On Saturday 22 December 2018, we performed to a full house at St Cross Church in Winchester to celebrate our Fifth Anniversary. Here are two reviews of the concert with some pictures of the evening.
For those of us fortunate enough to be at St Cross on the 22nd December, this outstanding concert by SANSARA shone like a light over our Christmas. What marks SANSARA out is its approach to the music. Conducting shared, and the ability to allow the music to breathe. Measured tempi, but never excessive.
For some, the mostly dissonant repertoire here might have been a challenging listen. However, because the singing is so perfect, this matters not. Like rippling water, the sound - some familiar, some less - envelops you, particularly when the group spreads out and fills both side aisles, singing as one. This is exceptional and remarkable ensemble work and has become a hallmark of the choir since it was formed. Of this concert’s eighteen pieces, including the encore, only two were pre 20th century, by Tallis and Mouton from the fifteen hundreds.
Mouton’s Nesciens Mater, which began the second half, has become a favoured example of the choir’s finest singing as one in surround sound. Impeccable. But then whether around you, at the west end, or in front, the quality remains.
Flowing through the evening were works from the twentieth and twenty first centuries by Cecilia McDowell, Eric Whitacre, Bob Chilcott, Franz Biebl. In revelatory detail we were treated to the favourites Warlock’s Bethlehem Down, Lauridsen’s O magnum mysterium, Tavener’s The Lamb, Rutter’s What sweeter music.
Geoffrey Keating’s arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas was punctuated with the entertaining and irascible correspondence by John Julius Norwich. They were read here superbly by Lucia Quinault. Funny and fitting. What a way for SANSARA’s Fifth Anniversary Concert to leave you smiling into Christmas.
The youthful and virtuosic chamber choir SANSARA began life as the brainchild of largely Winchester-educated music students. Five years on, and democratically directed by three of those students, it was entirely appropriate to return to the city and in the generous acoustics of St. Cross Chapel regale a large audience with consummate music-making. Now a fully professional ensemble drawing on young voices from across the country, the choir presented nineteen singers all imbued with a palpable relish for a wide range of repertoire and the technical skills and interpretative maturity to communicate easily with its listeners.
Apart from the shared and expert direction, common features of SANSARA’s programmes include eclectic style choices across an over-all theme and an enthusiasm for exploiting the physical properties of the venue. Here seasonal texts were set by composers ranging from Tallis to one of the group’s Associate Composers, Marco Galvani. Awesome tuning made the dense progressive harmonies devised by the likes of Cecilia McDowell and Morten Lauridsen heart-stopping and beautiful. And the willingness to surround the entire audience in multi-part textures only highlighted the security and tonal richness of individual voices. Very remarkable throughout was the breath control in long sustained lines such as those dominating 20 th century John Tavener’s music and Lauridsen’s now classic O Magnum Mysterium.
Ever imaginative was the inclusion of Geoffrey Keating’s arrangement of The Twelve Days of Christmas punctuated with tongue-in-cheek readings from John Julius Norwich delivered perfectly by Lucia Quinault, an English tutor at Winchester College. Oliver Tarney, who teaches composition at the College and is an associate composer with SANSARA, provided a serene encore after John Rutter’s What sweeter music - such a fitting text, summing up this sublime concert.
The appreciative audience will look forward to the next five years of this brilliant group.
All photos by Theo Williams