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Reading Bach and the magic of Douai Abbey



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Review and photography by FIONA BENNETT

Douai Abbey choral concerts are special. Even in the darker months, pulling into the car park brings about a feeling that the evening will leave me feeling uplifted and refreshed, but on the evening of Saturday, June 11, the midsummer sunlight was streaming through the windows and I felt, as I often do, that we are blessed to live in such a lovely part of the world.

I had heard Reading Bach Choir sing several times before and was impressed with their performances. They bravely chose a completely a cappella evening and their new conductor and musical director Daniel Mahoney made sure to praise them for the hard work and preparation they had put in to the concert titled What lies beyond sense and knowledge.

Reading Bach, picture Fiona Bennett
Reading Bach, picture Fiona Bennett

The programme was split between William Byrd (1543 – 1623) and Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872 – 1958) and the theme was that of Pentecost. Instead of featuring Byrd’s music in the first half and Vaughan Williams’ in the second, the concert ran right through without an interval and Daniel interspersed both composers’ works to give us a whole mass - genius.

Byrd was a devout Catholic and Daniel joked that some of the pieces were so short (Alleluia – Amitte Spiritum tuum), it had been quite difficult to balance the timings of the various movements. He pointed out that being Catholic during Byrd’s lifetime was hazardous and that the music might have been sung by small groups, sitting around a table, hoping they wouldn’t hear that fateful knock at the door, or as he put it ‘…they might have had a split second to get out of Dodge…’ and so, shorter pieces were safer. Vaughan Williams, a self-proclaimed atheist, drove ambulances during the First World War; this changed his outlook somewhat, hence the fact he felt able to dedicate the stunning Mass in G Minor to his good friend Gustav Holst.

The choir stood before the altar (the best place to sing in Douai), they projected beautifully and the balance was good. The ensemble is blessed with many fine soloists and Daniel proudly gave them all a ‘stand up’ at the end of the evening. We enjoyed Bach’s Komm, heiliger Geist as our closing piece, the choir quietly processed away and we spilled outside to enjoy the remainder of our beautiful summer’s evening.

Perfect.



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