Celebrating St. Cecilia, 23rd November 2019


Orpheus Celebrates St. Cecilia

On a wet and misty night a sizeable audience braved the weather to hear the excellent Orpheus Singers celebrate St Cecilia, the patron saint of music, at Christ Church, Totland.

The first piece was one of the glorious Odes on St. Cecilia’s Day by Henry Purcell, and the Orpheus Singers were joined by four wonderful soloists in Susanna MacRae, soprano, Christopher Pilgrim, counter-tenor, Tom Perkins, tenor and Will Pate, bass.  Their conductor, Charles Paterson has a remarkable ability to weave together the different voices of both soloists and the fine choir into a truly mellow and melodious whole sound, enhanced by the acoustics of the church.

They then moved some three hundred years forward to sing Britten’s Hymn to St. Cecilia.  This is a fiendishly difficult piece for unaccompanied voices, but the melody moved between the different sections of the choir and the soloists with ease and expertise. One can hear here the influence of Purcell, who was also an inspiration to Britten in other works such as his Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra. A second Hymn for St. Cecilia, this one by Herbert Howells, also a 20th Century composer, was performed with great panache, and then the performers moved back in time to an excerpt from another St Cecilia ode by Henry Purcell, the counter-tenor aria ‘Tis nature’s voice,  and it is interesting that the time machine of music doesn’t jar the senses in any way, which is a tribute to both composers and singers. Christopher Pilgrim’s ravishing performance of this aria received rapturous applause.

Another Howells piece, Rhapsody in C sharp minor, an organ solo which he wrote during a Zeppelin attack during the First World War, was played magnificently by Peter Gould. He also accompanied the choir in the rest of the programme with great dexterity and sensitivity.

A Bach Cantata concluded each half of the programme; though having nothing to do with St. Cecilia they were nevertheless very appropriate, as they were written for the Last Sunday before Advent, which was the day following this concert.  These are mighty works, giving full rein to the power and agility of the singers, and were performed with great ability by the Orpheus Singers and the soloists, sending the audience home uplifted to face the weather outside.