June 2009: Fanshawe and Chilcott

Bob Chilcott: The Making of the Drum

David Fanshawe: African Sanctus

Exeter Cathedral, Thursday 25 June 2009, 7.30pm

Our Festival Concert this year will consist of two works linked with Africa. Fanshawe's exuberant African Sanctus interweaves settings of the Latin religious text with authentic taped recordings of indigenous African music, while Chilcott's The Making of the Drum is a piece inspired by the respect for, and honouring of, nature and spirit entailed in the making and playing of an African drum.

Unusual Delights in the Cathedral

Source: Express and Echo, 27 June 2009
Reviewed by the Dean of Exeter Cathedral, Jonathan Meyrick

With ears still ringing from some amazing drumming in the Cathedral, my mind is full of this year’s Exeter Summer Festival.

…….I have been to four of the concerts in the Cathedral, and they have covered an extraordinary spectrum of music and entertainment. ………

Then came the drumming – and more. It was the Exeter Festival Chorus concert, which is always a highlight. The centrepiece was David Fanshawe’s African Sanctus, which is itself an extraordinary piece. It holds together much of the text from the Latin Roman Catholic Mass and a huge variety of musical, animal and tribal offerings from across North and East Africa.

The Christian material is sung live while the African material, which was recorded by Fanshawe as he travelled through the lands of more than 50 tribes – Muslim, traditional African and Christian – is heard through loud-speakers.

It was difficult at times to tell whether the religious strands were harmonising or competing. But there was undoubtedly a prophetic call to find a way of harmonising in both praise and peaceful understanding.

Above all though, there was a sense of rejoicing in the exuberance of a creation that contained so much richness and variety.

At one point, words about the crucifixion were complemented by the sounds of a terrific thunderstorm. For western ears the two were a natural combination, but I couldn’t help thinking that for many Africans the sound of heavy rain heralds resurrection not crucifixion!

Supporting the excellent choir, soloist, piano and guitars was an amazing quartet of drummers called Backbeat Percussion. They were just fantastic, playing a huge variety of percussion instruments, western and African. They clearly loved what they were doing and were almost as entertaining to watch as they were to hear.

[Referring to all four concerts] I am always delighted to see the Cathedral used for such a rich variety of God-given talent and enthusiasm.

The Express and Echo, 3 July 2009

Source: David Marston

For performers and audiences more used to the more traditional sounds of Fauré and Mozart, African Sanctus can be a big step away form the comfort zone.

David Fanshawe’s 1972 setting of the Latin Mass uses recordings he made in Africa, and the tapes of his musical explorations in Uganda, Sudan and other places feature prominently.

There were a couple of places where there were pauses before the tapes clicked in, but the performance here was high quality stuff. It is a demanding work and the EFC rose to it with a sense of energy and passion.

The setting of the Lord’s Prayer, where soloist Maureen Brathwaite excelled, sounds to me like the power ballad from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, while I particularly liked the sequence of chants leading up to the Agnus Dei.

Four-piece percussion group Backbeat used a huge range of drums to add to the driving sense of energy of a performance that soared.

African Sanctus formed the second half of the programme. In the first half, we heard the full range of Backbeat’s musical talents. They teamed up with the EFC for a stirring performance of internationally renowned Devon-born composer Bob Chilcott’s The Making of the Drum among other pieces – another example of inventive, memorable modern music.