21 July 2010

The choir of the chapel of Sidney Sussex College

Patrick Comerford

Each day during the summer school at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge, we are taking part in a daily cycle of Morning Prayer and Vespers in the the college chapel. Sadly, there is no opportunity to because term time is over, there is no opportunity to hear the magnificent choir of Sidney Sussex Chapel.

The choir, which is directed by Dr David Skinner, got back to Cambridge last week after a tour of Italy. Between 26 June and 10 July, the choir’s visits included Savignone, Levanto, La Spezia, Pontremoli, Riomaggiore, Florence, Vescovio and – of course – Rome.

Since the appointment of Dr David Skinner as Osborn Director of Music, the Chapel Choir at Sidney Sussex is rapidly becoming one of the finest mixed-voice ensembles in Cambridge. The choir is made up of six to eight sopranos, six to eight altos, six tenors, three baritones, and three basses, and sings the weekly chapel services.

During term time, the choir sings Choral Latin Vespers on Wednesdays and Choral Evensong on Fridays, at 6.45 p.m., followed by Formal Hall on each of those evenings. Choral Evensong at 6.15 p.m. on Sundays is followed by drinks in the Master’s Lodge and Formal Hall

The choir regularly performs at home and abroad and, more recently, has made a niche in making professional recordings for specialist markets, including museums, art galleries, and national libraries. The Choir toured California last year and is visiting Spain, Italy and Austria in 2010. The next tour in the US is planned for 2012.

The choir has three CDs to its name. Last year, the choir recorded the album A Christmas Carol on the Gift of Music label. This 69 minute album includes a selection of traditional Victorian Christmas carols sung by Sidney Sussex Choir with passages from Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, read by a former Master of the college, Sir Gabriel Horn.

Earlier in the year, the choir also produced Ludwig Senfl: Missa Paschali, Motetten & Lieder, released by Obsidian Records. Ludwig Senfl (1486-1543) was a leading European composer during the Reformation and a favourite musician of Martin Luther. He was much travelled and for a time was employed by the Emperor Maximilian I. The recording features Senfl’s church and vernacular music, with the cornett and sackbut ensemble QuintEssential, and gothic harpist Andrew Lawrence-King. The recording was made in the cloistered monastery of St Emmeram in Bavarian town of Regensburg during the choir’s tour of Austria and Bavaria.

The album Thomas Tomkins: These Distracted Times was released in 2007 by Obsidian Records.

During the English Civil War of the 17th century, Thomas Tomkins was the greatest composer of his age.

He wrote a pavan for “these distracted times” shortly after the execution of King Charles I in 1649.

This recording provides a mixture of Tomkins’s church and chamber music that soothed troubled souls during these turbulent years.

The recording was made in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, where Cromwell was a student and where it is said his severed head has been buried in the ante-chapel.

Whether or not Cromwell’s head is really buried here, his face illustrates the cover of this CD, and from his portrait he looks down on us benignly each day as we eat in the Hall.

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