With its spacious interior, generous seating capacity and excellent acoustics, St Peter’s is an ideal venue for concerts. These include the church’s own promotions as well as those of visiting organisations. Regrettably, all these activities are currently suspended because of the Corona virus pandemic.
The church normally runs its own summer series of lunchtime concerts on the first Thursday of each month from April to October. Light lunches are available from noon, and the concerts are usually over by 1.30. Admission is free, but donations are requested. The annual Flower Festival customarily includes a lighter, evening concert.
St Peter’s is in demand for externally promoted concerts, which include performances by local choirs and bands, as well as regular events by the prestigious Roman River Festival including, in 2017, a weekend mini-festival of four concerts, all of which were recorded for broadcast by BBC Radio 3. The church is a regular venue for the concerts of the Colchester Chamber Choir, one of East Anglia’s finest musical organisations. Organ recitals are also given from time to time. For reviews of two recent concerts see below.
It remains to be seen how much of the rest of the 2020 programme can still go ahead: at the time of writing it may still be possible to hold the September and October lunchtime concerts. A new programme for 2021/2 will be issued as soon as possible.
For further details contact the Concert Manager: Sarah Wickens: firstname.lastname@example.org
CHOIR PRACTICE TIMES
Weekly choir practices are held in the church on Friday evening as follows:
7.00-7.30pm Junior Choristers only.
7.30-8.15pm Full Choir including Junior Choristers.
8.15-9.15pm Adult Choristers only.
Sunday’s Full Choir practice is at 10.00am in the church, before the 10.30am Mass.
When there is Evensong, a Full Choir practice is held at 4.00pm, before the service at 5.15pm.
Other additional practices for services, concerts and cathedral visits may be arranged.
Concert by Essex Voices at St Peter-ad-Vincula
Jean-Baptiste Lully (1632-1687) is hardly a household name today, even among lovers of classical music, though specialists in seventeenth-century French music hold his music in high regard. So it must have been the special reputation of Essex Voices that was the draw for a larger-than-usual attendance at the lunchtime concert at St Peter’s on July 4th. The ensemble Essex Voices has the power to animate and communicate almost any music to which they turn their attention and their reputation is well deserved.
Giovanni Battista Lulli was born into a miller’s family in Florence. By a mixture of genius, good fortune, enterprise and ruthless social climbing he found his way to France, eventually becoming a favourite at the court of Louis XIV, in charge of the King’s musical ensembles and dancing. His chief fame to this day resides in his establishing the new genres of opera and ballet in France, while the discipline and precision of the string ensembles he directed were legendary and internationally influential. His religious music is less known, and the seven motets for three upper voices and continuo were written late in his life for the Convent of the Assumption in Paris. Free from the need for grand dramatic gestures, these seven motets show how sensitive Lully could be to the expressive nuances of texts and the possibilities inherent in the interaction of vocal lines and varying textures, often enlivened by the background influence of courtly dance rhythms.
The motets are all settings of Latin texts from the Catholic liturgies and include psalms and hymns in adoration of the Virgin. The audience was supplied with copies of the texts and translations; this was a necessary aid to comprehension, and each item was introduced by a member of the ensemble in turn, the stages of the composer’s biography being vividly recounted. This was most helpful as there were no notes in the programme leaflet, but the performers’ well-prepared, informative comments on each piece captivated the audience. These three singers are ideally suited to mid-Baroque music, having clear voices and an acute sense of intonation; there was no suspicion of the intrusive vibrato that can ruin the effect of much church music, so the intense ecstasy of the dissonances in the counterpoint and the interplay of the voices made their full effect. The singers’ love of the music and their sensitive responses were everywhere apparent, so that the audience was left marvelling at the composer’s sheer mastery of the medium. Why is this music so little known and rarely performed? Why is so much fine music rarely performed? Groups like Essex Voices are to be commended and encouraged for their enterprise in making such repertoires more widely accessible.
The three singers, Annabel Malton, Joanne Webber and Anne-Dore Beaton were ably supported by the continuo playing of Gerald Malton; using an electric keyboard, albeit a superior one, as an effective substitute for a chamber organ, and standing to play, as was the custom, he produced stylish accompaniments from the figured bass of each motet: this involves realising the harmonies implied by the figures on a bass part and devising an effective harmonic accompaniment – an essential requirement in Baroque music.
Let us hope that Essex Voices will return to Coggeshall in the near future; they will be assured of a warm reception. In the meantime, the next lunchtime concert will be on August 1st, when Christine Stevenson makes a welcome return; she is an internationally renowned pianist who never fails to impress through her virtuoso technique and consummate musicianship. Look out for the posters which will give details of her programme and make sure you get there in time to have your lunch!
‘I thank thee, Lord’: Russia comes to Coggeshall
The church is in darkness apart from the subdued light from strategically placed candles; there is the residual scent of incense in the air; the deep tolling of a great bell booms out, joined by the tintinnabulation of smaller bells; a capacity audience waits expectantly. The setting was thus prepared for a remarkable performance in St Peter’s on the evening of January 12th: Colchester Chamber Choir was to present the Russian Orthodox Night Vigil in Rachmaninov’s remarkable music.
Performances of this work are not common, for it makes great demands on even the very best choirs. On the evidence, this Colchester-based choir is one of the very best. Indeed, to hear a better performance one would have to go to one of the top London professional choirs, or to the finest college choirs in Oxford or Cambridge. The work requires singers who, unaccompanied, can maintain the pitch through an hour’s music; it demands the utmost unanimity in ensemble, balance and tuning, through a wide range of volume and vocal colours; and, above all, enormous concentration from every singer. On every count the choir was superb, a tribute to their distinguished director, Roderick Earle, whose musical and spiritual insights made this interpretation much more than a mere exhibition of choral technique.
For it was a truly spiritual experience. Although Rachmaninov, who was not in any conventional sense a churchman, took advice when composing it (in 1915) from a leading authority on the musical requirements of the Russian liturgy, he overstepped the very rigid boundaries of what was considered appropriate in the way of emotional expression, thus severely limiting the possibilities for genuine liturgical performance. This may seem surprising to a western audience to whom this music may seem the very essence of Holy Russia, its soul deep in the soil of the Motherland. The composer left Russia soon after the Revolution for the United States, never to return. But toward the end of his very last work, the Symphonic Dances for orchestra written in 1940, he quoted at length an Alleluia theme from the Vigil setting which alternates in a sort of life-and-death struggle with the Dies Irae funeral chant. On the final page he wrote ‘I thank thee, Lord’, as if he had finally come to believe in the triumph of life over death and the victory of the Resurrection. Was this only the nostalgia of an exile for his native land, or does it perhaps suggest something of a religious conversion?
We should beware of thinking of a serious musical concert as little more than a superior form of entertainment, for it can afford a religious experience every bit as valid and even life-changing as a church service. There can have been few agnostics or atheists present in St Peter’s that night who did not experience something of the eternal and transcendent through Rachmaninov’s music, whether or not they perceived it as anything to do with their conception of what the Church customarily offers. We are thankful that in this church building we have a venue where such things are possible; and we should be profoundly grateful to the Colchester Chamber Choir for giving us this opportunity to discover a fresh vision of the Eternal.
Evensong is a balance of psalms, canticles, scripture readings and prayers. Much of this is sung by the choir, providing a reflective and prayerful space of contemplation and peace for the congregation.
The choir sings a full Choral Evensong usually on the fourth Sunday of each month at 5.15pm.
All are welcome to attend.