Review of Handel’s Dixit Dominus and Bach Motets in London Evening Standard
St Peter’s, Eaton Square, an imposing neoclassical church in the heart of Belgravia, has been hosting chamber music concerts for ten years. With its bright, welcoming interior and generous acoustics it’s a delightful venue, just five minutes from Victoria, and one I wish I had discovered long ago.
The Vasari Singers began its programme under Jeremy Backhouse with four of Bach’s motets for double choir. These were well-disciplined, tautly rhythmic performances all the more impressive in that they were done without any accompanimental support whatever. Der Geist Hilft and Komm, Jesu, Komm both unfolded their imitative phrases in neatly-shaped paragraphs, while Singet dem Herrn positively bounced along. Only in the sinuously chromatic passages of Fürchte dich Nicht was the voice-leading occasionally a touch murky.
As much as two decades before some of these traditionally Lutheran motets were written, Bach’s more worldly contemporary, Handel, was exposing himself to the Mediterranean sun and the more lyrical Italian style. An early result was the exuberant psalm setting Dixit Dominus, which the Vasari Singers projected, accompanied by the Brandenburg Sinfonia (not ideally balanced – perhaps a trick of the acoustic), with exhilarating verve and brio. The solos were well taken, mostly by members of the choir.
An even greater contrast with Bach’s austerity was offered by William Babell’s astonishing 1717 arrangement of Handel’s battle aria Vo’ far Guerra from Rinaldo. Delivered by harpsichordist David Wright with dazzling virtuosity, this piece, with its vertiginous cascades of semiquavers, was surely the Tiger Rag of its day.
4th November 2016
Rachmaninov All-night Vigil Crowdfunding campaign
Our Crowdfunding campaign to raise money to record the Rachmaninov All-night Vigil (Vespers) has been phenomenally successful and we have been overwhelmed, touched and moved by the response, so much so that we have had to “stretch” our initial target from £7000 to £9000. This still does not cover all the costs of recording, but does mean we will be able to undertake this project. Although the nature of the Crowdfunding campaign is such that it ends at 6.30pm on Friday 28th October, we are still able to receive donations towards this project by cheque, and if you would like to do so, please make your cheque payable to Vasari Singers and send to Keith Long, Vasari Singers Treasurer, c/o St Luke’s Church, 194 Ramsden Road, London SW12 8RQ
Out with the old (robes) and in with the new!
Vasari Singers’ old red robes which we used for cathedral visits were showing their age, and we were delighted to unveil our new Vasari purple robes for the first time in Norwich. They should see us through the next 30 years of cathedral visits!
Review of Under the shadow of His wing CD
Vasari Singers “maintain their high standards here with singing that is committed and sensitive”
Guardian review of latest CD praises seductively lush sound and give us 4 stars
“Vasari Singers launch their own label with this wide-ranging, evocative double-CD meditation on the journey from darkness to light, a reworking of the Vespers service by Jonathan Rathbone, who takes texts from the liturgies of Compline and Evensong and applies double and sometimes triple choir techniques to achieve seductively lush harmonies in 16 attractive a cappella pieces. This talented and versatile choir deserves praise not only for its skilful singing but also for once again commissioning work that refreshes the British choral repertoire, including an imaginative Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis and a sumptuous setting of Now that the sun hath veiled his light.” Stephen Pritchard 18th October 2015
Rathbone recording first CD on new label VasariMedia.
Vasari Singers are launching their own recording label, VasariMedia, on 6 November. With a discography of over 25 recordings behind us already, we are delighted that our first CD on the VasariMedia label, Under the shadow of His wing, is a stunning recording of our commission from composer Jonathan Rathbone. The launch concert will take place in St Alban’s Church, Holborn on Friday 6 November 2015, almost exactly a year after the premiere of the work there.
Jeremy Backhouse, the choir’s long-standing conductor, says ‘After 35 years of outstanding choral singing, we are still achieving great firsts. Launching our own label is an exciting landmark for the choir that gives us great flexibility for future projects. Jonathan’s work is sounding beautiful.’
Based on the format of a Vespers service, Under the shadow of His wing intertwines movements for three choirs with a female semi-chorus, full choir and octet. The 16-track double CD was recorded in the resonant chapel of Tonbridge School, Kent in February 2015 under the expert guidance of producer, Adrian Peacock.
Come and Sing Rachmaninov Vespers
With Jeremy Backhouse and Vasari Singers
Saturday 19 September 2015
St Luke’s Church, 194 Ramsden Road, London SW12 8RQ.
10am – 5pm (doors open at 9.30am for registration and tea and coffee).
Bring a packed lunch.
Students and under 18s: Free
Tickets are available from:
Scores will be available to hire for £5.
We will be using the Musica Russica Edition.
Vasari Singers are recruiting tenors and second basses!
If you have experience of singing in a high quality chamber choir and like what we do, you might like to consider joining us. Follow the link on the auditions page to book an audition or for further information.
Ward Swingle (1927-2015)
“The Vasari Singers is deeply saddened by the news of the death of Ward Swingle at the age of 87. From its earliest days the choir has sung Ward’s brilliant arrangements and always derived great joy from learning and performing them, and seeing the universally positive reaction of the many audiences over the years. We remember with great affection the time Ward came to coach the choir and we were truly honoured that he agreed to become the choir’s first Patron, a position he held in his typically supportive and loving way. Our thoughts go out to his family, to all the Swingle Singers, present and past and to all who were touched by this most brilliant of musicians.”
Two more fabulous reviews for ‘De Profundis’
“The thesis of this disc isn’t a new one but it is always a welcome approach and has been originally addressed. It couples two settings of three texts – the *De Profundis*, the *Miserere* and the Requiem – in contrasting pairs. The most startling contrast, surprisingly, does not involve the only non-Italian piece on the disc – James MacMillan’s *Miserere*, commissioned in 2009 by The Sixteen as a companion to the Allegri – but the two Requiems, which were written close to each other in time but differ so totally in outlook, both stylistically and in length, that they provide testament to the intelligence of the programming.
One of the most notable characteristics of such accomplished amateur choirs is that, although they can often lack the final polish of professional ensembles, there is nevertheless a strong sense of commitment to the sound that can surpass that of their full-time counterparts. And so it is here – the tuning is not always perfect and there are occasionally some standout voices (particularly from the back rows) that interfere with the blend – but that is ultimately forgivable solely on the basis that their corporate engagement with the music and the overall sound is so tangible in their performance. In the Italian pieces that can sometimes be at the expense of the breezy operatic sound that they really need; but the close recording of the full-choir passages supports a warm, broad sound that more than does an English style of justice to those Italianate pieces. And the audible corporate breathing in the choir that is particularly noticeable in the Allegri is (almost) silent testament to the greatness of English choirs.”
Caroline Gill – Gramophone, January 2015
“Imaginative settings of the Requiem (Puccini and Pizzetti), *Miserere* (Allegri and MacMillan, the latter written in response to the former) and *De Profundis* (Pizzetti and Malipiero) are beautifully delivered on this CD. Pizzetti (d. 1968) has a tonal language evoking Bruckner; Malipiero (d. 1973) makes atmospheric use of organ and other instruments and a well-delivered baritone solo. The Allegri achieves a balance of warmth and space, and the necessary light touch. MacMillan’s powerful a cappella setting brings a new perspective to the text, the agile singing being a credit to the singers and to Backhouse’s lucid direction. Puccini’s accompanied five-minute setting of the Requiem is captivating.”
Matthew Power – Choir and Organ, January/February 2015
Our latest CD ‘De Profundis, Miserere, Requiem’ is collecting rave reviews.
Church Times review of Under the shadow of His wing
“Jonathan Rathbone’s new cantata Under the Shadow of His Wing can be pronounced a total success… a peripatetic performance that was compelling, resonant, and varied in texture.”
Jonathan Rathbone’s Under the shadow of His wing:
world première performed to capacity audience and greeted with a spontaneous standing ovation
Here is what some of the audience members said in the following days:
“Terrific concert on Friday. The choir sounded in tremendous form. Some of the movements were incredibly moving, and sung really beautifully and expressively. In contrast, Hail gladdening light was absolutely stonking! Congratulations. I’m really glad I was there.”
“When you go to see amateur choirs perform, most of the time you have to be prepared for the odd wince. However Vasari Singers are the calibre of the best professional choirs – it is always astounding.”
“…better than professionals because the commitment and love of it shines through The style of the performance of ‘Under the shadow of His wing’ is innovative and it led to an amazing aural experience. With Jonathan Rathbone’s clever and beautiful writing and your excellent direction and management, the whole atmosphere was ethereal. In addition to Jonathan’s completely new movements in the composition, I liked the way he brought in the tunes of familiar hymns like ‘Glory to Thee, my God, this night’ and ‘Abide with me’ and arranged them with such accomplishment. The singing was superb. Composer, conductor and choir completely deserved the long standing ovation at the end.”
“I feel privileged to have been at the world première of such an interesting and beautiful work.”
“Just returned from a truly amazing and inspirational evening. The premiere of Jonathan Rathbone’s magnificent choral work ‘Under the shadow of His wing’ was a huge success, with a packed audience giving the brilliant Vasari Singers, expertly conducted by Jeremy Backhouse, a sustained standing ovation.”
“… was at a world premiere this evening: the Vasari Singers sang Jonathan Rathbone’s ‘Under the shadow of His wing’. A wonderful event, superbly sung and a great use of the space (St Alban the Martyr, Holborn) all under the stewardship of Jeremy Backhouse! A fantastic event!”
“Congratulations on an amazing performance…stunning singing and very moving.”
New CD Release – De Profundis, Miserere, Requiem
These three pairs of sublime choral settings span well over 350 years. The earliest is Allegri’s Miserere, a work considered so precious it was kept secret until Mozart heard it and famously transcribed it from memory. James MacMillan’s 21st century companion piece is a transcendent reply to this challenge from history. Find out more
Vasari to sing live on BBC Radio 3 – Wed 15 October
On Wednesday 15th October, we shall be appearing live on BBC Radio 3’s “In Tune” programme to sing three works, including a World Premiere sneak preview of our Rathbone commission. Tune in from 4.30pm or listen again on BBC iPlayer
Meet my Choir feature on BBC Radio 3
We’re started our autumn programme with a big splash, with two appearances on BBC Radio 3 in one week. Firstly, we’ll be on Breakfast with some Gabriel Jackson, and then on Sunday 14th September on The Choir with their regular feature “Meet My Choir”. The package includes two of our members discussing their experiences of singing with Vasari Singers over the years. For more information on the feature and to listen again, visit the BBC Radio 3 website
The choir is actively seeking new singers in all voice parts to audition for our new season of activity. If you are a keen, versatile singer with good sight-reading skills and enjoy singing a varied repertoire, get in touch via our auditions page! Sopranos, altos, tenors and basses all welcome.
We have posted new videos from our recent live performance of the Rachmaninov Vepsers. Visit our VasariTV page for more info
The choir is now hard at work rehearsing for our forthcoming trip to Lincoln Cathedral, and getting to grips with our repertoire for our Baltics Tour.
A fantastic weekend of singing for our new CD, De Profundis. Watch out for more announcements in due course for release information.
The choir has started rehearsals for our next CD, to be recorded in February 2014 and for release on the Naxos label in October 2014.
- Jonathan Rathbone: Under the shadow of His wing – (2 reviews)
- De Profundis, Miserere, Requiem – (5 reviews)
- Briggs Filsell Choral Works – (5 reviews)
- A Winter’s Light – (5 Reviews) MusicWeb’s CD of the Month
- Gabriel Jackson Requiem – (6 Reviews) MusicWeb’s CD of the Month
- Great British Anthems – (4 Reviews) Gramophone Hot Pick
- Duruflé Requiem – (6 Reviews) MusicWeb’s CD of the Month
- Pott The Cloud of Unknowing – (14 Reviews) MusicWeb’s Recording of the Month
- Noel Nouvelet – (7 Reviews) MusicWeb’s Recording of the Month
- Will Todd Mass in Blue – (10 Reviews)
- Brahms ein Deutsches Requiem - (6 Reviews)
- Anthems for the 21st Century – (11 Reviews)
- Deep Purple – (5 Reviews)
- Dupré La France au Calvaire – (7 Reviews) Gramophone Editor’s Choice
- Dupré Choral Works – (6 Reviews) Gramophone Editor’s Choice
- Songs of Farewell – (11 Reviews)
- Howells Requiem and Frank Martin Mass – (9 Reviews) Penguin Guide Choice
- 20th Century Sacred Anthems - (3 Reviews)
- Music of Zoltán Kodály – (4 Reviews)
- Pastorale, French Secular Music – (5 Reviews)
- Crucifixus, Music for Holy Week – (9 Reviews)
- Philip Moore – (1 Review)
- Britten Choral Music – (2 Reviews)
- 2016 concert of Handel’s Dixit Dominus & Bach Motets, St Peter’s, Eaton Square
- 2014 concert of Under the shadow of His wing, St Alban’s, London
- 2012 concert at the London A Cappella Festival, King’s Place, London
- 2011 concert of Bruckner’s E Minor Mass, St Martin in the Fields, London
- 2010 concert of JS Bach’s B Minor Mass, St Martin in the Fields, London
- 2007 concert of Duruflé and Fauré Requiems, St Martin in the Fields, London
- 2007 concert including James MacMillan’s Mass at St Johns, Smith Square, London
- 2006 concert of Radical Masses, at St Martin-in-the-Fields, London
- 2006 performance of Rachmaninov’s Vespers, at St Johns, Smith Square, London
- 2006 World Premiere of The Cloud of Unknowing, at St Pancras Church, London
- 2005 concert of Anthems for our Time at St John’s, Smith Square, London
- 2005 Preview of Anthems for the 21st Century in Tonbridge Chapel, Kent
- 2004 Carols by Candlelight concert, in association with the Musician’s Benevolent Fund
- 2004 concert Canticles and Candyfloss in Steeple Morden
- 2004 concert Best of British at St Martin-in-the-Fields
- 2004 concert Choral music paired across the centuries, which included Tallis’s 40-part motet Spem in alium
- 2003 performance at the Cheltenham Contemporary Concerts series
- 2003 performance at Olantigh House
- 2003 performance of 400 years of Italian Choral Music
- 2003 performance of Brahms’ German Requiem, and Parry’s Songs of Farewell
- 2002 Performance of Dupré’s De Profundis and Durflé’s Requiem
- 2002 Gala concert celebrating 75 years of United Music Publishers
- 2002 Performance at the Hamstead and Highgate Festival
- 2001 Performance of Fauré Requiem and Dupré De Profundis
- 2000 Bach Motets concert at St. John’s, Smith Square
- 1999 performance of David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus
- Proms 1999