29 April 2018 in the Assembly Hall
Rutter – Magnificat
Stravinsky – Symphony of psalms
Bernstein – Chichester psalms
Click on image to view programme,
Critique of the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society concert on Sunday 29th April 2018
How fitting that conductor Rebecca Miller’s last concert with the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society contained such an eclectic mixture of twentieth century styles, revealing the choir’s ability to produce a varied programme so professionally.
Accompanied with full support once again by the redoubtable Salomon Orchestra (led by Tara Persaud), the choral society commenced John Rutter’s Magnificat with clear, lucid tones from the soprano section. Some beautiful phrasing ensued, with well-balanced four-part harmony. Certainly, there was evidence of much joy, including themes of dancing and syncopated rhythms which were managed with apparent ease. The choir handled the contrasting sections of liturgical text, English poetry and prayers with sensitivity, ranging from monophonic vocal lines to luscious harmonies.
Eleanor Partridge’s clear soprano voice floated effortlessly over both choir and orchestra in “Et Misericordia”, while the gentle pastoral rhythm of “Esurientes” introduced by the soloist and quickly taken up by the chorus brought a calm, translucent quality to the work, with perfect tonality.
The final “Gloria” was performed exuberantly, with the soprano’s beautifully haunting solo accompanied by harp and flute to remind us that this whole work is devoted to the Virgin Mary.
Rebecca Miller was, as ever, in total control and the tricky rhythms were employed most effectively.
Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, written in 1930, contains evidence of neo-classicism with the key often undermined and unusual instrumentation (no violins, violas or clarinets). In the first movement “Prayer of the sinner for divine pity”, the choir rose to the challenge of singing minor seconds and slow chords, while “Recognition of Grace Received” contained wide intervals and discords which were employed effectively. The final “Hymn of praise and glory” revealed the orchestra’s contrasting rhythms accompanying repeated choral thirds, use of canon and a lovely hypnotic blend of harmonies before coming to rest on the chord of C major. This was a challenging work which was performed with careful consideration to detail from both choir and orchestra.
Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms, set in Hebrew, commenced with an assertive rendition of psalm 108 and the choir made good use of the asymmetrical time signature. The gentle psalm 23 was sung with excellent use of legato by countertenor Sean Yap with the chorus softly complementing his solo. Another unusual time signature pervaded the final peaceful movement which flowed along easily with an even vocal tone, culminating in a superbly tranquil conclusion.
Rebecca Miller conducted choir and orchestra with her usual dynamic enthusiasm and outstanding musicianship. Her presence will be sorely missed, but she may rest assured that her successor will be taking on a choir with a thorough understanding of choral music. Her speech implored us all to encourage the next generation to continue this tradition, and it was delightful to see several young faces in the choir today.
Special mention must go to Jamie Sperling, associate conductor and to Craig Hudson, rehearsal accompanist, who have given so much support to the choir.
Congratulations to all concerned – this was a concert ranging from energetic rhythms to moments of deep tranquillity and – perhaps most important of all – sincere commitment to the text. Well done!