You review: ‘A bit of humanity’

Reader Harold Mead praises the Collegium Singers's commemoration of World War I

You review: ‘A bit of humanity’

Director Peter Leech gave a fascinating and moving pre-concert talk before the Collegium Singers’ Christmas concert at St. John’s Church in Wellington, Somerset. The evening was built around a unique Christmas, that of 1914 in the newly established World War I trenches, which is remembered in history for the so-called ‘Christmas Truce’.

The truce was declared by both sides, mainly to allow the retrieval and burial of the dead who were lying between the Allied and German lines – a ‘bit of humanity’ sparked by the season and something that led to the historic football match that took place in the midst of the carnage.

Collegium’s concert encompassed British and German Christmas music, interspersed with readings from letters and diary accounts from both sides of the conflict. The whole evening was very emotional – the voices of dead soldiers and their families in England and Germany were heard again, telling us of their hopes and fears and in many cases ending with announcements of the death in action of the writers whose words we were hearing.

Musically, it was a triumph. It has been very noticeable over the past few years just how much work Leech has put into fine-tuning the balance of his choir, not only in numbers per section but also in the ensemble sound. And the highlight of the programme was his own composition, a setting of the very famous poem by Major John McCrae, In Flanders Fields.

Many of the English carols came as a result of Collegium treading largely unfamiliar paths through an otherwise very familiar source – Carols for Choir, Volume 1, popularly known as ‘The Green Book’. I had heard very few of the works they performed from the volume, but they were all most enjoyable.

The choir’s diction in both English and German was for the most part fine, although there was slight wooliness in The Linden Tree Carol. On occasion the sound was a little bass-light, and one more voice in that section would have helped considerably. 

This was not only a fine concert, but also a very enjoyable and moving history lesson.


Harold Mead, Taunton



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What was the impact of World War One on music?

Interview: Andrew Motion and Sally Beamish on writing to commemorate WWI

The June 2014 issue of BBC Music Magazine


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