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Mosaic - Music for Advent and Christmas: Mosaic Chamber Choir, Nicholas Robinson (conductor), Tom Winpenny (organ) St Peter’s Church, St Albans 5.12.2009 (CR)

This was an enjoyable celebration of advent and Christmas from the excellent St Albans - based chamber choir, Mosaic. Under the direction of Nicholas Robinson, this choir brings together some of the best local talent and has become one of the leading lights in the Hertfordshire music scene.

The ambitious first half began with Jean Mouton’s Nesciens Mater, a splendid display of renaissance polyphony which showed the quality of Mosaic’s balanced sound and careful intonation. A beautiful work with clean lines and a strong emotional impact, this set a high standard which was maintained for the rest of the concert.

The main work on the programme was Britten’s A Boy Was Born, composed when Britten was just nineteen years old. The theme comes from a sixteenth century text, given a simple setting, and providing an interesting programme link with the Mouton work. Britten’s music evolves through a set of six variations, each taking on its own character and style, with varied textures and adventurous harmonies. This is a challenging work for any choir, especially in terms of the technical demands in both the individual lines and in the ensemble as a whole. This was a confident performance, with strength in each section of the choir and some impressive solos. The antiphonal soprano lines in the first variation were highly effective, while the more rhythmic moments were well punctuated and clearly defined. I particularly enjoyed the fifth variation, In the Bleak Mid-Winter, with its beautiful word-painting depicting the falling snow. The diction was excellent throughout, and I never cease to be amazed by this choir’s range of expression and dynamic. This was a charismatic and assured performance, with Robinson coaxing the highest standards from this group of singers.

The second half was made up of a selection of shorter songs and carols, including a number of works featured on Mosaic’s excellent Christmas CD. My favourite of these was Bob Chilcott’s Remember, O Thou Man, performed with Robinson directing from the piano. This is a beautiful and moving work in a contemporary jazz ballad style, and the performance this evening was exquisite. Other highlights included Stephen Jackson’s Noël Nouvelet, which demonstrated the choir’s excellent French pronunciation and Paul Edwards’ simple but effective No Small Wonder.

Two contemporary American composers were featured, in the form of Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium and Eric Whitacre’s Lux Aurumque. Both works are extremely popular in the repertoire, and their composers have made a significant mark on the contemporary choral world. The pieces are both based on renaissance polyphony, but use more dissonant harmony and have a modern feel. Mosaic has an excellent range of repertoire and tackles this music equally well as more traditional works, with a good sense of communication.

The concert ended with a superb rendition of two of the movements from Poulenc’s Quatre Motets pour le Temps de Noël, which were performed with a warm sound and a wonderful sense of character with dramatic contrast between the two movements.

This was yet another highly enjoyable concert from this excellent choir, with quality music, a diverse programme and a wonderfully sociable atmosphere. The choir makes its London concert debut on 17th December, and has an exciting programme lined up for 2010. I look forward to hearing more.

Carla Rees


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