Douai Abbey Concert

Wednesday 6th February 2013

On Monday 4 February 2013, musicians and English pupils presented a celebration of Benjamin Britten’s music at Douai Abbey. The evening was a reflection in readings and music celebrating the 100th anniversary of Britten’s birth. The music and readings concentrated on his music, but also on other musicians, poetry events that influenced him.

Douai Abbey is a stunning location for such an event. Douai Abbey is a Benedictine Abbey at Woolhampton, near Thatcham, in Berkshire, situated in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Portsmouth.  Douai Abbey has a unique and marvellous acoustic which was thoroughly enjoyed by all the performers.

Readings concentrated on the work of Auden, Rilke, Bennett and Cooke and involved the following pupils: Romilly Hayward, Alexandra Silverlock, Connor Baldridge, Olivia Smailes and Anna Price. Their performances were eloquent and displayed great meaning.

The Consort Choir performed the music of Purcell, Britten and Wilby. The fine acoustic of the Abbey heightened the rich chromaticism of Purcell’s Hear my Prayer and the antiphonal exchange between Eleanor Walder and Constance Petersen in the Echo Carol by Wilby was exceptional. The Consort Choir closed the evening with a performance of Britten’s Missa Brevis in D.

 The String Quartet, Nickie Osborne and Jae Ram Song performed the music of Arvo Pӓrt. Arvo Pӓrt is an Estonian composer. Since the late 1970s, Pӓrt has worked in a minimalist style that employs his self-invented compositional technique, tintinnabuli: like the ringing of bells. The performance of Speigel im Speigel – a composition for piano and violin characterised by simple harmonies was performed with great accuracy, self-control and poise.  The String Quartet performed Summa; their performance demonstrated great rhythmic discipline.

Mr Giddens: Assistant Director of Music and Head of Keyboard Studies performed Frank Bridge’s Adagio in E. Bridge privately tutored Britten. Britten later championed his teacher’s music and paid homage to him in the Variations on a Theme of Frank Bridge (1937), based on a theme from the second of Bridge’s Three Idylls for String Quartet (1906).

Constance Petersen and Charlotte Woodward performed Purcell’s Sound the Trumpet. Their contrapuntal interplay of the several melodic lines was executed with brilliance. Intonation, diction was very good and performing conventions of the baroque were acknowledged.

The penultimate work was performed by Constance Petersen – Mozart’s Alleluia from Exultate Jubilate.  A superb performance with the closing top C still to be heard in the Abbey!

Special thanks go to the pupils, Mr Padley, Mr Giddens and Mr Dalton. A further celebration of Benjamin Britten’s work will take place on 22 November 2013 at Christ Church Spitalfields; this concert will involve the five Foundation schools.

‘There are clearly some very talented individuals at Queen Anne’s and many of the performances were incredibly moving.  I was particularly impressed by the beautiful sound that the choir produced, even my 10 year old son looked up at me and mouthed “Wow!”’.

Damaris Hayward