Review: St Cross, Winchester

A packed Chapel of St. Cross was the perfect venue for the launch of Sansara choir’s debut recording entitled ‘Cloths of Heaven’. Eighteen members of this award-winning vocal ensemble gave a superlative live demonstration of their many qualities and included some spell-binding items from the new CD. The latter, produced by Convivium  Records, is clear and well balanced with just the right degree of acoustic ambience. However, encountering Sansara live is also a rich emotional experience for there is a palpable level of commitment in their music making which is very special.

credit: Theo Williams

Both recording and concert programme reflected Sansara’s predilection for themes of darkness to light. If the audience heard a majority of slow moving works it could still bask in the gorgeous tone and impeccable tuning of the singers, well illustrated in Gombert’s 16th century Lugebat David Absalon. Performed in a huge circle surrounding the listeners this rare piece showed remarkable support and sensitive and dramatic dynamic shading over nearly nine minutes of unaccompanied singing. Thrilling and precise dissonances marked Oliver Tarney’s Prayer of St. Richard of Chichester, written specially for Sansara with spatial scoring involving a solo quartet separated from the main choir. This was a virtuoso performance including the soprano top B natural – a worthy introduction of an impressive composition.

credit: Theo Williams

Tantum ergo came from another associate composer and Sansara tenor, Marco Galvani. He provided a finely wrought plainsong-based piece building in pace and intensity and re-created immaculately by his fellow voices. More virtuosity came with Emil Raberg’s setting of Blake’s The Tyger (sadly not on the recording). Here was energy, speed and articulation to excite the dullest audience. By contrast, the title work was a serene and delicately scored setting of Yeats’ famous poem by Malcolm Archer imbued with heartfelt harmonies. It was appropriate to have music by the man who doubtless inspired the three conductors, all Winchester alumni and all members of the choir.

One word sums up this young choir’s latest achievement  - beautiful. This describes the music, old and new, the voices and the interpretations. Winchester is blessed to be associated with such dedicated and talented musicians.

Derek Beck