27 February 2016 – Go Lovely Rose

Christopher Duarte’s Keswick Hall Choir showed its talents and its skill in a powerful performance of Kodaly’s Missa Brevis. They were able to change mood and alter the balance of vocal tone in a trice to give full expression to each of the varied sections of this masterpiece of deft compression. The repeated prayers for peace took on particular resonance in a setting of the mass composed during the Second World War.
But the Gloria, with Peter Leonard taking the role of cantor, brought a characteristically brief moment of splendour. At the organ David Dunnett made an expertly judged contribution.

The second half of the concert was devoted to music celebrating the Virgin Mary.
It opened with an energetic interpretation of a Magnificat by Palestrina, and continued with 20th century choral works, mostly in Latin. Rebecca Newman was the soprano soloist in Carl Rütti’s De Virgine Maria that had an immediate appeal with its cheerful rhythm, while the Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo’s hymn of praise caught the true spirit of devotion particularly well. Of Eric Whitacre’s Three Flower Songs the last, With a Lily in Your Hand, on a text by Lorca, was the most enjoyable.

Christopher Smith EDP 29/2/2016


28 November 2015 – Arvo Pärt

Under Christopher Duarte the Keswick Hall Choir began their concert with Bach, but invited us to hear his music from a rather different angle. Recent research suggests that within his Second Partita lies a half-concealed tribute to his wife, whose early and unexpected death he was mourning. So, while the fine violinist Hannah Perowne played the Partita, the choir created an apt context with funeral chorales, with the ladies at the end singing another as a sort of descant to the Chaconne. The experiment was certainly interesting.

The austere style of the Latin Passion of 1982 by the Estonian composer Arvo Pärt was caught in a performance with Matthew Palmer as an other-worldly Christus and Adam Sullivan as a forthright Pilate, while a quartet of soloists added a touch of restrained diversity to the role of the Evangelist. Backed by David Dunnett at the organ, a small ensemble added deft strokes of instrumental colour. Showing their acumen in their series of cameo interventions in the Gospel narrative, the singers knew how to put real triumph into the thrilling last words.

Christopher Smith EDP 2/12/2015


25 April 2015 – Pergolesi’s Vespers

Though Giovanni Pergolesi’s life was tragically short, his music is bright and confident, bursting with invention and vitality, exuberant with sudden contrasts and glorying in ornate singing.

The Vespers performed on Saturday evening by Christopher Duarte’s Keswick Hall Choir was not the composition Pergolesi wrote for a special service in Naples in 1732. No score or detailed accounts of that survive. But the work that we heard was no doubt very similar in form and style. It seemed very attract too, apart from problems with the booming acoustic of the Cathedral, especially at the start, and, rather unexpectedly, some uncertainties with the antiphons before the psalms. Most of the time, though, the 40 inexhaustible singers impressed with style and flexibility.

The accomplished soloists were the soprano Andrea Tweedale and the mezzo Fiona Mackay. Combining most agreeably, they were completely at home in the florid elaborations of their vocal lines. The Salve Regina was the very essence of Pergolesi with emotional weight as well as artistic charm. The strings of Jim O’Toole’s Norwich Baroque were always neat and elegant with oboes and trumpets adding a thrill of triumph like the ringing top note of the final Amen.

Christopher Smith EDP 27/4/15

14 February 2015 – The French Influence

The chilly audience was warmly appreciative of Saturday evening’s programme largely of 20th century French sacred music. It was performed by Keswick Hall Choir under the direction of Christopher Duarte.

As well as providing organ accompaniment, David Dunnett played two movements from Langlais’ Medieval Suite. The renowned Parisian tradition was clearly heard in the imaginative music that he interpreted with persuasive skill and striking variation in instrumental colours. The forty singers started the concert with Three Songs, settings by Debussy of poems by Duke Charles d’Orléans. The gentle, but insistent percussive effects of When I heard the tambourine were brought out well with tasteful restraint. Where there is Charity, an established favourite, was sung with the sonorous conviction it deserves. Thou art Peter, also from Duruflé’s Four Motets, proclaimed the assertiveness of French Catholicism. Villette’s fuller version of the same text did so too. Its climax, though, could have been made even more triumphant. Jean Françaix’s Three poems of Paul Valery seemed overburdened by 100 lines of rather enigmatic verse. As a choral work, the Notre-Dame Mass by David Briggs, an English composer who enthusiastically embraces French styles, made a greater appeal.

Christopher Smith EDP 16/2/15


5 November 2014 – Beyond the Sphere of Grief

Poignant response to the Great War

Framingham Earl High School and Christopher Duarte’s Keswick Hall Choir combined for this event co-ordinated by Cathryn Dew that marked in words and music the outbreak of war in 1914.

Confident and assured as always, the singers performed unaccompanied pieces including the Songs of Farewell, in which Hubert Parry expressed his grief at the death of men from the Royal College of Music, of which he was director.

Lord, let me know my end was especially powerful. So was Tavener’s Funeral Ikos, in a quite different style with echoes of Orthodox chant, while Howells’ Nunc Dimittis adopted an unusually positive attitude.

High school students recited their poems, responding to the human experience of the Great War. Rural tranquillity was contrasted with battlefield mud and danger, with plenty of local connections. A great, great granddad on the other other side was remembered too, a German airman who won the Iron Cross.


11 December 2013 – In Dulci Jubilo Christmas Music

Special concert in memory of music professor

Led by Christopher Duarte and accompanied on the organ by David Dunnett, the Keswick Hall Choir brought its artistic gifts to the Cathedral of St John the Baptist for a Christmas celebration that made a wide appeal with music in different styles and traditions.

The concert took on special significance because it was dedicated to the memory of the late Peter Aston, Professor of Music at UEA, an important figure in modern English church music and a powerful influence on the cultural life of our region.

Two motets by Francis Poulenc had spiritual intensity and the the Swiss composer Carl Rütti took the familiar words of three carols and gave them freshness by presenting them in a new form.He was aptly represented by ‘Make we joye’, a typical lively sequence of medieval lyrics. The choir performed them with confidence and verve too as the singers made light of the complexities of Victoria, Palestrina and Hieronymous Praetorius, whose ‘In dulci jubilo’ mingles German with Latin in its text.

A more direct manner was made appealing in pieces by Peter Warlock with gentle meditation giving way to a well-controlled outburst of high spirits at the end.

Christopher Smith EDP 12/1/13


20 April 2013 – Music for a Coronation

Skilled choir always found right approach

Sound the trumpets, beat the drums and let the sprightly oboes play as to the accompaniment of string and organ, the chorus unites every voice in singing tradtional verses from the psalms and prophets before concluding with jubilant Hallelujahs and re-echoing Amens.

That is the basic formula for much of the music for coronations in England in the 17th and 18th centuries. Christopher Duarte’s Keswick Hall choir showed how great an impact it can make when opening this concert with the finest example of the form, Handel’s sure-fire Zadok the Priest.

More reflective attitudes in quieter sections with reminders of the serene pastoral style did more than offer contrast. They added depth to the theme of rejoicing, especially when composers turned from the monarch and gracefully looked to the queen.

Sometimes tackling lengthy passages from the Bible, Purcell, Croft and Boyce all seized their chance to show their talent for the grand manner. Blow even responded to a mention of horses in his text.

In a strenuous programme, the skilled choir always found the right approach to the varying demands made on it, though a stronger tenor line might have brought out better the interplay between the different voices.

Norwich Baroque, led by Jim O’Toole, provided energetic orchestral support.

Christopher Smith EDP 22/4/13


1 December 2012 – The Tender Tyrant

Cathedral concert an impressive debut for choir’s new director

Largely a tribute to the French teacher and composer Nadia Boulanger, Saturday evening’s debut concert for KHC’s new director Christopher Duarte was marked by a stunning performance of the Fauré Requiem in a new arrangement by Bach Choir conductor David Hill for violin, cello, harp and organ.

It opened with impressive choral gradation of tone and an incisive Offertoire, with the whole having a moving and spiritual effect.

Julian Charles was a warm baritone soloist while soprano Judy Ball’s Pie Jesu was beautifully innocent in her vibratoless purity.

Four a capella Aaron Copland motets of perfect balance and clarity producing exemplary mixed voice singing were followed by Fauré’s Tantum ergo – performed with simple, wafting reverence.

The remote chill of Lili Boulanger’s Les Sirènes was followed, with martial piano accompaniment and choral versatility, by her motet Pour les funérailles d’un soldat and a wash of musical impressionist sounds in Soir sur la plaine in which soloists worked hard to traverse the nave.

The concert was dedicated to KHC’s late President, Sir Philip Ledger. He would surely have been pleased.

Michael Drake EDP 03/12/12