100th Season – Centenary Year. Programmes and Reviews 2003-4

 Gala Centenary Concert

Click to view programmeSunday 30th May 2004

Francis Poulenc – Gloria
George Gershwin – Rhapsody in Blue
William Walton – Belshazzer’s Feast

The three works chosen for this groundbreaking concert were a 21st century tribute to 20th century music. In the Poulenc Gloria the combined choirs made a powerful entry on Gloria in Excelsis Deo. It was followed by a serenely beautiful Domine Deus sung by Charlotte Ellett. Her soprano floated effortlessly above the orchestra and chorus to fill the Assembly Hall with gorgeous unforced sound.

After a storm of applause, Klaus Uwe Ludwig from Wiesbaden performed Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. Each solo passage was splendidly taken, the big tune ripe and schmaltzy. I doubt that I shall ever hear a better or more exciting live performance than this.

In the final piece, Belshazzar’s Feast by William Walton, the opening repeated chords from the trombones followed by male voices were electrifying in their effect. The clarity of the orchestral playing was matched by the excellent enunciation of the choir. The baritone Anthony Michael-Moore excelled in the solo role, handling the crucial solo passages of the narration with an assured dramatic thrust and firmness of tone. No praise is high enough for the singers, whose choral sound was sharp and dramatic, or the orchestra, the quality of whose playing was matchless throughout, or for their conductor, who carried music of these very different styles forward with an easy responsive elegance matched by great care for balance.

Derek Watmough could not have brought his long career with the society to a more successful or more rewarding conclusion. He will be greatly missed.

© Robert Hardcastle

Bach Christmas Oratorio

Click to view programme

30th November 2003 in the Assembly Hall

In Memory of Mary Standen

(Click on image to view programme)

This concert was directed by guest conductor Steven Devine. Derek Watmough will return in May to conduct his last concert before his retirement, after 30 years with the society.

This performance was especially notable because of the linking of a traditional British choral society with Finchcocks Baroque, an orchestra where period instruments were played in a truly authentic manner. Steven Devine chose lively tempi and this immediately captured the life and energy of Baroque music.

It was to the choir of about ninety’s credit that it caught the sense of vitality heralded by the orchestra. Considerable care was taken with phrasing and diction and a sense of line was always evident.

There was a true partnership between the excellent team of solo voices and the solo instruments, The urgent continuity between the items achieved by Steven Devine contributed greatly to the sense of drama and narrative. His timing was impeccable, exactly matching the mood changes, relaxing into contemplation when necessary. The choir responded with confidence and clearly regarded themselves as an equal partner with the orchestra rather than being accompanied by them.

The solo voices were Faye Newton (soprano), with her beautifully clear and pure vocal line, David Clegg (counter tenor) who is well known for his ability to portray characterisation and drama, Joseph Cornwell (tenor), whose narrative recitatives had great flexibility and control and Simon Grant (bass) who managed to convey religious detachment and strong presentation. These voices were of the highest calibre both in vocal quality and in musicianship. Their dignified and unobtrusive movements from stage left to centre to take part in the story added to the inherent drama of the music.

The soft tone of the instruments allowed a wonderful blend between the array of woodwind, including the oboe d’amore and original flauto traverso, and the gentle strings. The continuo was a fine balance between chamber organ and harpsichord placed on opposite sides of the orchestra. All the musicians played with a sense of articulation, so that a smaller dynamic range than we are used to was more than compensated for by the subtle shaping of musical lines. The clarity and energy of the orchestral sound encouraged the choir into an athleticism of which it can be proud. Steven Devine clearly saw them as equal partners and treated the amateur choir with the same unfussy trust and respect that he expected from the professional orchestra and they responded to his scholarly understanding of this splendid music.

The result was a performance which demonstrated a sense of artistic integrity beauty and excitement.

© Roger Evendon