Tamesis Issue 197 January 2008
I’ve had a lot of emails and notes thanking me for the Christmas event, so I’d like to
take this opportunity to thank everyone who contributed to what was a really
memorable day. This isn’t just David Allinson who kept the day bubbling along with
an amazing combination of scholarship and good humour, David Fletcher who didn’t
just supply a lot of the music but also provided coffee and put out chairs, and Nancho
Alvarez who came all the way from Malaga with his edition of the mass. It also
includes everyone who took part, put out chairs, gave out labels, made drinks. cleared
up, loaded the dishwasher, and most importantly everyone who brought the
magnificent feast which we had for lunch. David Allinson will be a hard act to follow,
but next Christmas we have Philip Thorby, and I’m pleased to say that David has said
he is willing to run another Christmas workshop before too long.
Apart from David Fletcher’s renaissance day on Saturday, which I’m really looking
forward to, our next event is a baroque orchestra day for strings in West Byfleet,
directed by Peter Holman. There is still room for more players, so please get in touch
with Simon Hill as soon as possible if you plan to go. West Byfleet is easy to reach by
train from Waterloo and the school is near the station, but if you need a lift it’s quite
likely that Simon may be able to put you in touch with someone who can help you.
Please note that the date for Michael Procter’s weekend at St Augustine’s, Kilburn, has
had to be changed.
Happy New Year!
It seems a long time since my last Chat and there has been the inevitable gap in
Forum activities over the holiday period. However I still have vivid memories of our
Christmas event. I had a choice of three attractive events to attend that day - the
others being a continuation of a musical weekend near Ipswich and a festive tennis
tournament. In spite of having to leave Ipswich before breakfast it soon became clear
that I had made the right choice, as we tackled the Victoria mass under David
Allinson's enthusiastic direction. A formidable amount of music was provided, thanks
to a marathon photocopying effort by David and an amazing amount of typesetting by
Nancho Alvarez, which he makes freely available on his web site
www.upv.es/coro/victoria/partituras.html. David sent an email asking if parts were
available for the 12-part mass Laetatus Sum, to which the answer was no, but after a
very considerable amount of work Nancho duly produced them. More surprising still,
he decided to travel from Malaga to join us at the event in Amersham. It was really
good to have his aid with pronunciation of the villancicos, and the large quantity of
turrón that he brought was also much appreciated! I thought this was one of our best
ever events, so many thanks to David, Nancho and Victoria for all their work.
As I write this I'm starting to contemplate the possible combinations for the 34 people
who are coming to the Renaissance Day on Saturday - I calculate that it's a number
with at least 25 digits so I may not consider them all! Indeed there is probably no
entirely satisfactory set of groups but that won't stop us having a good time.
On the 23rd of February we are privileged to use Eton College chapel to study music
from the Eton Choirbook, the wonderful collection of Latin liturgical music from about
1500, under the guidance of Peter Syrus. I have rarely sung any of this music but
know it to be rhythmically interesting and very rewarding. We shall require plenty of
tenors, so please encourage any that you know.
On the 8th of March we have a workshop to study lute songs for Shakespeare's
theatre with Gerald Place and Dorothy Linell. We shall need as many lutenists as we
can muster, together with some bass viols and of course singers. This should be a
really interesting event of a slightly different nature from our normal ones, and even
those too nervous to participate are welcome to come as spectators. However there is
no need to be afraid - this is not going to be a high-pressured affair, so just come
along and enjoy it.
Nicola and I would like to offer our warmest thanks to all who arranged, created and
performed this day. It is amazing that that marvellous music was created for us by
Nancho Alvarez and assimilated and mastered so quickly at such short notice by David
Allinson. His firm but affectionate, enthusiastic and good-tempered handling of all
ninety (about) of us and of all the complexities of three choir work with so many parts
was a wonder to behold and a joy to work with. As for the astonishing repast, with so
many varieties of tasty and filling dishes, we wish we could individually congratulate
all those who purveyed! Instead we will have to cry a very loud Muchisimas Gracias!
from Charles Lewis and Nicola Williams
TVEMF Christmas meeting
It was indeed a Spanish Christmas! We had Victoria’s polychoral Mass  – 12
parts in 3 choirs, the motet on which the Mass was based plus some `villancicos` - a
poetic and musical form derived from the Spanish village where a `villano` [peasant]
lived – so often simple, rustic themes. Many were written to celebrate Christmas. To
help our authenticity, we had a pronunciation lesson in the old Spanish from Nancho
Alvarez who had flown from Malaga to attend the day. Not only had he typeset the
Mass for our tutor David Allinson, he brought Spanish `turron` and marzipan to add
to our lunchtime feast which was as amazing as ever.
It seems to me that all the best tutors of amateurs paint word pictures for us to help
improve the sound we make. Nicholas McGeegan and Philip Thorby have this ability.
So too does David Allinson. Here are a few of his `bons mots:
During our warm-up exercises “Give yourselves a rub on the stomach and say
aaaaaah – it has no musical purpose but its fun to watch.”
Urging us to change the sound we made he asked us to “slick back the congregation’s
hair with waves of sound”; “sing smeary quavers”.
In one of the villancicos, he reminded us that as angels, we weren’t divebombing the
The application form mentioned David’s ‘good humour’. My favourite was a description
of the editing tool Lily Pond as “a woman standing around smoking long cigars”
David Fletcher said that he had never brought so much music to a TVEMF event. This
obviously has implications for the organisation of the day. So thanks to everyone who
helped – setting up chairs and tables, refreshments, music – but specially David and
Victoria – a truly excellent Christmas celebration!
9 December, Amersham Community Centre
Norma also sent me a copy of her correspondence with Nancho Alvarez, which I hope will be
interesting even if you didn’t come to the event. Norma’s words are in italics.
Hello, sorry for the delay. I was a little bit sick, with temperature. I think I got cold in
England. I thought that every place was as warm as Malaga :)
I am just starting to write a review of the day and would like to include something
from you and also to publicise your website. I looked at your website last night. Are
you happy for me to quote from it?
You can take anything from my web, with the exception of the pictures of the original
manuscripts, I have not permission to allow re-distribution of them.
You asked me for questions - it would be interesting to know how you got in touch
with David Allinson, what made you decide to come to Amersham for the day and of
course what you thought of the day.
I started the Victoria web in 2003. It contains the score of all compositions by Victoria
(at least the compositions that were printed in its time, there a few pieces that were
never printed but I do not think them to be authentic). My scores are not top-quality,
but I think that they are quite usable for amateur choirs. I copied most of them from
a very old edition from the Spanish musicologist Felipe Pedrell.
I am not a musicologist, nor a musician, I am just a poor mathematics teacher, here
at Malaga University. About a month ago Mr. Allinson contacted me by email because
he wanted to use my version of the mass laetatus sum in a workshop. He asked me
to make available the parts for the instruments as separate particellas. Usually I
never accept these petitions, mainly because I am very busy. There was also a
computer-related problem with the scores and that would make the task quite time-
consuming for me. But looking at the information in the web page of the TVEMF I
became quite curious. Also, although the mass laetatus sum is not one of my
favourites masses by Victoria I have never sang anything with a 3 choirs setting, and
it sounded like a new experience for me. Also I had never sang with ancient
I check the flights from Malaga to London and discovered that they are cheap. So I
bought a ticket! Mr Allinson and Ms. Helby helped me a lot in the reservation of a B&B
in Amersham and in explaining how to go from Luton airport to Amersham.
I started to work in the scores. I had to do a re-elaboration of all the material. But it
was worth it. The new version was much better than my first version. With the
indications of Mr. Allinson I raised the pitch one tone, and made separate scores for
I am very happy with my travel to England: the flight, the trip from Luton to
Amersham, the B&B (that was a lovely new experience to me), practicing the English
language, meeting so nice people, the food, and of course, the workshop itself.
I felt very welcome in the workshop. Everybody was very friendly with me. I was
very amazed because everybody was able to sightsinging (reading music at first
sight). In Spain a workshop like this would be impossible because usually the
amateur singers would require a whole month to just learn the notes. You have to be
very proud of your musical education, I am impressed.
All the pieces of the workshop were lovely to sing. My favourite was the Morales one.
I did not know it. I only regret that for my bad English I was not able to understand
all the jokes that David Allinson made :(
After the workshop I had a great time with some of the organizers. In particular Mr.
David Fletcher was very kind of showing me his amazing collection of scores of
ancient music. That was almost the paradise:)
Now that I know that Malaga and England are very well communicated by plane,
probably I will travel again just to make sightseeing, like a regular tourist. :)
I thought it was a wonderful day from all points of view, you being there made it a bit
special I think, everyone was pleased to see you. I like the villancicos particularly but
I didn’t see them on the website. Maybe they are very new.
For me it was also, kind of a "magical" travel. Pity that it was so short.
The villancicos probably are in the "Guerrero" section of the web. The new version of
the mass will be uploaded very soon.
Greetings from Malaga
Fitzwilliam Chamber Opera
“The contexture of this Drama is so very easy, that it wou’d be troubling the reader to
give him a long argument to explain it. Some imbicilities, and the temerity of Xerxes
(such as his being deeply enamour’d with a plane tree, and the building a bridge over
the Hellespont to unite Asia to Europe) are the basis of the story; the rest is fiction.”
So reads the programme to the first performance of Hande l’s Xerxes at the King’s
Theatre, Haymarket. Despite, or perhaps because of, all that, the newly-founded
Fitzwilliam Chamber Opera made an unerring choice for their inaugural production at
the college. In an opera dominated almost entirely by solo singers and the ever-
changing relationships between the characters, it’s vital to use highly trained
principals, and that’s exactly what we got. In this show the cast really knew their
stuff. Although they weren’t all full-time singers, the principals were all vocally and
dramatically secure in their respective roles, enabling the convoluted and preposterous
‘plot’ to evolve fluently in a way that was readily comprehensible. Comic and tragic
scenes succeeded each other in a natural and unforced way, and the many moments
of anguish or irony in the dialogue evoked a continual response from the
But it was in the quality of the singing itself that the production really shone. It would
be invidious (and in this case that’s no mere cliché) to single out any one singer. First
up was mezzo-soprano Ruth Taylor in the title role, standing in for a castrato – you
just can’t get them nowadays. Despite not being in the least bit overweight or of
gigantic stature (castrati apparently often were) she managed the wide range of
emotions demanded by the score with great versatility and sang with glorious tone.
Romilda was portrayed winsomely by Suzana Ograjenšek, whose delightful soprano
was matched by an English diction as good as any despite her Slovene origins.
Particularly fine were her accompanied recitative and rage aria in Act III. Ben
Williamson as Arsamenes was the male alto in the production and showed great vocal
flexibility control in that register; he also managed to look sad and lovelorn
throughout. His angry duet with Romilda was one of the highlights. Handel’s only
comic role, the servant Elviro, was portrayed by accomplished baritone Thomas
Faulkner, whose mood of fatigue was a little artificial in Act I, but he ‘blossomed’ as a
flower seller in Act II, and he became agreeably drunk. As Romilda’s scheming sister
Atalanta we had the irrepressible soprano Lotte Johnson whose firm singing and
tomboyish ways stole the show at various points. Portraying the foreign princess
Amastris in (transparent) disguise was mezzo Isabella Gage, who developed into a
formidable personality. Sturdy bass Christopher Law sang the role of the sisters’
blundering father Ariodates (surely the youngest general ever to command the Persian
Army) with warm tone and lots of presence, despite some fidgety movement. There
was some initial nervousness generally, only to be expected on the first night, but
spirits improved later. The chorus sang their minor musical contributions with energy
and always looked well-drilled on stage.
The idea of using the Fitzwilliam String Quartet as the (modern pitch) orchestra was
fully vindicated by their excellent playing, coupled with that of Francis Knights
(harpsichord) and other selected musicians. Fergus Macleod conducted with great
faithfulness to the details of Handel’s lively score and his tempi were ideal throughout.
The elegant sets by Claire V.S. Pike were all in good Baroque taste. In Act I the
pastel-coloured Persian scenery was constructed so that ‘plane’ tree, throne room and
lounge could be swiftly replaced by an outdoor feel for Act II. A backdrop collage of
triangular sails in a watercolour palette represented the Bridge of Boats which
collapsed satisfyingly at the right moment. In Act III a glowing pyramidal wedding
altar took centre stage. The projected lighting effects were always appropriate.
For Claire Pike’s costume and other design work there can only be praise. The flowing
gold robes and crown of Xerxes, Romilda’s simple blue shift with wedding veil later,
Atalanta’s contrasting outfit with black waistcoat – all cleverly designed to harmonise
well with the sets. The props were also of good qua lity, as was the glossy programme,
worth the £2 charged. A vast amount of work must have gone into the production,
and the large backstage and technical team under Andrew Booker and Mike Rudin
can’t all be mentioned for space reasons, but most of them be long to the Penguin
Club, an amateur theatrical support group operating in Cambridge and beyond. The
project is the brainchild of Michael Downes (Music Director, Fitzwilliam College) and
director Sally Bradshaw, for whose vision and expert tuition no praise is high enough.
Easily the best evening’s entertainment in Cambridge, the production will be repeated
at the Theatre Royal Bury, St. Edmunds, in April 2008.
16th and 18th November 2007
Fitzwilliam College Auditorium, Cambridge
HANDEL: Xerxes (Serse)
Sung in English (Nicholas Hytner translation, ed. Sally Bradshaw)