Musical thrills and spills from young Mr Handel

Chobham Festival talks to Joyfully Choral conductor Roy Rashbrook 

One of Handel’s most exciting works, along with a goody bag of other musical treats, will be performed at Chobham Festival by a stellar line up of musicians, including the organist from this year’s Last Night of the Proms.

Bespoke choral consort

The bespoke choral consort gathering at the Parish Church of St Lawrence on Saturday 29th September for the Joyfully Choral concert, includes members of the St Paul’s Cathedral Choir, the King’s Consort and the renowned Stile Antico who specialise in music from the Renaissance era.

They are conducted by English tenor Roy Rashbrook, who is himself a member of the choir of St Paul’s, as well as a significant contributor to the musical life of Surrey and Hampshire. The soprano soloist is Kirsty Hopkins, a member of The Sixteen, simply one of the best chamber choirs in the world.

Richard Pearce, frequently to be found playing the organ at St Margaret’s Church, Westminster, and at the Royal Albert Hall for the Last Night of the Proms, will be playing a Handel Organ Concerto.

Dixit Dominus is a musical firework

The centrepiece of Joyfully Choral is Dixit Dominus, Handel’s exuberant setting of Psalm 110, which begins with the words Dixit Dominus, “The Lord Said”. This piece was written when Handel was just 22 and living in Italy for three and a half years.

Its brilliance made the dazzlingly talented young man something of a sensation and established his reputation as a top talent of the day. Roy Rashbrook describes this stunning outpouring of George Frederic’s youthful talent as “exciting, racy and colourful”.

Travelling south to vibrancy and sunshine

Having travelled south from the relatively grey skies of Hamburg in northern Germany, Handel must have been overwhelmed by the colours, the vibrancy and sunshine of Italy, says Roy.

“You also have to consider that he must have come across some spectacularly able choral singers and the result is he writes this firework of a piece. It has the most exuberantly decorative writing, way past anything you are likely to find in the Messiah.”

It also has a deeply moving section, a soprano duet, De Torrente, following the “choral fireworks” of the earlier sections and just before the final closing blast of choral pyrotechnics.

“There is this piece in the middle when the world seems to stand still and it is something that people will take away with them,” says Roy.

Another  young man making his mark

Another young man’s masterpiece is My Heart is Inditing by Henry Purcell, the greatest English baroque composer- and many would claim the greatest ever native composer – whose brilliant life in music and at the royal court ended when he died at the age of only 36.

This anthem, was written for the coronation of James II (brother of Charles II who had died without any legitimate offspring) in 1685, and marked the point when England had finally thrown off the legacy of puritan Cromwell’s Commonwealth which had suppressed delight in music and musical innovation. We had caught up, musically, with our continental European neighbours.

Entrance of the violin

Purcell supervised the installation of an organ in Westminster Cathedral for the first time for the coronation and his music bore many French influences, including the introduction of the new virtuosic and sophisticated instrument, the violin, edging out the more sedate stringed viols and the brass instrument, the sackbut.

Unusually Purcell wrote eight, rather than the customary four, vocal lines for this work, creating a particularly rich, dense and luxurious sound.

And some best-loved Bach

Three crowd-pleasers from J.S.Bach complete the programme: all chorale based movements from Bach’s cantatas: Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring, Sheep May Safely Graze and Sleepers Awake.

About the conductor

Roy Rashbrook, who is also a member of the King’s Consort, as well as the St Paul’s Choir, has taken part and assembled the voices for choral concerts for at least two previous Chobham Festivals – he’s lost count – but on those occasions he took part was as a singer. This is his first tour of festival duty out in front with his baton.

Chobham and the High Street is familiar turf – from driver’s seat level. Living in Woking and being musical director of Hart Voices of Fleet, as well as conductor of the Chantry Singers of Guildford, Roy drives through Chobham several times in most weeks.

About the leader

Like Roy Rashbrook, Chobham Festival’s Musical Director Dale Chambers, teaches at the Royal Grammar School in Guildford. He has created the concert’s instrumental ensemble and violist Dale is also taking part as violist and leader.


Knight Frank

Joyfully Choral is sponsored by Knight Frank