Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
“A Christmas Celebration by Candlelight”
St Salvador’s Church, Dundee on
21st December, 2014
by Stephen Fraser

Some Christmas traditions have been on the go for many years, if not decades.  Most of the more recent developments are regrettably lacking in quality.  It is therefore good to be able to report on an event that is entirely positive and increasing in popularity.  This is the annual concert of Christmas music given every December by the local a cappella quartet Cantiones Sacrae.  As usual, it got Christmas feasting off to a fine start with mulled wine after, to warm any parts the music had failed to reach.

Linda Dallas, Lisa Rosa, Jonathan Matheson-Dear and Graeme Adamson have been working together for many years, but all lead busy professional lives.  They nevertheless seem able to achieve excellent results in spite of what must be restricted rehearsal opportunities.  This concert, given to a packed audience in the wonderful, clear St Salvador’s acoustic, gave a judicious mix of old favourites and unfamiliar discoveries.

As usual, they offered several pieces from the Renaissance period.  The pieces by Victoria and Byrd also by Clemens non Papa and Luca Marenzio seemed like old friends.  Somehow less familiar, and quite beautiful, were A Sound of Angels by Christopher Tye and Prope est Dominus by Jacob Regnart.

The first half of the last century saw some excellent compositions.  Herbert Howells is not yet as well remembered as he should be, and G K Chesterton was a writer of quality to match him in Here is the Little Door.  Vaughan Williams and Warlock were also well represented, along with several arrangements by Sir David Willcocks.

This group has made a speciality of introducing us to recent compositions composed in such a way as to fool us into thinking they have been around for years.  Nicholas Wilton is now a familiar name, and we were treated to the world premiere of his Ave Maria, a masterly little miniature.

We were treated to several pieces by another discovery, the Polish-American Peter Kwasniewski.  Dormi Jesu, his version of Once in Royal David’s City, was a beautiful way to start the second part.  But there were too many gems to list individually, and the evening ended, as usual, with enthusiastic applause.  Long may this tradition continue!


Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
"Festive Lunchtime Concert"
in St Salvador's Church, Dundee on
Saturday 10th December, 2011

From the
Dundee Courier on 12th December, 2011

Cantiones Sacrae in perfect balance

 CHRISTMAS wouldn’t be the same without tinsel, trees, mince pies and parcels, writes Garry Fraser.

Likewise, it wouldn’t be the same without a vocal contribution from Cantiones Sacrae, Tayside’s a cappella Renaissance specialists.

Saturday lunchtime’s concert in St Salvador’s Episcopal Church saw them at their very best, with 18 carols and motets delivered with perfect balance, beautiful phrasing and their effortless performance of works.

They couldn’t have got off to better start than The Basque Carol, aka Sing Lullaby, as it was a striking performance that lay the foundations for a faultless hour’s singing.

Carols of all sorts were reeled off with style, merging some well-know traditional favourites with some totally unknown gems – one of which was Green Growth The Holly, an enticing mix of 16th century words and 20th century music.

A concert by Cant Sac without some Renaissance music would not seem right, so the quartet obliged with Victoria’s O Doctor Optime and Resonet in Laudibus, the latter of which was particularly good.

The church was, to put it mildly, a trifle chilly, but when’ you are in the company of such a group, somehow the temperature doesn’t really matter — at least not when they are singing.

The warmth, quality and professionalism of performance captures your attention from the outset.

There’s another chance to hear Linda, Lisa, Jonathan and Graeme next Sunday evening in the same venue as they present their Carols by Candlelight.

It’s something not to miss.

Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
"Spring Concert"
in St Salvador's Church, Dundee on
Sunday 5th June, 2011

From the
Dundee Courier on 7th June, 2011

Cantiones Sacrae describe themselves as Tayside's premier vocal ensemble and it hard to deny that, when it comes to a cappella singing, they take a lot of beating.

It was a refreshing change to have the group perform a concert in spring-time rather than in the depths of winter and how pleasant it was to sit in a warm – possibly even balmy – St Salvador’s Church in Dundee’s Hilltown on Sunday evening. The voices of Linda Dallas (soprano), Lisa Rose (alto), Jonathan Matheson-Dear (tenor) and Graeme Adamson (bass) blended beautifully together and their performance was assured and pith-perfect throughout.

The programme was well-balanced and consisted of mainly 16th century polyphony but also included works by 21st century British composer, Nicholas Wilton, whose Missa Brevis was one of the highlights of the evening with its elegant simplicity. Thomas Tallis’ The God of love my shepherd is, which includes the poignant tune on which Vaughan Williams wrote his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis was sung with passion and crystal clear diction throughout.

One section of the concert was devoted entirely to the music of William Byrd and this was an absolute treat. His Ave verum corpus was followed by Lord, make me to know thy ways and concluded with a beautifully interpreted rendition of the Agnus Dei from Byrd’s Mass for four voices.

Demonstrating their versatility, the group also sang in Dutch a piece by Franco- Flemish composer Pierre de la Rue Myn hert altyt heeft verlanghen. It certainly was a programme with something to appeal to all tastes and the twenty or so works performed also featured the music of Gibbons, Lotti, Farrant, Palestrina, and Dowland.

It was clear from the performance that the members of Cantiones Sacrae derive huge pleasure from singing together and, as one audience member is quoted as saying, the evening was indeed "a master-class in the art of unaccompanied singing".

Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
Spring Concert
in St Ninian's Cathedral, Perth on
3rd April, 2011
from the Perthshire Advertiser

CANTIONES SACRAE, or Sacred Songs, was a landmark publication in 1575 by the composers Thomas Tallis and William Byrd. It celebrated not only their acquisition of the royal patent for the printing of music, but also their mastery of the continental polyphonic style. So how appropriate that this talented group of singers have chosen this as its name.

The present day Cantiones Sacrae of Linda Dallas (soprano), Lisa Rose (alto), Jonathan Matheson-Dear (tenor) and Graeme Adamson (bass) represented the music of both Tallis and Byrd in their Spring Concert in aid of musical training in Perth Cathedral and the Order of St John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem.

Cantiones Sacrae has a clear understanding of music from the Renaissance period. The individual, unaccompanied voices are well-balanced, blend beautifully together and the dynamics were well judged in St Ninian's fine acoustic.

There was something for every taste and many popular pieces were included in a well prepared and entertaining programme.

Tallis's The God of love my shepherd is, based on Psalm 23 and including the haunting, mystical tune which inspired Vaughan Williams to write his Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis, and his devotionally expressive If ye love me, ever a favourite at weddings, were sung with sincerity and great sensitivity.

The famous Ave verum corpus by Byrd was well received, as was his setting of Psalm 25, Lord, make me know thy ways. The highlight for me, however, was Palestrina’s Ave Maria with its smooth characteristic style and absorbing counterpoint, beautifully interpreted, and all consuming in its execution.

In addition to the more well known items, there were also some unfamiliar works.  Nicholas Wilton is a contemporary composer, taking his inspiration from the Renaissance masters.  His music sounds both timeless and modern and his Missa Brevis proved to be an inspired and elegant work.  Pierre de Ia Rue was a Franco-Flemish composer and a favourite of the Hapsburgs.  His secular song Myn hert allyt heft verlanghen, or “My heart always has longing” was confidently performed in Dutch with clear diction and highlighted the group's versatility.  The concert ended, pre-empting Easter, with the French composer Jacquet de Mantua's beautiful Alleluia surrexit Dominus.

The members of Cantiones Sacrae clearly enjoy making music together and this, together with beautiful, heartfelt singing, made the concert hugely enjoyable. It was music that touched the soul.

Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
"Festive Lunchtime Concert"
in St Salvador's Church, Dundee on
Saturday 11th December, 2010

From the
Dundee Courier on 13th December, 2010

Vocal experience to warm the soul

Fancy spending an hour sitting in a chilly church? It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, especially at this time of year, but if there is some musical entertainment to soothe the way, then it becomes a much more viable venture.  The atmosphere is given extra warmth if the music is supplied by Cantiones Sacrae who are well worth their billing as Tayside’s foremost vocal ensemble.  Their concert on Saturday in St Salvador’s Church was billed as an “experimental lunchtime concert”.  Perhaps so with regard to timing, but certainly not in terms of performance. Everything was honed to perfection thanks, no doubt, to hours of painstaking practice.

This was an excellent hour of music, and if I had any qualms about balance and intonation, which I had detected in previous concerts, these disappeared in a trice.  This was the ensemble…Linda Dallas, Lisa Rose, Jonathon Matheson-Dear and Graeme Adamson…at their very best.

It is hard to pick the best from a very well-prepared programme.  The opening Gabriel’s Message was beautifully phrased and this quality flowed from then on through some choice Christmas motets and carols.  Warlock’s Come To Bethlehem was another stunner and when they ventured into their chosen field of renaissance music, their attention to detail was obvious, especially at the end of de Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium, which needed full concentration.

Perhaps my favourite was a new commission, dedicated to the ensemble and composed by Nicholas Wilton.  Jhesu for thy Mercy Endlesse might be brand new, but it has the characteristics of a work far older, with superb harmonies and immediate attraction.
Not many braved to slippy conditions of the Hilltown to enjoy this concert but there is another chance to see this excellent group perform in the same venue next Sunday night with a bigger programme which will be performed, as is the custom, by candlelight.

Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
"A Renaissance Christmas by Candlelight"
in St Salvador's Church, Dundee on
Sunday 20th December, 2009

From the
Dundee Courier on 23rd December, 2009

Quartet enthral with fitting performance

As the name for a quartet of singers of Renaissance music, Cantiones Sacrae is exceedingly apt.  This was the title given to the first publication of Latin motets by William Byrd and Thomas Tallis, two of the foremost composers of music from that period.  Although the present-day Cantiones Sacrae, which consists of Linda Dallas (soprano), Lisa Rose (alto), Jonathan Matheson-Dear (tenor) and Graeme Adamson (bass), didn't include any Tallis in their concert programme on Sunday night in St Salvador's Church, Byrd did make an appearance as well as other luminaries of the Renaissance scene.

As usual, the church was packed...probably the biggest audience I've seen there...and they were treated to feast of music of the highest order, mixed with contemporary compositions and carols that fitted the mood and form of the concert perfectly. However, there wasn't the 100% perfect balance I normally associate with the group and there was the occasional intonation problem. But 99% perfection is a score many other groups or choirs would love to emulate.

This group are at home in any form of a cappella music but I think they are at their strongest in liturgical settings.  Thus, the performances of works by Byrd, Lotti, de Victoria, Gallus and Wilton were excellent, beautifully phrased and projected.  Nicholas Wilton's Locus Iste was dedicated to the group and with the singular honour of the composer being there in person on Sunday, the group recognised the significance with a performance of another of his works, his Missa Brevis.  This underlined his canny and successful knack of making a contemporary work sound authentically like something from the Renaissance and easily stands comparison with any similar work from the 16th Century.

Other highlights, all with a festive theme, were O little One Sweet with Bach's wonderful harmonisation, Gruber's Stille Nacht and the Coventry Carol.

All proceeds from a raffle will go to the restoration of this beautiful church, which has been the spiritual home of Cantiones Sacrae for a few years now.  Judging by the size of audience and the fact they ran out of raffle tickets, a sizeable sum must surely have been raised.

Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
"A Renaissance Christmas by Candlelight"
in St Salvador's Church, Dundee on
Sunday 21st December, 2008

From the
Dundee Courier on 23rd December, 2008

Cantiones Sacrae's claim to be Tayside's foremost renaissance singers is completely fair. However, they could generalise it by saying they are the foremost in every type of a cappella singing. Their concert in St Salvador's Church on Sunday night was heavily flavoured with 16th and 17th century polyphony, but works by Rutter, Wilton and Bruckner showed they are equally at home in contemporary or romantic music and can claim a repertoire stretching over 500 years.

Whatever the form, date or mood of music the performance of each carol or sacred work contained the same attributes...beautiful phrasing, perfect balance and crisp diction. After concerts in a couple of other Dundee venues, the quartet of Linda Dallas, Lisa Rose, Jonathan Matheson-Dear and Graeme Adamson were back "home" in the splendid acoustic of St Salvador's that suits them down to the ground. Their talents lie in the ability to make difficult unaccompanied part songs look easy, and sound terrific.

Renaissance music is their first love, and of the music of this genre I would pick out a beautiful Coventry Carol and William Byrd's Surge, Illuminare Jerusalem as my particular favourites, with J.S. Bach's Now Blessed Be Thou, Christ Jesu not far behind.

From a more up-to-date point of view, Bruckner's Locus Iste and a sensational Stille Nacht by Gruber were that little bit better than the others although, again, it was a close call.

Christmas concerts come in all shapes and sizes, from full-blown orchestral evenings to children's nativity performances. Cantiones Sacrae have secured their own individual niche in the market and their Christmas By Candlelight evenings is a form of entertainment that takes some beating.

Review of Cantiones Sacrae's
"A Renaissance Christmas by Candlelight"
in St Salvador's Church, Dundee on
Sunday 23rd December, 2007

From the Dundee Courier on Boxing Day, 2007

"Tayside's Foremost Renaissance Group" is an epithet that sits only too well on the shoulders of Cantiones Sacrae. Over the years, they have set a bench-mark in high-quality a cappella singing and their excellent reputation was underlined on Sunday night amidst the wonderful acoustic of  St Salvador's Church, Dundee.  Quite simply, when it comes to this form of music, they are in a class of their own.

Perfect balance, crisp diction and beautiful tonal colour are qualities that sum up this group to a "t". There was slight change in personnel from previous concerts but Linda Dallas (soprano), Lisa Rose (alto), Jonathan Matheson-Dear (tenor) and Graeme Adamson (bass) merely continued the fine flow of music.

Although the concert was entitled "A Renaissance Christmas by Candlelight", there was much variety to their programme with music spanning four centuries. Early music from the pens of de Victoria, Tye and Marenzio were performed impeccably and the standard continued into more contemporary works. David Willcocks' arrangement of Away In A Manger was superb as was John Tavener's The Lamb, a quite beautiful piece from text by William Blake. The group also managed to fit in the first performance of Nicholas Wilton's Locus Iste, which had been dedicated to them. This was probably the biggest challenge faced throughout the evening but it was a smooth and controlled as anything that had gone before. Another superbly-delivered work was also by Wilton, an Ave Verum of magnificent quality.

The audience on Sunday was larger than normal, with newcomers no doubt attracted by the ambiance of the candle-lit church and the knowledge of the excellent quality of singing that Cantiones Sacrae never fail to deliver.