Category Archives: choir

‘In Paradisum’. Come to hear the Requiems by Fauré and Duruflé.

Just two weeks until our French concert!

We hope you will be able to come and enjoy this much loved music with us.

IN PARADISUM

Beautiful Requiems by Fauré and Duruflé.

Saturday 19th November 7.30pm

Click here for tickets and concert details:

Read the programme notes below to get the background to this French sacred music.

 

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Programme notes

Welcome to a fascinating French evening, featuring three composers from very different epochs in the country’s history – linked to each other, and united in their love of choral and liturgical music.

The first mass which you will hear is by Jean Dattas (1919-1975), who was organist at Notre-Dame in Paris from 1949.  He studied under Marcel Dupré, Alfred Cortot, and Olivier Messiaen.  He moved to London in 1955, but for many years he returned every summer to play the organ at Notre-Dame.

Sylvie Dattas, Jean’s daughter, who is a member of BFCS, has the manuscript of his Messe (cum Jubilo), composed in 1951.  Early this year she gave it to our music director Patrick Larley, who edited and annotated two movements, the Kyrie and the Agnus Dei, to be sung on our tour of Burgundy this summer.  We loved the music and felt it deserved another performance!

Maurice Duruflé (1902-1986) was a good friend of Jean Dattas.  He was a well-known church organist in Paris, who was appointed as a teacher in the Conservatoire shortly before the Nazi invasion.  When he was commissioned in 1947 to write a Mass, he was already working on an organ suite, using themes from Gregorian chants.  He incorporated his sketches for that suite into the Requiem, and this background gives the work its distinctive character.

The Requiem, which was dedicated to the composer’s father, has notable similarities to the better-known version by Gabriel Fauré (1845-1924).  Both are sensitively written, allocate the Pie Jesu to a soprano soloist, and finish with the quiet and meditative In Paradisum.  However, Duruflé’s setting is more sensitive to the words of the liturgy, and more closely modelled on plainchant melodies.  The original version was scored for a huge orchestra and organ, but we are using a later version, with organ alone.

The music beautifully captures the moods of the varied texts, most thrillingly in the Dies irae part of the Libera me movement.  Intriguingly, Duruflé concludes his Requiem with an unresolved discord, an unanswered question as it were.  Is this perhaps a reflection of the appalling experiences that the composer and his fellow-Parisians had so recently endured in the war?

Listen to ‘Libera me’ from Duruflé’s requiem here:

When Duruflé joined the Paris Conservatoire in 1920, Fauré, aged 75, was its director.  The youngest of six children, he had been the only one who showed any musical ability!  This was recognised early, and he was sent to a new music school in Paris at the age of nine.  When its founder, Louis Niedermayer, died in 1861, Fauré’s new piano teacher was Camille Saint-Saëns.  A few years later, he composed the serene and atmospheric Cantique de Jean Racine, which not surprisingly won him the school’s top prize.

His Requiem, undoubtedly his best-known work, was not composed for a particular occasion; indeed, it was started in the 1880s and did not reach its complete form until 1900.  It is interesting to note how this piece runs counter to most of the trends of the time. Most composers favoured large and loud orchestras and complicated textures (Wagner was much in vogue).  This Requiem, by contrast, is deliberately smaller-scale and contains comparatively little fortissimo singing – perhaps partly because Fauré was strongly influenced by the phrasing of Gregorian chant.

In his setting of the Requiem, Fauré followed the example set by Brahms’s German Requiem, which aimed to comfort the living rather than dwell on the fears of hell.  Fauré agreed with this approach, and the text of his Requiem omits the menacing words of the Dies Irae.  He said, “Everything I managed to entertain by way of religious illusion I put into my Requiem, which moreover is dominated from beginning to end by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest.”  The result is a very varied piece, veering from sombre to sunlit in mood; we hope it will lift your hearts this evening, as a beautiful climax to the concert.

David Fletcher.

Listen to the beautiful Sanctus from Fauré’s Requiem here:

BFCS – the Big Friendly Choral Society

If you’d like to give us a try but missed the Open Rehearsal last week, it’s not too late! New singers would still be welcome this Wednesday.

Ten new singers came for the first time last week – here are some of their comments:

I can hardly wait for next week! The choir sounded brilliant and I heard wonderful reports of the tour. Everyone I spoke to does seem full of excitement about everything to come!

I really enjoyed the sing last evening and am looking forward to coming again next week.

It was lovely to have such a warm reception from everyone.

It was a lovely evening last Wednesday

I did enjoy the evening, and was most impressed with the standard of singing, sight reading  and the general organisation.

I will be back for more next week!

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Come to our free taster session!

Come along at 7pm on Wednesday 7th September to sample a BFCS rehearsal, with no obligation! A very warm welcome awaits you. We meet at Lordswood Girls’ School, Knightlow Rd, Harborne, Birmingham B17 8QB.

The choir has just returned from a very successful tour to France, and is looking forward to preparing French music for our November concert. The major works in this concert will be the beautiful requiems by Faure and Durufle.

Happiness is singing in a choir

French feedback

One of the highlights of our tour was the enthusiastic response of the French audiences, and the fact that people travelled to different cities in Yonne to hear us again, bringing friends and family with them.

One member of the audience at St Julien du Sault uploaded this recording of our encore:

Halleluja! Section of our Encore at St Julien du Sault, recorded by Guy Bourras.

L’Yonne Republicaine, the newspaper for the region, published the following reviews of three of our concerts:

St Julien du Sault

Review from St Julien du Sault

Sens Cathedral

Review from Sens concert

Vezelay

Review from Vezelay

Auxerre

Review from Auxerre

 

Auxerre – the final concert.

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Auxerre is the capital of the county of Yonne which makes up a quarter of Burgundy. It seemed fitting that our last concert was held in Auxerre, as this had been our base for our five days on tour. 

Have a look once again at our tour video – it means so much more, now that we have visited these beautiful places!

Click here: A glimpse of the places in Burgundy where BFCS toured in July 2016

There had been several opportunities to spend time in Auxerre over the five days, and BFCS singers had enjoyed exploring the town and eating and drinking there.

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Horloge astronomique. Auxerre.

The final concert was held in the church of St Pierre which, the video tells us, has a better acoustic then the Cathedral. We were driven, wearing our choir uniform, to the coach park by the River Yonne, and then walked across the bridge to the church in the town. Some of us were asked if we were a hen party, as we were all dressed the same!! When we explained that we were a choir, our questioners said straight away “Oh yes – from Birmingham. We’ve seen about you in the paper!”

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Church of St Pierre, Auxerre

We were feeling very hot and tired at the rehearsal, and tuning began to suffer. Would this last concert be an anticlimax after the three wonderful concerts that had gone before?

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BFCS rehearsal in the Church of St Pierre, Auxerre.

We should have known better! Once again, the church miraculously filled up with 300+ people, the adrenaline kicked in, and we rose to the occasion. The tenors and basses at the back said that it was one of the best concerts of all, as all of the parts could be heard clearly, not blurred into a mush by a large resonance, as at Vezelay. One of the joys of touring is that you get to know the works very well, and we were confidently singing much of it from memory. We had all grown to love the ‘Cum Jubilo’ Mass (Dattas) in particular (the Rutter ‘Home is a special kind of feeling’ not so much!). Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus, ‘God be in my Head'(Walford Davies)  and Notre Pere (Kedroff) were all very moving to sing. We each had our favourites from the thirteen works in the programme.

Sarah Anne endeared herself to the audience by speaking to them in French, then kicking off her shoes and standing on a chair to sing her solos!

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A full house to hear our concert in the church of St Pierre, Auxerre.
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Sarah-Anne Cromwell sings Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Alleluia.

Once again, the audience started slow hand clapping for an encore and they were rewarded with the Hallelujah chorus! Roger Millot appeared again with single roses for the sopranos and altos who hadn’t received one in Vezelay. As the singing ended, Patrick mouthed “finished”. Not only was it the last performance of the tour, but it was the last one that Patrick would conduct as our Music Director.

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Patrick and Gill Larley after his last BFCS performance, in Auxerre.

We made our way back across the bridge, with its beautiful view of the Cathedral at dusk. There followed a meal at the hotel, and BFCS concert party from midnight to 1.30am! Despite this, everyone was up in time for the coaches to set off for Birmingham at 9am the next morning – there was plenty of time for sleeping on the 14 hour journey.

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BFCS tours are a marvellous way of bringing everyone together to share wonderful singing in inspiring venues in beautiful parts of the world. The friendships made on tour all help to strengthen our choir throughout the year. The fact that about 90% of the whole choir had come on the tour, with ages ranging from 15 to 83 , shows how much they are enjoyed by everyone, and we would like to thank all of the tour organisers for making it all possible.

Christine Wright (2nd soprano)

Vezelay works its magic.

Vezelay is a very special place for many people. The little town on the top of the hill and the 11th century Basilica have been a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, and Vezelay is now recognised as a world heritage site. The views of the countryside from the hilltop are breathtaking.

Patrick Larley, our Music Director, and his wife Gill love Vezelay so much that they have visited here 27 years in a row. The Basilica is full of music: the spiritual community of monks and nuns sing services here every day, and many prestigious choirs visit here. Would we be able to attract the same audience as these professional singers, especially as our concert time was 9pm? There had been other concerts at 4pm and 5pm, and the day visitors had long gone.

No matter! Part of the joy of choir tours is singing in wonderful places, and we would treasure this experience, even if the audience was small. We knew that it would include Tom, a former member of BFCS who moved away from Birmingham about 13 years ago. Tom has adopted the lovely idea of booking European weekend breaks around our tours,and has attended our concerts in Slovenia, Estonia, Slovakia, Dublin, and now Vezelay.

We also knew that some other special visitors were taking a 3 hour drive from the South of Burgundy to be with us. These were the family of Sylvie Dattas, one of our second sopranos.

Sylvie is French, but has lived in England for many years. At each of our tour concerts, Sylvie has introduced the Kyrie and Mass written by her late father, Jean Dattas, in 1951 while he was organist at Notre Dame in Paris. Patrick Larley has transcribed the music from the original manuscripts, and our performances of the Kyrie and Agnus Dei on this tour are the first time this beautiful music has been heard in concert.

Before the concert, many BFCS singers wearing tour poloshirts were handing out leaflets in the town, and we had seen many posters in shop windows.

It all paid off, as at 9pm the Basilica was filled with 300+ people! We heard of people who had come to our concert in Sens, and had driven for 90 mins to hear us again in Vezelay. With such a wonderful audience, how could we fail to sing our very best? We included the Benedictus in the Schubert Mass this time, which has a beautiful part for soprano soloist  (Sarah-Ann Cromwell) supported by tenor (Mitch Holland) and bass (Patrick Larley). Kevin Gill also did a dazzling rendition of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor.

Here is a video recording of ‘God be in my Head’ by Marilyn Kent:

We had prepared a very special encore for this special place: a setting of the Lord’s Prayer  (Notre Pere) that Patrick had originally heard sung by the monastic community here at Vezelay. Many people found this very moving.

However, that was not enough for this audience! They slow hand clapped until we sang again – the full Hallelujah Chorus! Roger Millot, our French tour coordinator, appeared with a bouquet for Sarah-Ann and individual roses for the sopranos and altos in the front row. Still they clapped, so we made a quick decision to sing Chilcott’s version of the Londonderry Air. Some wanted a fourth encore! Many people came up to thank us – I was told by one French gentleman that we made him feel the music in his heart.

It was the most wonderful experience. As we left the Basilica it looked beautiful in the warm light. People have been singing here for 1100 years, and we can now add ourselves to that number. 

Songs in Sens

Saturday in St Julien du Sault was such a wonderful experience that our only fear was that the rest of the tour would be an anticlimax. Not so!

All BFCS tours have something unusual that singers talk about for years. For this tour, it will be the time we sang the Hallelujah Chorus in the square outside Sens Cathedral! This started with one singer, followed by everyone else joining in from all over the square, and coming together in an informal crowd. The sound bounced off the walls of the cathedral, enabling us to hear all the parts and sing with conviction! The customers in the restaurants couldn’t fail to know that our concert was coming!

The Cathedral was huge, so we were fully reconciled to the fact that we would probably only have a small audience. Imagine our amazement when we came out to find it was full! We estimated that there were at least 300 there. The warmth and enthusiasm of the audience inspired us to give our very best performance! 

Special memories of the day in Sens:

  • Two little children starting to dance when we reached the swirly part of Parry’s ‘My soul there is a country’.
  • A young lady walking the entire length of the church to the front row, as there were no other spare seats.
  • Kevin Gill’s performance on the huge organ, filling the cathedral with sound. 
  • Sarah-Ann Cromwell’s performance – managing to blend comedy with serious singing  (experience gained in the London Quartet, no doubt! )
  • The man in the front seat who lept to his feet to applaud every time we finished a piece (and sometimes before!)
  • The coach drivers getting trapped  in the tiny streets and having to go the wrong way down a one way street to get out! 

We have a day off from singing on Monday, then concerts in Vezelay Tuesday and Auxerre Wednesday. More blogs to follow.

Wonderful reception in St Julien du Sault.

Singing at the St Julien du Sault Festival had been one of the aims of our tour, ever since we had made contact with Les Fontenottes, the choir in the town.

The village seemed very small and quiet, but we were amazed at the size of the beautiful church of St Pierre!

It was wonderful to see that large church full for our concert! We sang a range of sacred music, French music, and arrangements of folk songs from home. 

Sarah Ann Cromwell dazzled with Mozart’s Exsultate Jubilate and Alleluja, and Patrick Larley improvised on the rare renaissance organ in the church. Kevin Gill was versatile as ever, playing organ/piano, or conducting as required.

Members of the audience instantly rose to their feet as we finished, and soon they were slow handclapping for more! (French audiences don’t say ‘Encore’!). They were rewarded with the full blast of the Hallelujah Chorus!

From the moment we arrived, to the wonderful reception at the Fontenotte School after the concert, we were treated to wonderful French hospitality and friendship.

We presented a cheque to the Special School, from money raised at the ‘Taste of Vienna’ concert in Birmingham.