CHRISTMAS SPLENDOUR AT CROSTHWAITE CHURCH
Keswick Choral Society Review
by Jonathan Denny reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 15th January, 2016
Keswick Choral Society's Spring ConcertReview by Jonathan Denny reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 24th April, 2015
The Keswick Choral Society presented their Spring Concert to a very appreciative audience at the Church of Keswick St John on Saturday evening, conducted by society director Ian Hare and accompanied by organist John Cooper Green.
The concert featured a programme of works by Franck, Handel, Bizet and Vaughan Williams which was performed with skill and panache by the chorus, alongside high quality soloists Charlotte Jackson, Robert Thompson and Michael Hancock who are well known throughout Cumbria.
The concert began with the chorus performing a setting of Psalm 150 by Belgian composer, pianist and organist Cesar Franck. The popular psalm describes the variety of ways to praise God and has been put to music by several composers. Franck’s version was composed in 1883 and the chorus did true justice to the four-part harmonies, typical of the late romantic composer.
In contrast to the romantic Franck, Handel was one of the pre-eminent composers of the Baroque period and his Ninth Chandos Anthem was performed next.
Composed in 1717, the anthem is based on biblical psalms and includes rousing four part choruses and solo parts of varying moods that were all delivered with aplomb.
The differences in loud and soft and in solo and ensemble parts play an important role in baroque compositions and these contrasts were bought to the fore by the delicate handling of the chorus and soloists.
After the interval, Five Mystical Songs by English composer Vaughan Williams with words by George Herbert were performed, enabling baritone Michael Hancock to excel himself. The songs are religiously inspired, although Vaughan Williams often described himself as a cheerful agnostic.
The baritone’s singing blended effortlessly with the chorus to portray the intrinsically spiritual nature of the songs, and the very English qualities of the composer shone through.
The music was evocative of English folk songs and the interplay between soloist and chorus was very effective. The climax to the piece, a triumphant hymn of praise was gloriously provided by the chorus.
Bizet’s only liturgical work, Te Deum, written in 1858 when the composer was 20, provided a fitting finale to the concert.
The Te Deum gave an opportunity to soprano Charlotte Jackson and tenor Robert Thompson to shine and they certainly did. The soprano’s distinctively penetrating quality at times gave the impression that she was harmonising with herself and the tenor’s vibrant tones rose to the rafters, aided by the clear acoustics of the church.
At certain points the choral singing was reminiscent of passages from Bizet’s most famous work, the opera Carmen, and St John’s Church was a hugely appropriate venue for a concert of such an ecclesiastic nature.
The Keswick Choral Society was formed more than a hundred ago and rehearses every Tuesday evening at the Crosthwaite Parish Rooms, Keswick. New members are welcome and for more details visit www.keswickchoral.org.uk .
Keswick Choral Society's Christmas Concert, 2014
Festival of Christmas Music
The choir and audience were in good voice on Tuesday December 16th at Crosthwaite Church for Keswick Choral Society’s Festival of Christmas Music. The Church was beautifully decorated with candles flickering on the pillars and window sills. The sixty strong choir, directed by their Music Director, Ian Hare, was joined by Fiona Weakley, soprano soloist and the newly formed Derwent Youth Choir, of whom, Fiona and Sara Field are directors. Mike Town played the organ and Cilla Grant the piano.
Keswick Choral Society's Spring ConcertReview by Jonathan Denny reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 15th May, 2014
The Keswick Choral Society presented their spring concert at the Keswick Church of St John last Saturday which this year had a World War One theme.
The almost full church was treated to high class performances of Faure’s well-known Requiem and Elgar’s less well-known, patriotic cantata for soprano and full choir entitled The Spirit of England.
Faure’s delicate and ethereal Requiem was composed between 1887 and 1890 and the texts of the piece, which were personally selected by the composer, lay emphasis on rest and peace.
Sensitive conducting by musical director of the Society Ian Hare allowed the graceful nuances of the first movement to shine through, and the contrasts between piano and forte passages were well marked and dramatic.
The rich baritone of soloist Jim Johnson featured in the second movement in which Faure’s spirituality was well served by choir and soloist.
A Sanctus followed, rousingly sang by the choir before soloist Rachel Little sung a beautiful Pie Jesu. Her powerful but lucid soprano voice effortlessly conveyed the sanctity of the movement without any impurities.
Three more movements were delivered by the choir and baritone solo which never became bombastic and maintained the high quality.
During the interval a poem by war poet Siegfried Sassoon was read to the audience before Elgar’s The Spirit of England was performed superbly.
The Spirit of England is in fact a War Requiem which captures the spirit of three war poems written by Laurence Binyon in 1914. The three movements are headed The Fourth of August, To Women and For the Fallen and the composer brilliantly captures the sadness and utter desolation of war without becoming maudlin.
In the first movement the choir surpassed themselves with singing that was moving and rousing at the same time. Again, soprano Rachel Little enhanced the overall effect with her prominent blend of power and subtlety.
All the harmonies were clearly heard in the second movement in which the solo soprano took the lead.
The third movement featured a long introduction on the organ, played by John Cooper-Green which was both evocative and atmospheric. The movement was sung with passion and drama and bought out the best of the choir and soloist.
There was a wonderful climax to the evening with three contemporary gospel songs called Feel the Spirit, two of which were sung unaccompanied, with Jim Johnson delivering a moving version of Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.
The audience was invited to join in the singing of Land of Hope and Glory, complete with flag waving which provided an appropriate finish.
Rachel Little is based in Kendal and sings professionally, teaches singing and conducts a girls’ choir. She said: “I have performed before with this society and singing these two works are quite challenging to sing but very rewarding. I like Poulenc and Haydn but my favourite pieces are whatever I’m working on at the time.”
Baritone Jim Johnson has sung many leading roles in opera, oratorios and recitals and is very involved in the promotion of amateur music. “I am an amateur and I sing because I like singing and it keeps you young,” he said. “I first performed the Faure in 1962 when I was a lad and I am looking forward to this concert.”
Throughout the evening, the organ playing of John Cooper-Green was smooth and faultless and the conducting of musical director Ian Hare, sensitive and involved.
Choral Society Christmas Concert Raises the Rafters
Review by Jonathan Denny reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 20th December, 2013
Crosthwaite Church was packed to the rafters with enthusiastic music lovers on Tuesday evening when Keswick Choral Society performed their Annual Festival of Christmas Music.
The varied programme featured performances of traditional Christmas music blended with modern 20th century compositions by composers including Benjamin Britten and John Rutter.
The tone of the evening was set with the clear, sweet tones of soprano soloist Fiona Weakley floating down from the back of the church as she sang the first verse of the the traditional carol Once in Royal David's City. The clean purity of Fiona's voice was highlighted by the acoustics of the church and when the rest of the choir joined in with the second verse the vocal harmonies were clearly heard.
After the audience whole-heartedly joined the singing for the remaining verses, accompanied by Mike Town on the organ, the chorus performed the Vaughan Williams arrangement of the traditional carol On Christmas Night, always a favourite.
Benjamin Britten's A Ceremony of Carols, composed in 1942, was the highlight of the evening's entertainment and although demanding vocally, it clearly showcased the talents of the soloists and the choir.
Originally conceived as a series of unrelated songs, A Ceremony of Carols was later unified into one piece with the processional and recessional chant in unison based on the Gregorian antiphon which is heard at the beginning and the end.
This piece in eleven sections is sung in Latin and Middle English and, scored for chorus, solo voices and harp, A Ceremony of Carols is a curious but appealing mix of the medieval and the modern which is very pleasing to the ear.
The medieval feel was established at the beginning and continued throughout. The chorus effectively and skillfully portrayed the piano and forte contrasts in the third section 'There is no Rose', which was reminiscent of old English folk songs.
'That Yonge Child', a plaintive and modal section came across well with soloist Anne-Marie Kerr's rich and expressive contralto voice really standing out. This section was accompanied by harpist Anna Howard whose minimal and evocative playing greatly adding to the impact.
The modal mood continued into the next section for solo soprano and chorus, Balulalow, in which Fiona's voice soared high. 'This Little Babe', for chorus and harp, was beautifully performed, with the harp sounding like a medieval lute and the choir ending the section with a passionate forte.
The 'Freezing Winter Night' was very effectively evoked by the chorus and contralto solo, accompanied by scintillating harp playing by Anna Howard in which it seemed that the whole range of the instrument was utilised. Technically difficult long vocal jumps were easily accomplished by both the soloist and the chorus.
The 'Spring Carol' expressed relief after the freezing winter and the soprano and contralto solos blended and contrasted effortlessly
Another Vaughan Williams arrangement began the second half, this time O Little Town of Bethlehem, which was sung with gusto by the chorus and the audience.
Henrich Schutz' Cantate Domino was performed next by the chorus. He is generally regarded as the most important German composer before J S Bach and considered to be one of the most important composers of the 17th century along with Monteverdi, who he was greatly influenced by.
His simple and austere sacred music was ably expressed by the chorus who then went on to sing the traditional 'Away in a Manger' and a modern carol by John Rutter, 'What Sweeter Music'.
The soloists carried on their consummate performances with songs by Peter Warlock and Britten before they excelled themselves with 'A Hymn to the Virgin and Jesukin' by Rubbra, accompanied again by the brilliant harp playing of Anna Howard.
Conductor and director Ian Hare enjoyed himself and pleased the audience with his exuberant organ solo by Edmundson, before the evening's entertainment was brought to a resounding conclusion with traditional and modern carols, one written by Ian Hare himself - 'The Oxen'
Before the performance Fiona Weakley said: "I am not nervous but we are just keen to get on with it. We have only had one rehearsal with the full company but we have sung these songs before."
Anne-Marie added: "We have sung with the Choral Society before and we always enjoy it. One of our favourite singers is Sarah Connolly. We are happy to sing whatever is thrown in front of us."
All in all, the Festival of Christmas Music was delivered with skill and surety by the Choral Society and the audience went away fulfilled. "It was a lovely concert. I really enjoyed Britten's music tonight. The medieval and modern mix was very enjoyable," said Val Stuart from Keswick.
Keswick Choral Society Review of Messiah 17.11.13
It was a full house at the theatre by the Lake on Sunday evening. A considerable number in the audience would have heard Handel’s “Messiah” many times but keen to listen to a work which never fails to be uplifting. From the opening words that the tenor sings, “Comfort ye my people, saith your God”, one sensed that they relaxed, enfolded now by the music written in the white heat of inspiration some 270 years ago. Tyler Clarke began as he continued throughout the evening to sing with a certain care and thoughtfulness so that we listened to every word, the timbre of his voice ideal for the role.
The Northern Chamber Orchestra directed by Nicholas Ward are a small, highly professional group made up of 11 strings, 2 oboes and bassoon. Later to be supplemented by 2 trumpets and timpani, and with John Green, organ continuo. They underpinned the whole performance with their immaculate playing under the choir’s conductor, Ian Hare. There are so many wonderful choruses in “Messiah”, not least the opening chorus, “And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed.” The fifty or so members of Keswick Choral Society began in fine style, nicely controlled choral singing, the phrasing clearly pointed, the intonation clear so that we could hear the words and the joy of the words coming through in the lightness of the pulsating rhythm which is such a feature of much of this music.
We are in a world of Old Testament prophets prophesying the coming of the Messiah, the mood created so well by Hakan Vramsmo’s full, rounded and deep baritone as he mastered fast moving passages such as “and I will shake the heavens and the earth,” but also the legato line, “For behold, darkness shall cover the earth.” Likewise Kate Symonds-Joy was fully in control of the rapid passages as she sang “For he is like a refiner’s fire.” She then showed off her rich strong contralto voice in the more melodic “O Thou that tellest good tidings to Zion,” as she did later in the more lyrical “He shall feed his flock,” and then with darker tone in “He was despised and rejected of men”.
With great insight, Handel saves his soprano voice for the birth of the Messiah as she pronounces to the shepherds in recitative and aria “I bring you good tidings of great joy. Rejoice greatly; shout. Behold thy king cometh. He is Saviour and He shall speak peace.” So Laura Mitchell sang with such conviction, her face alight as well as her voice with the glorious message. It was wonderful, as was her aria later, “I know that my Redeemer liveth”. There was, indeed, no doubt about it.
The choir continued to show off its versatility in the more sustained passages of “Behold the Lamb of God,” and “Surely he hath born our griefs” contrasted with the fugal lines of “And with his stripes we are healed”.
The trumpets and timpani joined the orchestra as the audience stood for a powerful rendition of the Hallelujah chorus. Anthony Thompson, solo trumpet, joined Hakan Vramsmo for “The trumpet shall sound.” The trumpet playing was exceptional and flawless and this great bass aria led us into the final chorus “Worthy is the Lamb,” when the choir used all their remaining energies to bring this wonderful evening’s performance to a great conclusion.
Ian Hare, conductor, his choir, and the invited orchestra and soloists are all to be congratulated for an inspiring evening of music making, celebrating again through Handel’s music, the glory of the message that is the “Messiah.” The performance was achieved with very generous support from E.H.Booth and Co.
L K T
Viennese Spring Arrives in Keswick
Keswick Choral Society Concert
St John’s Church, Keswick
27 April 2013
When Canon Stephen Pye welcomed the expectant audience (or was it a congregation?), a gathering which was happy to include The President of the Keswick Choral Society, The Rt. Revd. James Newcombe, The Bishop of Carlisle and Mayor Andrew Lysser he reflected on the poet T S Eliot’s line ‘April is the cruellest month’ . Yet on 27 April the evening sun shone on Keswick Choral Society and its supporters who flocked into St John’s to experience and enjoy the Spring concert. They might have happily reflected on another poet’s optimistic question: ‘If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?’ (Shelley).
The welcome evening April sun, long awaited, might provide a kind of metaphor for the content of much of the Spring Concert. Inevitably, the content and supplications of the Masses, the paeans of praise, the supplications for mercy, the acknowledgement of Lord as Shepherd for ever underlined and emphasised the pleas for mercy. It was a challenge for the Choir to fill each different but complementary appeal to the Maker with new and varied passion, conviction and confirmation. They succeeded with energy and unity.
The opening piece, Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, was originally composed when Haydn was still a teenage chorister at St Stephen’s Cathedral. The work was lost but rediscovered by Haydn 52 years later. He was not apologetic for the youthfulness of the composition: “What specially pleased me in this little work is the melody, and certain youthful fire…..”. Haydn would have also been pleased by Keswick Choir’s accomplished rendering of his work. In some movements, for example the Gloria and the Credo, the different voices sing several clauses of the text simultaneously. It made a thrilling start to the evening, full of echoes and reverberations. The lead into the solo gave an early opportunity to enjoy the contribution of the organist, John Green. The soprano soloist, Julie Leavett, captivated the listeners. Julie is not new to Keswick Choral Society and she never fails to move the audience. She brings a confidence and sympathy which stills the listeners. Her voice reaches the heavens and takes you with her. You are compelled to listen. She establishes a near theatrical rapport with the audience, confident, modest, warm.
Mozart’s Laudate Dominum is set as an extended aria for the soprano soloist. Having had a taste of Julie Leavett already we knew what we might expect and were not disappointed. There was a most sensitive control of space and volume and in the midst of the pleas for mercy and peace and praises she bestowed a soothing confidence –“You’ll be OK with me!”
There followed the Aria ‘Step upon the Path of Faith’ from Bach’s Cantata 152 (not quite Viennese!). Paul im Thurm has also sung with KCS previously and his ease and strength made the message serious if not sombre. The scales of the accompaniment seem to illustrate the steps of the path. Bach’s score often represents faltering, uncertain steps, implying a wavering or weakening faith. The message was well represented in the solo.
The concert programme was a particularly interesting and informative accompaniment to the performance. It points out that Haydn’s Te Deum had its first recorded performance in 1800 at Eisenstadt, the home of the Esterhazy family, to celebrate Lord Nelson’s (and of course Lady Hamilton’s) arrival there. It is a choral work throughout, effectively making the work a concerto for chorus and orchestra. It gave the opportunity for the Choir to thrill the audience and shifted the emphasis of the previous Kyries (Lord have Mercy) to an emphatic plea to the Maker to keep his side of the bargain: Lord in thee have I trusted, Let me never be confounded!
With confidence the audience made their way to the interval refreshments.
The second part of the concert opened with Schubert’s The Lord is my Shepherd – (Psalm 23). It was originally written for the pupils of a singing teacher to perform in a concert in 1821.It has been remarked that being conceived for a concert illustrates the way the barriers between the performance of sacred and secular music, once rigidly upheld by the authorities, were disintegrating in Schubert’s lifetime. The piece as a whole seems to be the music of angels. ‘The close harmony for women’s voices has been much exploited in popular music and given rise to the expression From Schubert to the Spice Girls.’
The Concert returned to the theme of Spring with no mistake with Schubert’s Fruhlingsglaube – Faith in Spring. This was one of Schubert’s most dearly loved songs and he would not have been unhappy with Julie Leavett’s interpretation in which ‘The world becomes more beautiful with each day’, to borrow a line from the Ludwig Uhland’s poem which provided Schubert’s verses.
The tenor soloist, Robert Thompson, singing ‘In native worth’ from Haydn’s Creation moved us from searching for salvation to the celebration of the creation first of man, then of woman. It has been remarked that the virtues attributed to Adam (and not Eve!) clearly reflect the values of the Enlightenment – Reason, Nature, Happiness, Progress and Liberty. Some of the audience might have recalled that Richard Tauber sang In Native Worth which was recorded at Abbey Studios. Robert Thompson’s voice was also a splendid vehicle for celebrating the arrival of man (first) then woman.
The Grand Finale was a return to the Mass – this time Schubert’s Mass in G. It was composed in less than a week. Characteristically for Schubert he is ‘more interested in an over-all devotional mood of a religious composition than in individualistic, romantic text expression.’ The piece was not printed until several decades after Schubert’s death – then ‘usurped’ by the Director of Music at Prague’s St Vitus Cathedral. (He ended up in prison for embezzlement). The history did nothing to diminish the vigour and excitement of the Choir’s performance of The Mass. The whole was enriched by the contributions of all three soloists. The duet of soprano and bass was an exceptional pleasure. They talked to the Lamb of God (Agnus Dei) with disciplined control and persuasion. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the Gloria lifted the roof and when the full choir joined in the pews trembled with the sound waves. The Mass also gave full opportunity for John Green’s talents at the organ, which was well recognised by the applause of the audience.
Keswickians must reflect how fortunate we are to have such a wealth of musical talent in the community, not least the skills of Ian Hare, the Choir’s Conductor and himself a composer of Choral Works. As the audience left the Church one member was heard to remark ‘If all those Kyries don’t get us to heaven I don’t know what will!’
Keswick Choral Society Annual Christmas Concert
St John’s Church, Keswick
Sunday, 16th December, 2012
The Star-led Chiefs Assyrian Odours Bring
The Society's annual Carol Concert at the ancient Crosthwaite Church has established itself as a compelling revaluing of the Christmas story. The Musical Director never fails to produce a varied programme of tradition and exploration.
This year, in addition to the pleasure of listening to the ever strengthening singing, the Musical Director took the opportunity to remind the audience that Christmas for the Church has a defined structure. Christmas does not begin in early Autumn like commercial Christmas but is rather approached through Advent - waiting for the coming - and draws to a close with Epiphany - the manifestation of Christ to the Magi and presentation in the Temple.
This simple structure was loosely reflected in the Choir's programme and lent an added dimension to the enjoyment of the subject and the singing.
It now goes without saying that Keswick Choral Society continues to grow in confidence and performance each year. The men's voices grow stronger and, as ever, soloists Fiona Weakley (soprano) and Geoffrey Gray (bass) added dimension and professionalism to the concert.
Nor was this a passive concert. The audience were drawn in from the beginning when they joined in the traditional processional carol Once in Royal David's City, It came upon a Midnight Clear and, finally, Mendelssohn's Hark the Herald Angels Sing, complete with soaring descants. It was a nice moment when the conductor invited the choir to applaud the audience. It gave a pleasing oneness to the evening, which had drawn an even larger gathering than erstwhile including, to the general pleasure, the Mayor.
It would be too lengthy to give an individual critique of each of the offerings in the programme which was skillfully constructed and confidently presented. The music was complemented by pieces which were enhanced by the quality of the words, often poetry in their own right. 'Assyrian Odours' is a nice alternative for frankincense and myrrh. The Sussex Carol confirmed the raison d'etre of the singing - 'Angels and men with joy may sing, All for to see the new born King!'
Added delight and bonus was a solo organ recital by Ian Hare, the Musical Director. He chose Fiat Lux (Let there be light) by Dubois and it was a nice touch to recognise the comparison - Dubois was Choirmaster at the Church of the Madeleine in 1868. Meanwhile Mike Town provided, as always, sensitive and complementary accompaniment on organ and piano to the Keswick singers.
The audience had been advised they would hear "quite lovely music for you to enjoy". They were not disappointed. Noel indeed!
Keswick Choral Society Concert
St John’s Church, Keswick
Saturday, 19th May, 2012
A dramatic organ prelude heralded Keswick Choral Society’s Concert in St. John’s Church on Saturday. Adrian Self, the accomplished organist from Cartmel Priory, set the tone of majestic celebration with the introduction to Sir Hubert Parry’s “Blest Pair of Sirens”.
Befitting the Jubilee year, the choir, conducted by their Director of music, Ian Hare, was singing a range of English music, composed over the last five centuries.
In Parry’s Ode, a setting of words by John Milton, the “harmonious sisters, Voice and Verse”, are called upon to raise a “saintly shout” to their creator. This the singers tackled well, with a dramatic contrast between the jarring notes of sin and the flowing melodies of hope. In a work where there is not much contrast of mood, some sections could have been quieter, with perhaps more power in the final climax, when the organ was in full swell.
Choir and audience alike were then treated to an unforgettable solo aria from Handel’s opera Theodora. The contralto Kate Symonds-Joy, who had travelled up from London especially for the occasion, stunned her listeners with the extraordinary depth and tone of her singing. The words of this aria are simple and repetitive, but this young soloist filled them with rich emotion.
This was followed by the choir singing a short sixteenth century anthem by William Byrd, “O Lord make thy servant Elisabeth our Queen to rejoice in Thy strength”. The challenging contrapuntal music in six parts was very well delivered, with smooth melodies intertwining and clear diction.
The final piece in the first half of the concert, by Charles Stanford, consisted of only two lines of text, taken from Psalm 119. The unaccompanied “Beati quorum via”, was soothing and unhurried, the several parts blending well, with a moment of glory for the rich bass voices, with a few deep notes on their own.
The main work of the evening was Elgar’s “The Music Makers”, introduced again by the impressive organ playing of Adrian Self. As the passionate motives and rhythms, including the brief reference to his Nimrod theme, died away, the singers entered with the soft wistfulness of the “dreamers of dreams”. Nimrod was quietly heard again as they sang of lonely seas and desolate streams, but then the air was filled with the triumphant cry of the “Movers and Shakers” of the world. From then on the choir gave impressive renderings of ferocious and violent events, with crescendos and a dramatic climax as kingdoms were trampled to the ground, then in soft contrast, reflecting the voices of the dreamers and poets.
A hush of anticipation greeted the contralto soloist as she stood to open the fifth stanza. With a deliberate repetition of the Nimrod Variation, Elgar had made these words personally significant. As the beautiful voice of Kate Symonds-Joy told of the broken soul and the flame in the heart, the choir seemed inspired. The turbulence of the next stanza, as they sang with the frenzied accompaniment of the organ, reached a thrilling climax. Then just as quickly the dreams returned, and the singers themselves seemed moved by sorrow. Music from Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius again featured behind the dreaming and singing, with the choir managing well the contrasts and the intertwining duple and triple rhythms .Hints of the majestic theme from his first symphony brought a challenge for the tenors and the top sopranos, before the solo voice once again soared into the air “from the dazzling unknown shore”. The final notes, as the dreamer sleeps and the singer is silent, then faded away, at the end of a truly praiseworthy performance.
CUMBRIA RURAL CHOIRS
St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle
Saturday March 31st, 2012
Uplifting Brahms Requiem
Handel were the main
composers featured in Cumbria Rural Choirs’ annual concert, held
Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle. The choir of 120 voices, mainly
members of Keswick Choral
Society, Penrith’s Ullswater Choir and Wigton Choral Society, were in resounding voice in a challenging programme, under the expert direction of guest conductor Andrew Padmore.
The concert began with a short anthem, Christ be with me, written by the choir’s chorus master, Ian Hare, in memory of a former chairman, Patrick Short, who died tragically in a road accident in 2010. The attractive chordal writing for choir with occasional harmonic quirks for organ, inspired by Messiaen, presented a promising aperitif to the main substance of the programme.
Handel’s Coronation Anthems Zadok the Priest and The King shall rejoice will no doubt get many outings during the Diamond Jubilee Year but may not always be sung as well as they were on this occasion. Andrew Padmore’s lively tempi, aided by Ian Hare’s impeccably rhythmic organ accompaniment, enabled the choir to demonstrate the joyfulness and majesty so characteristic of these works, and also the precise articulation of Handel’s more intricate writing. That same clarity of articulation and assurance of style was evident in performances of two Handel arias, “Oh! had I Jubal’s lyre” and “Arm, arm ye brave” by the evening’s two soloists, Maxine Taylor (soprano) and Che Seabourne (baritone).
In the 62 years since their foundation Cumbria Rural Choirs had sung Brahms’s A German Requiem on three previous occasions, no doubt in English and with orchestral accompaniment. This performance was different in that it was sung in the original German and with an alternative piano duet accompaniment, approved by Brahms and played with great authority by Cilla Grant and Ian Hare. Any doubts on either score were quickly dispelled by the sensitively controlled dynamics and the spacious climaxes of the opening movement, while the following movement’s “Behold, all flesh is as the grass” was as remorseless and chilling as the invocation “Now therefore be patient” was tender and reassuring. A similar contrast was seen later in “How lovely are thy dwellings fair”, where the beautifully phrased opening was balanced by the decisiveness of the later writing.
The introductory sections of the two movements involving baritone solo were sung with power and authority by Che Seabourne. Each movement ends with a complex fugue, probably the most difficult choral parts of the work. The choir had obviously worked thoroughly on these: moments of uncertainty were rare and the tricky time changes were dealt with assuredly. The alto section’s “Lord, thou art worthy” inspired confidence and the soprano section’s constantly soaring lines only flagged a little as the final movement was reached. Warmth and sensitivity marked the chorale-like textures of the choir’s accompaniment to the soprano soloist’s “And ye therefore have sorrow”, sung with tenderness and a lovely pure tone by Maxine Taylor.
Brahms’s Requiem is a “big sing” for any choir and Cumbria Rural Choirs are to be congratulated on achieving such an uplifting performance, much appreciated by a good-sized audience. Next year’s concert in Carlisle Cathedral on March 9th with music by Bob Chilcott, who will also conduct, and John Rutter is already an event to savour.
KESWICK CHORAL SOCIETY CHRISTMAS CONCERT,
Festival of Christmas Music
St Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Tuesday, 20th December, 2011
Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, December 23rd, 2011
Angels Sing on Earth!
At the annual festival of Christmas music in the ancient St Kentigern's (Crosthwaite) Church, Keswick Choral Society gave vibrant fulfillment to Sweelink's vision of Today a Christ is Born, Noel. It is little wonder that this 16/17th Century, Amsterdam Composer, became known as The Orpheus of Amsterdam. The evening began with enthusiastic audience participation in Once in Royal David's City, led by a crystal clear soloist in a dramatic entrance of the Choir through the nave of this hallowed site used for Christian worship since at least the sixth century.
After the traditional bidding prayer by the Society's President, Bishop James, there followed a confident, affirming performance of Vivaldi's Gloria, a superbly eloquent affirmation of man's faith, supplication and worship of the King of Heaven, followed by intimations of salvation on earth - the event at Bethlehem, dark streets lit by an everlasting light, mortals asleep, ears innocent of the arrival of Christ accompanied by the songs of Angels. It is characteristic of the Keswick Choral Society that Little Town of Bethlehem was re-invested with meaning, leading the audience perhaps to revalue the earthly dimensions of that much loved Carol.
It was a particular mark of this year's Festival that the audience participation progressed with such appreciation, vigour and commitment. O Come All Ye Faithful was indeed sung with palpable joy and triumph and took all straight back again to the start in Bethlehem. The invitation to Come and Behold Him was a thrilling, musical bidding, persuasive, welcoming, festive - the Carol invites All the Citizens of Heaven to join in - and that was the gestalt of the Conductor, Ian Hare, abd the joyful, smiling, confident role of the Choir who achieved a mystical luminosity in some of the offerings.
Keswick Choral Society are blessed with access to professional soloists of known quality, this year, Anne-Marie Kerr and Fiona Weakley, as well as composers - not least their 'own' Carolyn Sparey whose Christmas Bells has become a regular expectation in the Festival. For an orchestra the skillful Mike Town accompanies on both piano and organ - performances in their own right. This year more individuals from the Choir also took on solos and this was a very refreshing aspect of the evening, much enjoyed and appreciated.
A contribution from the Rev Stuart Penny, Vicar of Crosthwaite, was a witty and welcome interlude between visiting vocal solos and performances of traditional and modern pieces, not lest a sensitive rendering of Eric Whitacre's Light and Gold (Lux Aurumque).
The applause which followed the final Hark! The Herald-angels Sing was a proof of the appreciation of the the ever growing audience of supporters of Keswick Choral Society. The outstanding meaning of the evening was perhaps achieved by the most skillful composition of the programme which took the listeners on a journey from Angels singing celestially to the reality of Bethlehem and the consoling joy the great story offers.
A VIEW FROM THE GODS
Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, November 25th, 2011
When King George II first heard the Hallelujah Chorus it is said that he was so inspired that he stood up. When the capacity Keswick Theatre by the Lake audience rose from their seats on Remembrance Sunday (November 13th, 2011) they were acknowledging not only a tradition but also a delight in their Choir’s exhilarating rendering of Handel’s great Chorus. They were more than ready to show their appreciation of the joyful spirit and uplifting conviction conveyed in the interpretation and performance of the great Christian story. Indeed, the excitement started before the performance began – it was the hottest ticket in town and none who were fortunate enough to have a seat were disappointed. The loyalty and dedication of the audience supporters were palpable in the foyers even before they reached the auditorium. From the Overture, and the tenor’s professional solos to the first great Chorus – Every Valley Shall Be Exalted - the audience’s thrill could scarcely be contained. The young Swedish baritone who nobly stood in at short notice demonstrated the distinction he deserved when graduating from the Guildhall School. Here we all were, confident with the Northern Chamber Orchestra, happy with the soloists, and thrilled by the sounds which the well rehearsed choir were contriving in a new, adventurous venue.
There was a heightened expectation of how Keswick Choral Society, skilfully trained by their consummate Music Director, Ian Hare, would come over in this adventurous leap into a large, professional auditorium. Their faith and their supporters faith in them was highly justified. The theatre experienced all the moving drama of the greatest story in the world – the reflection on Christ as the Messiah, the forecasts of the prophets, the Incarnation, Passion and Resurrection, the ultimate confidence inspired by Christ’s glorification in Heaven – the confirmation that ‘as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.’
The Choir sang the great story with verve, conviction and affirmation. Sometimes it was difficult for the audience not to join in with both soloists and Choir - all were embraced by the messages the text and music expressed– ‘the glory of the Lord shall be revealed’ - ‘He shall feed his flock like a shepherd’ - ‘For ever and ever’ - ‘AMEN! ‘
It can emphatically be said that Keswick Choral Society has come of age and audiences will look forward to continued Theatre performances where the space and professional support does the enterprise such justice. BRAVO! HALLELUJAH!!
Messiah by G. F. Handel
Keswick Choral Society, Northern Chamber Orchestra
Conducted by Ian Hare
Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Sunday 13th November 2011.
Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, November 18th, 2011