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.
- Derek Beck