What people think of Viva la Musica...
Eternal Source of Light Divine - Saturday 23rd June 2018
Review by Nicholas Scott-Burt
On Saturday 23rd June an enthusiastic capacity audience at St Aidan's, New Parks, Leicester, was treated to the most exciting and polished performance by an amateur choir that I have heard for a while. Conducted by Simon Lumby, the Loughborough based chamber choir Viva La Musica offered an all Handel programme comprising well-known and lesser-known works: the four Coronation Anthems of 1727 and the birthday ode for Queen Anne Eternal Source of Light Divine, which was also the title of the concert. The choir was accompanied by the Musica Donum Dei chamber orchestra, and the three soloists, soprano Judit Felszeghy, countertenor Tom Williams, and baritone Andrew Ashwin interspersed the anthems with movements from opera and oratorio as well as providing the solo arias in the Ode.
From the choir's first dazzling entry in Zadok the Priest, their brightness and projection of sound seemed to be at odds with their small number, only eighteen singers in all, who rose magnificently above the trumpets and timpani of the orchestra. Throughout the performance the singers' clarity in the long melismas, their sense of phrase and shape, and the blend both within voice parts and across the breadth of the chording and counterpoint never failed to impress. Some of the chordal passages in The King Shall Rejoice made the singers work hard against the brightness of Handel's orchestral scoring, but the imitative lines and strings-of-pearls passagework were accomplished with finesse and apparent ease throughout the programme.
The three soloists, whose contributions from Judas Maccabeus, Samson, Giulio Cesare and Belshazzar punctuated the purely choral movements gave us much to enjoy, whether this was the silky smoothness and commanding consummate cool of baritone Andrew Ashwin's delivery, or the heartrending phrasing of Tom Williams's countertenor, or the devilish virtuosity made to look so very easy in the coloratura of Judit Felszeghy. The humour which she gleefully projected in Let the Bright Seraphim is a quality so often innate in Handel's writing but nearly as often overlooked by performers - but not here! Judit wooed the audience, not to mention the conductor and the orchestra, giving us no option but to hang on her every semiquaver.
The orchestra, Musica Donum Dei, about whom there was no information in the programme, are a period instrument band who played with much sympathy and subtlety throughout the evening. There is no doubt that period instruments provide a different perspective, particularly on those well-known works which we become accustomed to hearing on modern instruments. Conductor Simon Lumby drew the finest from their lucid tones, and directed the entire concert with a gently understated mastery and control of all the musical layers.
Negative points? It is always possible to search for them - but to criticise this concert at any level would really be an insult. Viva's next outing, their Christmas concert on 9th December at St Aidan's, should go in your diary now (and in pen) if you are a lover of choral music at its finest.
'Sing we and chant it...' - Saturday 14th April 2018
review by Qyan Arnachellum
In the historic setting of Leicester's Grade 1 listed Guildhall, one of the best preserved medieval buildings in the country and to an almost capacity audience, Viva, tonight seventeen strong, presented a selection of madrigals and part songs spanning the last three hundred years, to great effect.
After a slightly rushed but humorous and informative exposition of the genre of music they were performing, the choir began with the song 'Sing we and chant it' by the English composer Thomas Morley, a bright and lively start to proceedings, followed by 'Too much I once lamented' by Thomas Tomkins, reflective in mood but not sombre. 'Come again! Sweet love doth now invite' by John Dowland was spirited and energetic with excellent dynamics.
It isn't possible to comment on every piece sung but it was a very well balanced and challenging (for the choir!) programme, covering the full range of emotion, sung pieces interspersed by poetry recited well. Highlights for me were many but included the Robert Bridge poems set to music by Gerald Finzi including 'My Spirit sang all day' and bringing everything up to date, the Four Fire Madrigals by the eminent American composer Morten Lauridsen.
By their very nature madrigals, sung a capella, test the individual singer's ability to provide a wholesome, in tune sound so that a perfect balance and blend is achieved with the other parts. From experience, this is tiring and demanding, requiring total concentration and dexterity because each part is so significantly exposed. It is not for the faint hearted! For the whole concert, such qualities were displayed. Clear intonation, much light and shade, expressiveness, excellent control and precise execution were further attributes much in evidence. By the conclusion, I was in utter admiration of them, not for the first time I can assure you!
It was a truly wonderful evening, the standard of music making quite simply excellent. Thank goodness, noise emanating from a separate event slowly passing by outside, did not interfere with the music whilst it was actually being sung.
Choral Evensong, Southwell Minster, Saturday 24th February 2018
This act of worship was the first time that I had witnessed Viva La Musica sing Choral Evensong and I was not disappointed. If ever there was an occasion where one's spiritual soul was fantastically enriched and nourished, this was it.
The music chosen demanded clarity and precision at the highest level in its execution and this was achieved in abundance. Throughout the entire service, the quality of singing was simply superb, with beautiful and effective dynamics and accurate timing displaying a technical and musical mastery that was second to none. The marriage between conductor and singers seemed effortlessly blissful resulting in those attending, and I am sure all would agree, feeling very strongly the presence of God in that Holy place.
From Charles Stanford's stunning Beati Quorum Via, Philip Stopford's highly engaging Truro Canticles, through to William Harris' Faire is the Heaven, nothing could be faulted.
A brilliant rendition of Henry Smart's Postlude in D for organ, played by the choir's conductor Simon Lumby, completed this serious, important and very successful time of worship. I couldn't help thinking that God must have been pleased and uttered "Well done, thou good and faithful servants."
One of my favourite hymns is 'How shall I sing that Majesty, which angels do admire?' This also contains the words "...sing sing, ye heavenly choir..." John Mason, writing this in the 17th century probably would never have guessed his hymn of praise would resonate and be so pertinent 324 years after his death. Viva la Musica in this service, demonstrated so magnificently that it is and proved themselves to be the embodiment of such sentiments.
The Rev'd Canon Dr. Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral,
following our visit in September 2016
"We were absolutely delighted to host Viva La Musica at Worcester. They were one of the best visiting choirs that we’ve had, and we really enjoyed their company. The congregation was full of appreciative comments about them. This was their first weekend visit to an English cathedral, and we shall be very keen to have them back again."