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CONCERT REVIEW: Magnificat by John Rutter and other Christmas music, South Holland Singers, St John the Baptist Church, Spalding




South Holland Singers have followed the lead of Doctor Who, the Metropolitan Police, football's Premier League and now BBC TV's Question Time in choosing a woman to take the helm.

Samantha Graper, head of music at University Academy Holbeach (UAH), led the near 50-strong choir for the first time at St John the Baptist Church, Spalding, on Saturday night.

The big question was could Samantha, and South Holland Singers, get anywhere near to emulating the outstanding success of her masterminding of UAH's spectacularly successful musical, Les Miserables, last month.

In a possible indication of what is to come, from South Holland Singers' new musical director, Saturday's programme was heavily influenced by English composer and conductor John Rutter.

English composer and conductor John Rutter whose works, Magnificat, Nativity Carol and Rejoice and Be Merry, were performed by South Holland Singers. Photo supplied. (5954884)
English composer and conductor John Rutter whose works, Magnificat, Nativity Carol and Rejoice and Be Merry, were performed by South Holland Singers. Photo supplied. (5954884)

The first half of Saturday's concert was taken up by Rutter's Magnificat, a complex arrangement of seven movements for which guest soloist soprano Sarah Le Sage joined the choir.

Based on the Virgin Mary's response to her cousin Elizabeth after being told by the angel Gabriel that she would give birth to Jesus Christ, Rutter described his Magnificat as "an appropriate sense of rejoicing and trust in God".

It was obvious that the choir, sopranos in particular, were uniquely challenged in reaching some of the higher notes in Rutter's work.

South Holland Singers, conducted by Samantha Graper, with soloist Sarah Le Sage, perform John Rutter;s Magnificat at St John the Baptist Church, Spalding. Photo supplied. (5946247)
South Holland Singers, conducted by Samantha Graper, with soloist Sarah Le Sage, perform John Rutter;s Magnificat at St John the Baptist Church, Spalding. Photo supplied. (5946247)

But it was no more than the choir were ready for, based on the programme notes of its chairman,Tess Murison, who said: "We are overjoyed to welcome Samantha and are eager for her to push our musical boundaries to help us grow and continue performing choral music."

There was more Rutter music in the second of the concert as the choir performed two of his shorter works, both modern day carols, in Rejoice and Be Merry and Nativity Carol.

American composer Morten Lauridsen's Christmas choral work, O Magnum Mysterium (Latin for O Great Mystery) was another relatively little-known piece that Samantha introduced to her choir.

American composer Morten Lauridsen whose work O Magnum Mysterium was performed by South Holland Singers. Photo supplied. (5955229)
American composer Morten Lauridsen whose work O Magnum Mysterium was performed by South Holland Singers. Photo supplied. (5955229)

All this alongside more traditional carols, four of which the audience joined in with singing, among them South Holland and the Deepings MP, Sir John and Lady Susan Hayes.

Speaking about her appointment as musical director of South Holland Singers, Samantha said: "It's the biggest choir I've conducted and I haven't conducted men very often.

"I hope to challenge them with some different works as I have quite a different musical background to my predecessors, Robin Carter and Geoff Ellerby.

Robin Carter and Geoff Ellerby (right), past musical directors of South Holland Singers. Photo supplied.
Robin Carter and Geoff Ellerby (right), past musical directors of South Holland Singers. Photo supplied.

"They are used to doing particular types of work, but I'm sure there will be some things the choir will never have come across before.

"Every choir is different but the same basic things are required in what you do as a conductor."

Samantha is only the seventh musical director in South Holland Singers' 71-year history, stretching right back to the choir's founder Russell Missen who held the conductor's baton from 1946 until 1957.

He was followed by Colin Martin (1957–1973), Philip Lank (1973-1984), Ronald Ledbury (1984-1999), Robin Carter (1999-2017) and Geoff Ellerby (2018) whose one and only concert with South Holland Singers featured Vivaldi's Gloria and other coronation anthems at St John the Baptist Church, Spalding, in May this year.

South Holland Singers perform Vivaldi's Gloria at St John the Baptist Church, Spalding, in May. Photo supplied.
South Holland Singers perform Vivaldi's Gloria at St John the Baptist Church, Spalding, in May. Photo supplied.

Samatha said: "There are a lot of keen singers, some of whom are extremely experienced and have sung in the choir for a long time.

"They have made me feel so welcome and have really supported me in getting to know them.

"We only had a couple of weeks to decide what we were going to do and it took them a while to get used to Magnificat.

"But some of the choir said they really enjoyed it and we're hoping to explore more newer and more different works they haven't done before.

"I want to cultivate a love of singing and performing so I see my role as one of providing those opportunities and to make the members of South Holland Singers feel good on a night like this."

Review and interview by Winston Brown



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