Haileybury Chapel was treated to an uplifting experience last Thursday night. After Oxford’s Schola Cantorum had coached Haileybury music pupils on a sunny afternoon, they proceeded – under James Burton’s expert direction – to give an impressive performance later that evening in Chapel.
Schola Cantorum, Oxford’s finest Chamber Choir, is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a tour of concerts across the UK that features music from composers who studied at Oxford University. This concert, featuring music by our very own Quentin Thomas, as well as Elgar, Gibbons, Sheppard and a host of twentieth-century classics, transported a large audience of pupils and public with the magical sounds of a capella voices.
What defines Schola Cantorum, under Burton’s leadership, is a particularly well-blended soprano line, a radiant timbre, and impeccable ensemble. Nowhere were these qualities more evident than in Thomas’ My Beloved Spake (featured here), a moving work for choir and organ (the only piece in the programme to use the School’s great organ), where Schola was joined by Haileybury’s Chapel Choir. Beautiful harmonies and warm dissonances conspired in this piece to create a spell-binding atmosphere. In the ensuing programme, the Oxford-based chamber choir expertly navigated the difficult rhythms of Rautavaara’s Suite de Lorca and the difficult diction of Dove’s Who Killed Cock Robin?. Thomas’ two settings of Spike Milligan were similarly sprinkled with jazz-tinted wit, and heads were turning for John Sheppard’s Libera nos, where the singers spread strategically around the Chapel for an entrancing polychoral effect, in which only the cantus firmus (sung by the basses) remained visible at the alter.
The concert concluded with the dazzling harmonic mash of Francis Grier’s Alleluia!, after which the enthusiastic audience veritably demanded a couple of encores and were suitably rewarded!