Picture the scene. The beauty of Government House Hillsborough, a calm, sunny May evening. The biggest Rhododendron tree in Europe is in full bloom and the ladies and gentlemen arrive in the finery. Now contrast that with busy two hospitals working under stressful conditions, the St. John Eye Hospital in Jerusalem and the Maternity Hospital in Bethlehem, both in need of funding, and we had gathered at the invitation of two charities to help raise money.
The Maternity Hospital in Bethlehem is supported by the Sovereign Military Order of Malta. Set close to the traditional site of Jesus’ birth, it’s committed to seeing that no expectant mother of any background is ever turned away and is the only hospital in the region that can handle the complicated medical conditions of women living in extreme poverty and under the shadow of political strife. St. John Eye Hospital is the chosen charity of the Venerable Order of Saint John, Commandery of Ards. There, only last year, almost 112,000 Palestinians were treated regardless of ethnicity, religion or the ability to pay. Regular funding is crucial to continuing the service given to people in these unsettled regions and the audience in Northern Ireland was well rewarded for their support.
In the elegant and historic thrown room within the Castle, Cappella Caeciliana treated us to a concert of magnificent coral singing under the baton of conductor Donal McCrisken. Founded in 1995 this local choir has performed all over Ireland and Europe and in March 2008 sang at a Papal Audience. Two years ago they toured the United States. The group of 20, sopranos, altos, tenor and basses blend their voices to filled the room with their music, it spilled out into the rest of the building and it was like nothing else I’ve ever heard. How they could be so soft and gentle at one moment and then so powerful the next displayed total control.
These talented men and women processed into the room to ‘Beatus Vir’ plainchant and followed up with Monteverdi then Thomas Tallis, a young composer in the court of Henry Vlll, who became familiar when I watched The Tudors television series! Music spans centuries as we heard with the Mozart ‘Ave Verum’, Palestrina and Viadan; most of the music was unfamiliar to me so the experience was all the more pleasurable.
After the interval we were offered more modern composers and arrangements of ‘She Moved Through the Fair‘ and ‘Salley Gardens’ by Donal McCrisken; soloists took us through works by Pergolesi, Carissimi and Jenkins. To those who know their choral repertoire will immediately appreciate the wide variety of songs we heard and how special the instrument of voice can be in A cappella presentation.
For me one stood out. Bogoroditsye Dyevo by Rachmaninov sung in Russian. Donal McCrisken spoke of words and music having colour, Rachmaninov certainly used the full palette challenging the voices to exercising their full vocal range.
Review by ANNE HAILES