evening continued with music written by four living composers, this time sung by Brentwood Cathedral Girls’ Choir and accompanied by the pianist Jane Dench.  ‘The Peace of God’ by John Rutter (b. 1945) was performed in the reflective manner intended, and when we heard the soaring high phrases delivered so precisely, it was clear that these choristers were used to engaging with the acoustics of the Cathedral.  ‘Celtic Blessing’ is another contemplative English piece, written by Colin Mawby (b. 1936), a former Master of Music at Westminster Cathedral and therefore experienced in liturgical and other styles of cathedral singing; his musical ‘Blessing’ gave us solo sounds and sweet harmonies, ending with quieter sustained chords.  The Girls’ Choir then sang ‘Gaelic Blessing’ by Diana Burrell (b. 1948), who was commissioned by Brentwood Cathedral Choir to write a choral Mass setting (Missa Brevis) to mark the Centenary of the Diocese of Brentwood in 2017.  This was a lilting, soothing piece with lullaby style in places, and the Choir sounded particularly ethereal across the broad melodic intervals.  It was then delightfully contrasted with ‘Nella Fantasia’, by the famous Italian film composer Ennio Morricone (b. 1928) and instantly recognisable, based on ‘Gabriel’s Oboe’ theme from ‘The Mission’ (1986).  The ease with which the Choir performed this popular theme demonstrated their genuine affection for the music, reaching out warmly to the audience.  

If ever there was a choral work perfectly suited to the combining of two youth choirs, surely it is John Rutter’s ‘Look at the World’, known for its universal appeal at a variety of venues.  It is a joyful song of praise with powerful lyrics, giving thanks for God’s blessings and all of creation, which was illustrated with jubilant energy through smooth key changes and immaculate musical phrasing.  The joining of these thirty or more singers, under the guidance of Art Wangcharoensab’s confident directing, was truly uplifting!

Before performing ‘Jazz Missa Brevis’ by English classical composer Will Todd (b. 1970), Brentwood Cathedral Youth Choir sang three shorter pieces, the first of which was Will Todd’s setting of ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ from his ‘Te Deum’ (2009), premiered at Guildford Cathedral and used frequently in church worship.  With its quiet beginning and calming harmonies it gradually gathers pace, matching the familiar lyrics with convincing contrapuntal effects.  As the evening progressed, the Choir sang two pieces with a nocturnal theme:  ‘Sure on this shining night’ by American composer Morten Lauridsen (b. 1943) is from ‘Nocturnes’ and starts gently in plain song style with unison men’s voices, joined by the other singers in the remaining verses.  ‘Underneath the Stars’ was written by the singer song-writer Kate Rusby (b. 1973), who has a huge folk following, known as the ‘Barnsley Nightingale’ and composing heartfelt ballads.  The music for this section of the concert was aptly chosen and contrasted beautifully with the final choral work of the evening.

For Will Todd’s ‘Jazz Missa Brevis’ the Youth Choir and pianist Jane Dench were joined by the drummer Shaun Bajnoczky for an outstanding performance!  This energetic work, requiring great attention to ensemble, vocal and rhythmical detail, with clear guidance in dynamics, tempo and musical expression from the conductor, embraces a variety of Jazz styles in its five liturgical movements.  The ‘Kyrie’ has a swinging jazz waltz.  The ‘Gloria’, with dramatic drumming, has an upbeat Latin-groove style.  The smooth jazz ballad sound of the ‘Sanctus’ and 7/8 time signature of the ‘Benedictus’ lead the performers and listeners to a soulful ‘Agnus Dei’, completing this most inspiring Mass setting.

As an additional treat, both choirs combined once more for an encore: ‘Fight Song’ by American songwriter Rachel Patten (b. 1981), with solo / choral arrangement by Roger Emerson.  There followed tumultuous applause for all the musicians and a celebration afterwards in the Song School. On behalf of Andrew Wright, Director of Music, we would like to thank Art Wangcharoensab for his incredibly impressive leadership and conducting, and for training both choirs to perform to such a high standard in all aspects of musicianship and vocal accomplishment.  Thank you to all the choir members for their glorious singing and for sharing with us such an enjoyable and varied programme of choral music.  Also, we thank Jane Dench (Piano) and Shaun Bajnoczky (Drums) for their excellent instrumental support.  Congratulations to you all!

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