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Keswick Choral Society

Registered Charity No: 1161762

Love Came Down at Christmas

I Was Glad

Keswick Choral Society Fes
tival of Christmas Music

Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder

The annual Festival of Christmas Music, presented by Keswick Choral Society, as always gave great pleasure and joy to the audience in a packed Crosthwaite Church on 11 December. The choir was in excellent voice and on sparkling form. The programme was rich and varied from Vivaldi's Gloria, Hubert Parry's I Was Glad, to the syncopated Shepherd's pipe carol by John Rutter . The conductor Ian Hare's skilful new composition, Love came down at Christmas, (from Christina Rossetti's 1885 poem)- was a very refreshing addition and was warmly greeted by the appreciative listeners, not least Christina's hauntingly beautiful call for love and fellowship amongst her Christian brothers and sisters. I soon found myself humming the musical refrain, Sing Noel.

As has become customary with KCS concerts, the audience were encouraged to join in with familiar Carols. Full advantage was taken to respond to the invitation and it was clear from the contributions that there were individuals who could equally have been in the choir rather than the audience. (Indeed, I discovered my neighbour sang regularly with Glyndebourne Opera). Jingle Bells chorus, accompanied by jingling bells, was particularly spirited, a reminder of the joy of a community singing together and the value of laughter.

The programmes were a valuable complement to the evening and an interesting source of information about the provenance of musical items and performers. Collectively they read as an impressive summary of achievement and ambition.

The whole performance was excellently supported by the splendid soloists, Phillipa Dodd, Anne-Marie Kerr, and Fiona Weakley. They gave a moving and thrilling performance of Mendelssohn's Trio, Lift Thine Eyes.

Accompanying Organist, Mike Town, played skilfully throughout, not least for Parry's I was Glad. “I thought I was in Westminster Abbey!” a member of the audience exclaimed.

Conductor, composer and choirmaster, Ian Hare, is to be congratulated for providing such an accomplished, professional and joyful Festival. Little wonder Ian was voted Cumbria Life Musician of the Year 2017.

I was glad, as were the packed, appreciative audience, to have had the privilege of enjoying an evening of such excellent choral expression, committed, joyful, uplifting.

Keswick Choral Society

Saturday 28 April, 2018

Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder

There could hardly be a more appropriate siting for a performance of Haydn's Oratorio than Keswick Theatre by the Lake. Any one of us standing in awe as we view the mountains, valleys, streams and lakes may well wonder how did all this happen and what is my origin.

 Haydn's Creation offers an answer to our wondering and its authority derives from the opening of the Old Testament and perhaps also Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost. It has been said, justly, that The Creation is a 'statement of warm optimism about the world and our place in it, clothed in some of the most gorgeous music of music's golden age.’It is recorded that the wild applause which was accorded to The Creation on its performance in 1808 may have cost the elderly composer his life 'for he was so overcome that he had to be carried from the concert room and revived'.

The Keswick audience, if not quite overcome, were enthralled by the performance. Under the Director of KCS musical director/conductor Ian Hare, the Choir, and the Cumbria Classical Players were masterfully led by Mark Wilson. The exceptional soloists, Susanna Fairbairn, Richard Phillips, Brian Bannatyne-Scott with Continuo Mike Town, gave a thrilling and exhilarating experience. The performance had great tenderness and spiritual depth. Haydn's Angels related a tale of triumph. The story was one of success, illumination blazing out of darkness, 'this world, so great, so wonderful.’ Haydn shows men and women in eternally lovely surroundings-idyllic- a pastoral with no  intimation of the Serpent and the Fall. Adam and Eve's characterisation was a delight. Eve is uncompromising – 'Life and all I have is thine.’  Adam is unequivocal: ‘Every moment brings new rapture.’All the performers related the story with great conviction and passion.

As one earlier reviewer put it, 'it seems apt that a work of such joy and reveries – composed in a period of war, political turmoil, and rapid scientific technological advancement – should be performed and relished with abandon at this moment in time.’  There was a contemporary feel to this production. Ian Hare and all who were involved in this performance of the Oratorio must be congratulated, not least for that final resonance of the chorus in praise of God:

 ‘Let every voice sing unto the Lord!
 Thank him for all his works!

Sublime! How lucky we are to live in Cumbria and have KCS who offer so much pleasure and enlightenment for us all!  The brightness of the full moon which greeted the audience as they left the Theatre was a fitting confirmation of their wonder of The Creation.


Review by Susan Allison reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder

St Johns Parish Church in Keswick is a fine building with good  internal proportions, which suit the staging of concerts admirably, but most people would be aware that the acoustics for choirs are not ideal, so that the latter have to work hard to achieve the effect they want. That said, the coupling of two choirs, Keswick Choral Society with the Cantate  Children’s choir from Carlisle Cathedral, was an unqualified success, bringing together the experience and excellent sound of a well established adult choir and the  youthful exuberance of young voices.              

Directed by Ian Hare (KCS) and Edward Taylor(Cantate), the programme’s first half consisted of Andrew Carter’s Benedicite (11 movements using verses taken from the Benedicite Canticle in the Book of Common Prayer). The modern idiom and rhythms were well handled by both choirs who took turns to sing and as the pictures in music unfolded the organist (John Cooper-Green) used his instrument to create the atmosphere of each movement. This was particular effective in Whales and Waters, the heaviness of the music representing the movement of large underwater creatures, Ice and Snow, where the music almost seemed to shiver with tinkling icicles, and  Butterflies and Moths, in which the clear bright voices of Cantate fluttered convincingly. Thunder and Lightning was cleverly imagined by the composer and one was aware of the storm dying away as the music ended. Spirits and Souls was a difficult one for tuning, but the Keswick choir rose to the challenge beautifully and the choral sound was never compromised. The children took on Grannies and Grandads with great gusto, and  if it was too much to expect smiles as well, when they were producing such lovely  sound, Edward Taylor is to be congratulated on the careful training that has clearly gone into the making of a fine choir of disciplined and enthusiastic young singers.

Franck’s Panis Angelicus and Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine followed the interval. These were convincingly sung , although a little more reverentially hushed sound might have enhanced the Franck
- the church acoustics may make this difficult! Lili Boulanger, a fraught personality if ever there was one, was represented by her version of Psalm 24, which one would expect to be fraught - again the choir did a great job of representing the composer’s sentiments - and singing most competently in French!

The lighter side of the concert came with Cantate singing John Rutter’s All Things Bright and Beautiful and then excelling themselves with a quite beautiful rendering of Alan Mencken’s Go the Distance from Hercules. What a Wonderful World was more difficult and although the children clearly enjoyed Rhythm of Life(not an easy one to sing and they certainly managed the words well) the sound ebbed and flowed a bit at times.

Keswick’s choir returned for a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan which gave the ladies (Comes a train of little Ladies) and gentlemen (With cat-like tread) a chance to shine and finally we had Dance a Cachucha, delivered by the whole choir with great élan and infectious enthusiasm, clearly appreciated by the large audience.

This was a most enjoyable evening in all respects and it is to be hoped that the two choirs will get together again in the future, as I think all present would vote it a great success.  This was the last time Cilla Grant played for the choir with which she has worked for many years, and the choir wished her all the best with a large bouquet of flowers.


Keswick Choral Society "Festival of Christmas Music", 2016

Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 23rd December, 2016

The lines from the Sussex Carol might be a fitting reflection on Keswick Choral Society’s Festival of Christmas Music which delighted an appreciative, happy audience filling Keswick Crosthwaite Church on 13 December to participate in the Society’s Annual event. The Choir keeps growing in size and confidence. This year there was also a positive move to encourage the audience’s involvement. Put at their ease by the invitation of the conductor Ian Hare to participate in the carol singing, encouraged to join in The Twelve Days of Christmas (Five Golden Rings), inveigled by Bass/Baritone Jim Johnson to ‘help him’ with Mary’s Boy Child there developed a sense of joyful togetherness and community.

The more formal centrepiece of the evening was the Choir’s performance of Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai. The audience’s appreciation of the confident treatment of the Mass was helpfully assisted by the programme notes on the St Nicolas Story, the parallel translation of the Latin text and the skilful, professional soloists, Soprano Philippa Dodd, Alto Helen Hutchinson, Tenor Ian Wright and Jim Johnson. Following the interval, Philippa Dodd, new to KCS, gave a thrilling  solo of Handel’s Rejoice Greatly from The Messiah. Her clarity of diction and comfortably confident interpretation were indeed rejoicing. (She deserves to succeed in her determination to join a professional opera company).

The well-known lines of several of the Carols perhaps took on an added significance and timbre in the context of contemporary world crises.  It Came Upon the Midnight Clear was uncompromising in its message – Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing.  The audience were at one in willing round The Age of Gold.  The rich and varied programme was also full of joy.  In Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day the life of Jesus is repeatedly characterised as a dance and some of that spirit also infused the evening. The Conductor’s new composition Sing with Joy characterised the mood of the occasion, surely confirming the Roman poet’s wisdom that ‘song will banish care.’

Even the traditional Carols carried with them overtones and dimensions of interesting interpretations not altogether irrelevant to the present. It adds surely rather than detracts from the adoration demanded by O Come All Ye Faithful that the carol has also been interpreted as concealing a birth ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie! Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (‘Heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!’)  had confirmed that there could be commercially successful Christmas songs and it was a welcome decision to include in the programme a carol by the author of God Bless America!

Again, the programme notes gave the early history of The Twelve Days of Christmas. It might be added that the earliest known version of the lyrics are to be found in a 1780 children’s book – Mirth without Mischief.  It was also a Twelfth Night ‘memories and forfeits’ game. If a player forgot the lines the penalty was to offer a sweet – or a kiss. KCS singers were sure that they were word perfect!

Hark the Herald, sung by Choir and Audience, brought the evening to a positive and joyful (again) conclusion. Written by Charles Wesley, he envisaged that the accompanying music would be slow and solemn. However in the spirit of the whole evening the singing brought out the inescapable   essence of joy in the words – a fitting conclusion to a rich, communal concert. Throughout, the performance was supported and enriched by Mike Town on the organ and Cilla Grant who has been the highly valued accompanist for Keswick Choral Society for the past three years.  The Conductor, Ian Hare, is to be thanked and congratulated on his continuing direction and development of the Keswick Choral Society, an invaluable asset to our community.

‘Melodious Birds Sing Madrigals’
(The Merry Wives of Windsor)

Keswick Choral Society Spring Concert

Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 29th April, 2016

The week of KCS Spring Concert was one full of signs and wonders and anniversaries. The first cuckoo was heard in Newlands and the new lambs gambolled happily. There were notable anniversaries – the Queen’s Birthday and  Shakespeare’s (or was it his demise?).  Prince, singer and song writer, died unexpectedly before his time.  The President of America slipped over to wish Her Majesty ‘Happy Birthday!’  Despite Feste’s  ‘For the rain it raineth every day’ (Twelfth Night), the majority of Keswickians were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the near biblical floods.

Miraculously perhaps the Spring Concert captured the essence of the spirit of the time. Beethoven’s Mass in C Major closes with the Agnus Dei and the final line, dona nobis pacem – give us peace – matched the spirit of the moment. The programme notes draw attention to the ‘elegant balance, lovely melodies’ of the Beethoven. The Choir were at one with the spirit of this Mass, consummately conducted by their Director, Ian Hare, and interspersed with soaring and sensitive solos from the visiting professionals, Charlotte Jackson, Hollie-Anne Bangham, Robert Thompson and Jonathan Millican.

Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer took us to new heights.  The audience (congregation??) were stilled at the pathos and the prayer’s question, ‘Where shall I fly?... I have no guide.’  The soloist’s cries soared and made us quiver with emotion. We all took off with the supplicant’s solution-   ‘O for the wings of a dove! Far away would I rove. In the wilderness build me a nest’. Meanwhile the choir gently lent sensitive support and meaning to the supplicant’s dilemma.  An unforgettable experience.

Britten’s Jubilate commanded us to be joyful ‘with its lively and spirited organ accompaniment and its simple and direct vocal phrases it positively bubbles’ .  And so it did. Adrian Self at the organ and the confident and enthusiastic choir really ‘got it’.  Joy indeed.

There now followed a brilliantly appropriate change of emphasis, knees bowed to the bard with a revelatory performance of a selection of  Will’s Songs and Sonnets. As the programme recounts, George Shearing was born in 1919 and was blind from birth. ‘He began picking out melodies on a piano at the age of three and was soon able to play by ear. Shakespeare’s Songs and Sonnets was commissioned by the Mostly Madrigal Singers, Illinois. ...The songs cannot fail to delight singers and listeners alike.’ And so it was in St John’s Church on 23 April. Perfectly accompanied by pianist, Cilla Grant, and double bass player Ian Coburn, the choir sang and the audience (certainly no longer ‘congregation’) were indeed delighted and excited by the near jazz performances of Live with me, and be my love; When daffodils begin to peer; It was a lover and his lass; Cuckoo! Cuckoo, cuckoo!; Who is Silvia?; Fie on sinful fantasy; and, When I was and a little tiny boy – closing with the lyrical tones and promise to the audience:

A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
But that’s all one, our play is done
And we’ll try to please you every day.

Well, pleased we all were, everyone. But the play was not quite done. Following a quick rehearsal of the audience we were all led by Ian Hare and Hollie-Anne in a rousing and patriotic chorus of Rule Britannia. Yes, everyone had enjoyed it all.   Ian Hare is to be congratulated and thanked, along with his choir and accompanists, for a rich, professional, innovative, daring  programme. With the ‘never, never’  of Rule Brittania still echoing, one or two of the audience were overheard mischievously(?) confiding as they left the Church, ‘Well, that puts paid to Brexit!’(?)  

Bob Fowler


Keswick Choral Society Review

Review by Jonathan Denny reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 15th January, 2016

A fabulous varied programme of music was well received at a packed Crosthwaite Church in December when Keswick Choral Society performed their Festival of Christmas Music, which included the first public performance of Ian Hare’s Carol for Christmastide.

Voices young and not so young came together to sing carols ancient and modern, very competently conducted by Ian Hare and accompanied on organ and piano by Mike Town.

Soloist Fiona Weakley opened the proceedings as her sweet soprano tones swept down the church singing the old favourite carol ‘Once in Royal David’s City’, written in 1848. The choir and congregation joined in the singing with gusto after Fiona had completed the first verse.

Next was the turn of the choir who sang the popular ‘Sussex Carol’ robustly with the four-part harmonies made clear by the acoustics of the church.

Bach’s Christmas Oratorio came next; featuring all four soloists in what is a very demanding piece for singers. The oratorio consists of narrative recitatives by the soloists interspersed with chorales, arias and larger concerted passages; tenor Henry Howard had a particularly exacting role but coped adequately with the technical difficulties.

Anne-Marie Kerr’s understated contralto voice was made good use of in the oratorio; her mid female tones were particularly enjoyable and the choir sung their parts with enthusiasm.

The youngsters of the Derwent Youth Choir, directed by Fiona Weakley and Sara Field were up next and their young, pure voices provided a fitting contrast to Bach.

Their rendition of the ‘Carol of the Bells’ by Mykola Leontovych and living composer John Rutter’s ‘Carol of the Children’ when they sang by themselves was pleasing to the ear. The youth choir then sang John Rutter’s ‘Star Carol’ with the older choir and the blend of young and old voices bought loud applause from the congregation.

After the interval the older choir sang ‘While Shepherds Watched Their Flocks’ along with the audience, followed by Berlioz’s charming ‘Shepherd’s Farewell’, composed in 1850.

Contralto Anne-Marie Kerr took to the floor again with the brief but evocative ‘Carol of the Skiddaw Yowes’, a plaintive tune with local connections. Written by the poet Edmund Casson and set to music by Ivor Gurney, the carol compares the plight of Skiddaw ewes in winter with that of the ewes in first century Palestine.

Next came the first performance of Ian Hare’s ‘Carol for Christmastide’ which was preceded by a short address by local poet Professor Bob Fowler who wrote the lyrics to the carol. The carol was sung with joy by the choir and the music almost ‘wrote itself’, according to Professor Fowler.

After the traditional ‘O come All Ye Faithful’ sung by the choir and congregation the ‘Three Kings’ anthem by Peter Cornelius gave baritone soloist Jolyon Dodgson the chance to shine.

The music was written in 1597 by Philipp Nicolai and the medieval nature of the piece was well suited to the baritone whose voice provided a fitting counterpoint to the accompaniment of the choir.

There was then a not too ostentatious performance of ‘Good King Wenceslas’ which rose to a rousing climax, followed by a moving presentation by tenor soloist Henry Howard of the ‘Minuit Chretiens’ by Adolphe Adam.

A lovely solo by Fiona Weakley followed as she sang ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ with sensitive accompaniment by the choir before the concert was rounded off with the traditional ‘We Wish You A Merry Christmas’ and a rousing performance of ‘Hark! The Herald Angels Sing’ from the choir and congregation.

Congratulations must go to all soloists, the choir, conductor and organist for producing a concert to be proud of.

Keswick Choral Society's Spring Concert

Review 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 .

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.

The evening  was a lively mixture of six well known audience participation carols interspersed with solo items and carols for the choir. The processional carol was Once in royal David’s City with the first verse sung beautifully by Fiona. A welcome followed and the choir then sang ‘ Of the Father’s heart begotten’ arranged by David Willcocks.

Mike Town played an exciting organ solo- Toccata on ‘Divinum Mysterium’ composed by Martin Setchell, before the choir, youth choir and soprano soloist rose to sing Christus Natus Est ( A Cantata for Christmas) by Cecilia McDowall. This work is a sequence of five Christmas carols linked by a motif from one of the composer’s own original carols, Of a Rose, to give an instrumental introduction, played tonight as a piano duet, and as material between each section. There is an exciting start with Personent hodie and then Fiona sang the gentle lullaby- Entre le boeuf et l’âne gris. Gaudete, (Rejoice! Christ is born) followed and the Derwent Youth Choir sang the fourth carol, a lullaby – Infant holy, Infant lowly. The work concludes with Angelus ad Virginem- the Angel Gabriel appears to Mary to say she will have a son. Finally the original Personent hodie re-appears as a descant with the lower parts singing praise to Mary and peace to angels and all men.

The Derwent Youth Choir sang Bethlehem by Claude- Michel Schönberg from the musical Martin Guerre. They were accompanied and conducted by their directors- Fiona Weakley and Sara Field. They sang with enthusiasm and confidence. The youngest was just eight years old and this was only their second public appearance.

In contrast the choir then sang ‘Psallite unigenito’ by Praetorius and the popular ‘In dulci jubilo’ arranged by Pearsall.

The first half concluded with everyone singing ‘It came upon the midnight clear’.

Refreshments were enjoyed by all before the second half opened with the rousing ‘Fanfare for Christmas Day’ by Shaw and then a lively ‘Welcome Yule’ composed by Parry.

Fiona’s soprano solos were ‘Maria Wiegenlied’ by Max Reger and ‘The First Mercy’ by Peter Warlock. Her beautiful voice resounded round the church and she was well accompanied by Cilla Grant.

A piano duet followed, played by Ian Hare and Cilla Grant. It was three contrasting movements from the Capriol Suite by Peter Warlock. Basse-Dance, Pieds- en-l’air and Mattachins.

The choir sang ‘Jesus, Springing’ by Bob Chilcott- a lovely sensitive carol and as it wouldn’t be Christmas without a composition by John Rutter ‘Angels Carol’ followed. The choir then sang ‘We wish you a Merry Christmas’ and the Festival concluded with everyone singing ‘Hark! the herald-angels sing.’


Keswick Choral Society's Spring Concert

Review 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!’   

Bob Fowler

Keswick Choral Society Annual Christmas Concert

St John’s Church, Keswick

Sunday, 16th December, 2012

 Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 21st 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

 Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, May 25th, 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.




St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle

Saturday March 31st, 2012


Uplifting Brahms Requiem

Brahms and Handel were the main composers featured in Cumbria Rural Choirs’ annual concert, held in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle. The choir of 120 voices, mainly consisting of 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.

Colin Marston

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.

Bob Fowler


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!!

Bob Fowler


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

On a mild Remembrance Sunday evening, it seemed that the whole town of Keswick had turned out to pack the Theatre by the Lake for a performance of Handel’s ‘Messiah’.  Keswick Choral Society, whose numbers were boosted for the evening by members of other local choirs, were accompanied by the Northern Chamber Orchestra under the experienced baton of Musical Director Ian Hare.  This was the first time the Messiah had been performed in the Theatre by the Lake, and the dry acoustic provided a greater intimacy than found in the more usual local church venues, but this also brought its challenges for the performers.

Tyler Clarke (Tenor solo) made the most of the intimacy of the theatre with his beautifully smooth lyrical singing bringing soothing comfort in the opening recitative, and showing impressive breath control in ‘Ev’ry valley’, although his gentle style seemed a little too polite for the later aria ‘Thou shalt break them in pieces’.  The Bass soloist, Swedish-born Hċkan Vramsmo, combined a real stage presence with strength and careful control in his arias.  The ‘furious raging’ of the nations was well communicated, even though the orchestra seemed to be rushing him in some of the triplet passages.  The star of the evening for me was alto soloist Katie Bray, who exploited the theatrical aspects of the Messiah and the intimacy of the venue to engage extraordinarily with the audience.  Her singing was smooth and descriptive, and as she sang ‘He was despised’ she poured so much feeling into her performance it seemed that she would break down in tears at any moment!  The soprano soloist, Eleanor Dennis, was almost understated in her singing, which meant that her diction and the intricacy of Handel’s writing was not obscured by the strong operatic tone and  vibrato that she could have employed.  The result was delightfully clear and smooth singing perfectly suited to the work.

The Choir seemed rather restrained in the first part as they came to terms with the very different feel of singing in the Theatre.  Individual sections lacked confidence, and the tutti passages didn’t always provide as much dynamic contrast or excitement as I was looking forward to.  However, as the evening went on the choir seemed to find their stride, and the ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus was suitably majestic, and the Amen chorus was strident and triumphant.

The small orchestra, under the strong leadership of Nicholas Ward, was well balanced and the playing was very controlled, though perhaps the staccato was a little overdone for the acoustic.  Worthy of special note was the excellent trumpet solo of Tracy Redfern in ‘The trumpet shall sound’. The organ was also well balanced with the orchestra and sympathetically played by John Cooper Green.

As the theatre emptied, it was clear from the buzz and chat among the audience that this had been a most enjoyable event for Keswick, and a fitting way to mark Remembrance Sunday. 

Ian Wright   


Registered Charity No: 1121399                                                    St John's Church, Keswick, Saturday, 14th May, 2011

Keswick Choral Society's Spring Concert, held last Saturday in St John's Church, was something of a celebration: the commemoration of one man's life, as well as a celebration of life, love and the beauty of the Lake District.

Members of the choir were in fine voice and gave a very polished and professional performance of an eclectic programme of music. In the beautiful setting of St John's, framed by the stained glass windows, the choir, conducted by Ian Hare,  looked elegant in black and white with touches of deep damson.

The concert opened with a Motet, Christ be with me, composed by Ian Hare himself in memory of Patrick Short, the former Chairman of the Cumbria Rural Choirs, who died so tragically last year in an accident. The words were taken from St Patrick, and while the music was gently and haunting, the words were ultimately consoling, ending with the words 'restore me'. A brief reflective silence followed.

The major work of the evening was the Gloria by François Poulenc, superbly performed by the choir and by the soloist, soprano Rachel Little. Adrian Self was the able accompanist on the organ. This is an unusual piece, full of contrasts both subtle and dramatic, highlighting Poulenç's approach of combining solemnity with joie de vivre. Rachel Little's voice was glorious, particularly in the Domine fili unigenite (Lord, the only begotten son, Jesus Christ).

Like so many other choirs, the Keswick Choral Society doesn't have quite as many male voices as it would like, but nevertheless the men produced a powerful and moving sound for the final Qui sedes ad dexteram Patris (Who sits at the right hand of God the father).

The second half of the concert moved towards a lighter note, beginning with A Cumbrian Canticle, composed by Ian Hare. This is a composition specifically commissioned for the 60th anniversary of the Cumbrian Rural Choirs last year, and it consists of a setting of four poems by Ruth Padel. Her approach was to take the characteristic colours of the Lake District - blue, white, grey and green - together with the four seasons and the symbols associated with St Kentigern - a bird, a fish, a bell and a tree. The resulting words were clearly a challenge both for the composer and for the choir, but there were some delightful musical effects: sea shanties to celebrate Whitehaven, the sound of sheep scrambling on a hill, or water tumbling down a hillside. The piano accompaniment was very effectively provided by Cilla Grant.

Rachel Little, the soprano, then sang two songs: an exquisite and passionate French love song - Les Chemins de l'amour by François Poulenc and a song from Carousel by Richard Rodgers.

The final part of the concert was the most light-hearted of all with selections from The Sound of Music, sung by the choir.

The evening's programme of music was very well received by the audience, as were the refreshments provided by the choir in the interval.

Festival of Christmas Music

St Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Thursday, 16th December, 2010

The appeal of Keswick Choral Society grows with each performance. The bleak mid-winter celebration on December 16th at St Kentigern's (Crosthwaite) Church was no exception. Despite the challenge of frost, exceptional snow falls in the North and icing roads in the East, attendance was greater than ever. The sense of excitement and anticipation were heightened perhaps by the awareness that the Bidding Prayer would be made by the Society's new President, Bishop James of  Carlisle.

Before a note was sounded or a word sung locals and visitors alike could not but sit in awe and admiration in this ancient Parish Church on a site used for Christian worship since at least the sixth century. As all appropriately sparkled with joyful decorations, magically the seasonal story began to be told in traditional song. The ever familiar and ever new Once in Royal David's City reminded us all why we were there. This year the choir processed to flickering candles which increased the sense of community and belonging.

It says a lot for the commitment to Keswick Choral Society that although the soloist cast might have been decimated by weather and winter ailments, stand-ins volunteered for all vacancies and performed faultlessly. Fiona Weakly, for Julie Leavett, gave a crystal clear start to Once in Royal. Tenor Ian Wright stood in at the last moment for Anthony Peacock, doubling his singing with playing the violin. Bass Geoffrey Gray stood in for Jonathan Millican. Contralto Sarah Wall complemented the group of soloists.

The 15th century Adam lay ybounden (for 4,000 winters for munching the apple!) and Ding Dong merrily were followed by extracts from the Messiah, well known by the choir following their 2008 performance with the Keswick Rural Choirs. So awe-struck by the quality and effect of the music were the audience that the Conductor, Ian Hare, felt compelled to turn round from his podium and remind the listeners that clapping was in order - and clap they did with vigorous appreciation.

Following the interval, as has become the tradition with KCS, a commissioned work was performed - Christmas Bells by Carolyn Sparey. This is a brave piece and was well received. In particular, it is one of those compositions which offers challenges and even controversy in the interpretation of the text. Owing much to Longfellow's verse, the sentiments beg questions: 'There is no peace on earth ...hate is strong...' Optimism triumphs and Carolyn's bells ring out - 'they peel more loud and deep'...'God is not dead nor doth he sleep'. It is sometimes refreshing to be reminded in music and verse of the obstacles on the journey to faith and reassured of the positive.

In addition to further Carols and a vivacious Choral Prelude by Mike Town, the second half was devoted to the Magnificat. Whose Magnificat? While a Stabat Mater is widely acknowledged to Pergolesi and the Magnificat in the KCS programme is headed Pergolesi, there is still some controversy about authorship. Next to Vivaldi's Gloria and Pergolesi's Stabat Mater, the Magnificat in B flat is among the most familiar pieces of sacred music. While there is still debate about authorship (Pergolesi or Franceso Durante?) it is a piece which finds a happy place in the KCS repertoire. It is deservedly popular and KCS did the work vivacious justice.

The excellent organ accompaniment throughout the evening was complemented by the Derwent Ensemble, a group of dedicated professional musicians based in Cumbria. The choir and audience owe a great deal to the hard work of KCS and its Officers in bringing concerts of this standard to Keswick audiences. Ian Hare, Conductor and Musical Director, has meticulously developed the professionalism and invention and spirit of adventure in the Choir, as well as developing programmes combining traditional with new works.

Bob Fowler.

Festival of Christmas Music

St Kentigern's Church, Crosthwaite, Wednesday, 16th December, 2009

On the evening of December 16th, St Kentigern's (Crosthwaite) Church was full with an audience eagerly anticipating this year's KCS Christmas Concert. Before a note is sounded or a word is sung, an audience familiar or foreign cannot but sit in awe and admiration in the ancient Keswick Parish Church on a site used for Christian worship since at least the sixth century. Then, as the great bells reverberated in their chamber, the Christmas tree and decorations sparkled, magically the seasonal story began to be told in traditional song.

The ever-familiar and ever-new Once in Royal David's City reminded us why we were there. All stood and sang together. To make assurance doubly sure the Choir exhorted earnestly Up! Good Christen folk, and listen! And listen we did to a great reprise of extracts from Handel's Messiah which KCS have so successfully made their own. From this local choir swelled a real depth and quality of sound, not least from the male voices. The singing was strong, the chorus rousing. The good choice of movements highlighted all the choir with the added bonus of the mellifluous tones of solo baritone Geoffrey Gray.

Following the climax of the earth-moving Hallelujah Chorus we relaxed into the peace of O little town of Bethlehem before enjoying a refreshment interval when audience mixed with performers who had generously provided seasonal goodies.

While Shepherds Watched led us into the eagerly awaited first performance of Laetemur Animo (Let Joy be Unconfined), a new work commissioned by KCS. Laetemur is a celebratory work, welcoming the Christ birth - He is the One, the One and Only who may lead us back into Paradise. The traditional Macaronic verse (English with Latin) was written by Bob Fowler and the music composed by Phillip Cooke, a former Keswick School pupil and currently Junior Fellow in Music at The Queen's College, Oxford.

Phillip said: "My work tries to capture some of the joy and energy present in the text...I wanted the  work to be joyous and uplifting."

The choir sang the new Carol with great conviction and the conductor, Ian Hare, "marshalled the whole affair with consummate ease." The audience much appreciated the work and many would judge it very commendable that a local choir should have the vision to commission new works. Long may it do so.

Later in the programme we heard the warm and graceful Starlight, text by Denny Gaudin and music by Andrew Seivewright. It was good to have the composers of both Laetemur and Starlight in the audience, giving a real sense of belonging. There was also a fine performance of the buoyant Cornish traditional Sans Day Carol (The Holly bears the Berry).

The concert concluded with a highly polished performance of Vaughan Williams' Fantasia which brought together all the performers in a great choral tour de force. Throughout the choir were well supported by Mike Town (Organ), Ernest Duncan (Piano) and the Derwent Ensemble led by Sue Johnson.

Overall congratulations must go to the choir's Musical Director, Ian Hare, under whose expert and professional guidance the KCS flourishes, goes in performance and membership from strength to strength and gives great pleasure to all who hear them.

Anyone interested in joining KCS should contact Chris Castell 01228 712979 or Ann Hogarth 017687 73429.


St John's Church, Saturday 9th May 2009

Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, May 23rd, 2009

Community concerts have their own special attraction, particularly when standards are as high as those achieved by Ian Hare at the Spring Concert on Saturday 9 May in St John's Church. The choir sang with musicianship and dedication, tellingly backed by the Derwent Ensemble - led, as ever, so professionally by Sue Johnson - with Mike Town's unfailing support at the organ.

The excellent soloists also came from not far afield - Fiona Weakley (soprano), Anne-Marie Kerr (contralto), Anthony Peacock (tenor) and Geoffrey Gray (bass). But if the setting of the concert was local, right in the heart of the town, its scope was international: the commendation of the death of Haydn, and the birth of Mendelssohn, both in the same year, 1809.

A highlight of the evening was certainly the well-loved duet and chorus from Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise" - "I waited for the Lord. If those who wait for the Lord shall mount on wings as eagles" - this glorious piece fairly soared to the heavens. The contrasting, but well-blended, voices of Fiona and Anne-Marie served as a focus for a total ensemble which came together in a most beautiful and expressive performance.

Drama was brought in by tenor Anthony Peacock who posed the question "Watchmen, will the night soon pass?" After Fiona had responded with a radiant affirmative, the choir delivered a much convincing dawn chorus, complete with some splendid top 'A's from the sopranos. The "Now thank we all our God" chorale, which follows, was notable for some very good playing as well as singing.

If the "Hymn of Praise" has a 'darkness to light' theme, Haydn's Nelson Mass, which formed the first half of the programme, follows a similar pilgrimage - from the turbulent 'straits' of war to the broad, sunlit uplands of peace.

Again, Fiona's silvery soprano added a wonderful brightness - right from the opening Kyrie, where she has many notes to sing! Equally impressive - and expressive - were the powerful utterances of Anne-Marie in the "Agnus Die", and Geoff Gray in "Qui tollis". The quartet were a huge asset in whatever they sang, with Anthony Peacock showing once again how well deserved is his high reputation.

But very good too were the chorus! And the instrumentalists as well. Both go from strength to strength under Ian Hare's expert guidance.

What a wonderful evening - hearing great music in a live performance in surroundings of beauty.

Andrew Seivewright



Crosthwaite Church, Saturday 20th December 2008

Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, Jan 9th, 2008

Fortunately enough, the singer taking the name part in Benjamin Britten's cantata Saint Nicholas does not have to clock up air miles in a reindeer-drawn sleigh, or operate a parcels delivery service down inconvenient chimneys. But he does have to take centre stage in bringing to life this much-loved 4th century saint in a variety of situations from adolescence to the final Nunc Dimittis during this 50 minute piece. Quite daunting.

Tenor, Anthony Peacock served his audience well in a deeply moving performance doubtless appreciated by his fellow-artists, who also gave of their best.

The annual concert which conductor Ian Hare puts on in Keswick is in fact like a Christmas gift to the town - one which on this occasion deserved a larger audience, even though there were a fair number present. TV interference, I gather!

The Cantata's Prelude, evoking mystery and the passage of time, showed Leader Sue Johnson and her Derwent Ensemble to be in fine form - tuning and tone just right. Equally impressive was the chording of the chorus, who set up Anthony Peacock's first entry with drama and precision. He did not disappoint.

The Choral Society benefitted throughout from the authoritative direction of Ian Hare, whose familiarity with the score ultimately derived from his participation in a legendary CD recording with Sir David Wilcocks many years earlier. His own conducting had both clarity and expressiveness.

The excellent pianists, Cilla Grant and Margaret Ferriby, came up with the appropriate gurgling noises in the bath-time waltz-song (Britten was keen on these) and delivered nice foamy arpeggios to create a storm later on. There were also telling contributions from percussionist Anthony Payne. As is often the case, the pitch of the Crosthwaite organ does not accord well with other instruments, so Mike Town used an electronic keyboard - to very good effect. If the chorus faltered briefly in the fugue, it was of small account in the general performance. The hymns were magnificent.

Influenced by early Baroque composers, Britten enjoys theatrical, spatial effects. It would have been nice if three school children had sung the processional Alleluias which vanquish the pagan March. A great reception would have been assured.

After the interval the audience sang and were sung to. "Ding Dong! Merrily" had effective dynamics, if very slight tuning problems around treble C - after the high notes. Ian Hare's own carol was well sung with the men showing fine blend. Anthony sang a spiritual with fitting simplicity, and Cilla Grant set up the entertaining "First day after Christmas" most subtly. Mike Town exploited the Crosthwaite trumpet stop with telling articulation. Equally articulate was Dr David Hughes in his timely Christmas message. And your reviewer was lucky enough to hear his own carol "Angels from Heaven" for the second time in eight days. Thank you! More importantly, "Saint Nicholas" can be heard again in Penrith in March.

Andrew Seivewright

St John's Church, Saturday 5th April 2008

Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, April 11th, 2008

The brightly printed programme for the concert at the parish church of Keswick St John promised much, and the concert lived up to it abundantly.

If the post-interval Faure Requiem was the most substantial offering, there were many other delights - Ian Hare's Choral Society goes from strength to strength. Cesar Franck's ever-popular "Panis Angelicus" gave an excellent start, memorably embellished by the cello obligato of Tina Macrae, and the harp, played by Fiona Austen.

Mike Town was his usual imperturable self at the organ, later on contributing a fine performance of Mushel's engaging Toccata.

Choral highlight of the first half was conductor Ian Hare's own composition "The Vale of Keswick". This piece had an "Ancient and Modern" connotation, containing lyrics by pre-Wordsworthian writers John Brown and John Dalton as well as by 8 year old writers Francesca Carpenter, Hannah Watson and Georgina Bell from St Herbert's School. Their attractive poems were given equally attractive musical settings by Ian Hare, and sung so well by a singing group from the School.

The composer was less merciful to the Choral Society who had some challenging entries to make, given the sometimes complex accompaniment - very well played by Cilla Grant. But the singers did well, especially in the atmospheric second movement. The dramatic first movement reflects 18th century ambivalence about the wildness of the Lake District's crags and torrents - awesome or awful? The work needs to go on the road, where it would settle down very well.

Bass soloist Geoffrey Gray sang Britten folk songs in fine style, and Karen Wilson's radiant soprano won all hearts. Handel's "Spring" was pure euphoria, while "All in the April Evening" received a simple unaffected delivery that added to the poignancy. Again, excellent accompaniment.

Both soloists contributed much to the Requiem as did Sue Johnson's Derwent Ensemble, though, surprisingly, the Introit was marred by some instrumental untidiness. But the choir blended very well.

What else can I mention? The sopranos in the lovely climatic phrase in the Cantique that preceded the Requiem; tenors and altos so nicely restrained in the Offertory; Hosanna to shake the walls of Jerusalem, set up by the horns; a wonderful "Pie Jesu" followed by an "Agnus Die" that was a trifle quick for me; a truly lovely "In Paradisium" with a most telling and original organ accompaniment.

Well sung! Well played!

On behalf of the church Valerie Montgomery expressed an appreciation felt by all. And deservedly so.

Andrew Seivewright


Crosthwaite Church, Wednesday 19th December 2007

Review reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, Jan 4th, 2008

Keswick Choral Society celebrated Christmas in fine style at Crosthwaite Church, sending away a large and enthusiastic audience very happy indeed. Conductor Ian Hare excelled himself in assembling and directing the cream of local talent, while the vicar, the Reverend Stuart Penny, and Dr David Hughes appropriately marked in prayer and reflection the miraculous event that is at the heart of this much loved Christian festival.

The congregational singing itself was a joy, inspired no doubt by choir, orchestra and conductor, as well as by the resplendent setting of the church itself.

As ever Mike Town was a tower of strength at the organ, and delighted everyone with his solo performance of the Charpentier Te Deum, well-known through its Eurovision association.

Like Handel, Vivaldi always seems to me a composer who should be prescribed on the National Health Service. Listening to his euphoric scores, of which the Gloria heard at the concert is a splendid example, might do much for the nation's health, and even cut costs!  Well backed by a small orchestra, led by Sue Johnson, the choir gained in confidence and blend as time went on, and finished strongly. Soloists Rachel Little and Alice Russell-Hare added distinction, as did Elaine Moor's oboe and Tina Macrae's cello playing.

Later, in some of the carols, the choral balance, phrasing and tuning were worthy of a high-class chamber choir.

There was real expressiveness in Brian Richardson's evocative Fellside Carol, which pleasingly followed two movements from Warlock's Capriol Suite - played with style by the Derwent Ensemble.

The deservedly popular Millbeck Wind Ensemble was joined at the piano by Ian Hare in an attractive Sextet by Theodore Blumer. So scintillating was one of the variations that premature applause broke out! This was followed by A Christmas Card - presumably of the humorous type. Some earthy sounds suggested the 18th century wind-band music that was intended to cover the less delicate 'noises off' at banquets. Hugely enjoyable!

By contrast Rachel Little was at her winning best in Howells' lovely Come sing and dance and Rocking, the gentle lullaby.

Starlight, with lyrics by Denny Gaudin and music by your reviewer was splendidly performed as was Christmas is coming. Conductor and choir ended the evening with real panache, and the thanks expressed by the vicar had been well and truly earned.

Andrew Seivewright