The Anglia Connection
The Mayor's Charity


Sunday March 17, 2013 14:12

Choir History

In the Colchester Bach Choir’s twenty-year career there have been many memorable achievements.

The music of J S Bach has featured most strongly – in one two-year period the choir presented both Passions and the B Minor Mass – and there is an ongoing series of his church cantatas. With the St John Passion in 1998 the choir was privileged to give the first performance of Neil Jenkins’ new translation and edition (now published by Novello and regarded as the standard version) with Neil himself singing the Evangelist. The previous year it had been the turn of the St Matthew, performed in German with the assistance of the Chamber Orchestra of Wetzlar, Colchester’s twin German town, and the choir of Colchester County High School.

Bach’s great contemporary, Handel, has also been featured, with five of his oratorios performed to date.

In October 2000 the choir was pleased to present the first performance of Christmas Landscape (settings of Laurie Lee) by Bryan Barnes, a composer with strong local connections.

The choir has occasionally co-operated with other local choirs in larger scale concerts. Between 1999 and 2001 the choir was featured twenty-three times on the Sunday Morning programme which was networked on ITV.

As well as Neil Jenkins, the choir has been lucky to persuade many distinguished soloists to work with it. These include sopranos Carolyn Cook, Daniela Bechly, Lindsay Gowers,
Fiona Hammacott, Susie Asquith, Suzanne Williams, Claire Tomlin and Jane Bagnall, altos Elizabeth Stokes, Timothy Kenworthy-Brown and Paul Kusel, tenors Philip Creasy, Stephen Liley, Howard Robinson and Russell Ablewhite and basses Stephen Varcoe, Andrew Dale Forbes, Alastair Chapman, Leon Berger, Guy Harbottle, Simon Masterton Smith and, last but not least, Colchester district MP Bernard Jenkin.

The Anglia TV Connection

Sunday Morning was a well-established networked ITV religious affairs programme and between 1999 and 2001, featured a “mini-worship” during which a member of the clergy or other speaker would present a homily and prayers, punctuated by readings and hymns or anthems. Colchester Bach Choir was delighted to be invited to participate and in fact appeared no fewer than twenty-three times over a period of just over 2 years. As four musical items were required per programme, you will realise that we prepared 92 items!

The telerecording was done in various churches in Essex and their organs were played by Alison Baker, Gillian Ward Russell and Peter Dollimore. As well as various choir members who sang solos, we were delighted to be joined for most of the programmes by our favourite guest contralto, Elizabeth Stokes.

Although the music we presented is not our regular repertoire, we tried to approach our task with polish, honesty and intelligence, and the television exposure made us many new friends all over the country.

The Mayor's Charity Concert

The idea of giving a concert in support of the Mayor’s Charities first came up in 1993 and the choir has given such a concert in January or February every year since 1994. The solo artists and Colchester Bach orchestra give their services free and successive Mayors have benefited by many thousands of pounds for their charities.

The concerts normally take place in St. Botolph's Church, Colchester.

Mayor's Cheque 2018
The first concert was Berlioz’s Childhood of Christ, which enabled us to utilise the staircase outside the Moot Hall for a distant angelic choir, as well as the gallery.

1995 saw a revival of Beethoven’s rarely heard Christ on the Mount of Olives.

The concert the following year caused a stir as it featured Tory MP Bernard Jenkin, an accomplished baritone, among the soloists in Handel’s Israel in Egypt. Our Vivaldi concert in 1997 “broke all box office records” and 1998 gave audiences a chance to acquaint themselves with Handel’s charming Alexander’s Feast. 1999 was the year of the blockbuster as the concert consisted of Gounod’s sumptuous St Cecilia Mass and Saint-SaŽns popular Organ Symphony, utilising the Moot Hall organ. 2000 brought Mozart and Beethoven and 2001 Handel’s Acis and Galatea plus Michael Tippett’s Negro Spirituals from A Child of our Time. 2002 featured Schubert – his “Unfinished” Symphony and beautiful E flat Mass.

2003's concert was entitled "An Evening with Papa Haydn" and featured some of his shorter choral works, the lovely Sinfonia Concertante and his Farewell Symphony, which required the orchestra to slowly leave the platform during the finale!

2004 saw Handel in harmony with the two King Georges - the First and the Second - with the Coronation Anthems and the Water Music respectively.

The 2005 concert had a French flavour with Marc Antoine Charpentier's charming Midnight Mass and the familiar Requiem by Gabriel Faure.

In 2006 we celebrated the 250th Anniversary of Mozart's birth with his finest completed choral work, the C Minor mass, and the clarinet concerto.

The choir were pleasesd to raise £1042 for the Mayor's Charity in 2018

The choir hopes that this mutually beneficial partnership between the Mayoralty and itself will continue for a long time to come.


Many individuals and organisations in Colchester have links with our twin German town, Wetzlar, in the Lahn valley. The Colchester Bach Choir has participated in two co-operative projects with the Wetzlar Chamber Orchestra, both of which have resulted in excellent music-making, the building of friendships and, of course, much enjoyable socialising.

Members of the Wetzlar Chamber Orchestra visited Colchester around Easter 1997 and rehearsed and performed the Orchestra II part in Bach’s mighty St Matthew Passion which calls for two orchestras and choirs, while the Colchester Bach Orchestra played Orchestra I. As a gesture to our German guests, it was decided to perform the work in German and this gave an opportunity for the girls’ choir from Colchester County High School to display their linguistic and musical skills as the ripieno choir. The performance was at St Botolph’s and Patrick McCarthy’s brisk tempi brought the performance in in three hours including interval.

In summer 2000 members of the choir paid Wetzlar a return visit to perform Haydn’s Creation in German. This was a co-operative between the Wetzlar Chamber Orchestra under its splendid conductor, Martin Knell, and an amateur choir in nearby Solms. Patrick McCarthy was invited to sing the tenor solos. There were two performances at the end of a week full of rehearsing, hospitality and sight-seeing; the first in the Taunushalle in Solms and a second open-air performance in the courtyard of the nearby Altenberg Kloster. Both concerts were “sell-outs” and our memories are of a very happy time.