Music-making of a high order
Review in Dumfries and Galloway Standard by Brian York
The Spring concert from Dumfries Music Society was held in St.John`s Church, Dumfries, on Saturday evening, 1st. April. We have become accustomed to interesting and challenging, but well-balanced programmes from this group; this concert was no exception. This time around, they showcased two English composers, more or less contemporaries, one well-known, the other not known to me at all. These were Ralph Vaughan Williams, and George Dyson.
The evening got off to a good beginning with a crisp performance of a short choral piece by Dyson, “O Praise God in His Holiness”. Not being familiar with the piece, I am unable to comment, except to say that it fell happily on my ear. Perhaps the male voices struggled a little here, but this has been mentioned before and need attract no further comment.
Next came a delightful choral piece by Vaughan Williams, “O Taste and See”, receiving a balanced performance by the Choral, and a well-sung solo by Lesley Creamer. Good part-singing was in evidence, and this has been remarked in previous concerts.
Dyson`s “Three Songs to Julia” were altogether charming things – reminding us that so many composers of merit fall into unjust neglect. Bass, Michael Deakin had a bit of work to do here, and got better as the songs progressed, (at first I detected some insecurity in intonation, and a bit of harshness in tonal quality.)
But, for me, the most delightful music of the first half were the lovely “Five Mystical Songs” by Vaughan Williams. Here the Choral really rose to the spirit of the music, and Tenor Jonathan Millican sang with faultless intonation and great beauty of voice quality. This was evocative music of a very high order. I loved it.
If we had got into an English pastoral comfort-zone before the interval, we were quickly ejected out of it afterwards. Dyson`s “Nebuchadnezzar” a short oratorio or extended cantata, in four parts, occupied the entire second half. This was exceedingly complex, challenging music, both melodically and harmonically. It is altogether to everybody`s credit that they managed to prepare this to such a high level of performance in but a few weeks` rehearsal time. Bravo, I say.
This was a most successful evening; there was not a capacity audience, but those who were there were treated to music-making of a high order. The Choral were vigorous and responsive, achieving some truly powerful moments in “Nebuchadnezzar”. Both soloists had a lot of difficult work of which they acquitted themselves remarkably. Organist Jordan English had his work cut out as well, and both he and Margaret Harvie provided faultless accompaniment – a bedrock – in this most challenging, difficult programme.
Thanks, finally, are due to Edward Taylor, musical director, whose infectious enthusiasm was apparent throughout the evening.
Triumph for Dumfries Choral Society
Review in Dumfries & Galloway Standard, published Friday 18 December 2015
A performance of Handel’s Messiah is frequently a first sign of the Christmas Season. This well known Oratorio, first performed in Dublin in April 1754 was originally intended as a piece for Lent and indeed the whole of the second half relates to Christ’s suffering and eventual death and resurrection. However the familiar choruses especially “The Hallelujah” and solos such as “I know that my Redeemer Liveth” have given the work universal popularity. We have not heard it here in Dumfries in its entirety for some years and I believe that this increased the anticipation of the prospective audience and led to the almost more than capacity audience, packed in to St John’s Church on Saturday evening.
Those present on this occasion were most certainly not disappointed, as the tumultuous applause at the end of the performance signified. Orchestra, Choir, Soloists and Conductor all deserve high praise for their various contributions.
It was a real pleasure to have the accompaniment of a small but competent group of players, ably led by Susan Smyth. The ensemble worked well together and minor flaws were quickly forgotten They are especially to be praised as only a few play together regularly and this was their first meeting with Conductor and Choir. While the trumpet playing was not perfect it is always an exhilarating sound!
The Choral Society appears to have recruited about twenty new members this season, many of them younger voices and their presence noticeably improved the general tone of the choir, in particular the tenor section is now on equal footing with the basses. Very well disciplined and paying careful attention to the conductor, the singers performed splendidly. The diction was good and the dynamics very effective. Perhaps an occasional lapse in intonation could be observed and while on the whole the parts were well balanced, just sometimes the sopranos dominated and individual voices could be heard. Edward Taylor, the Choir’s new, young conductor, however, had very firm control and his musicality has made a strong impression already in this his first outing with the Society.
The four soloists, all sometime graduates of the Royal Scottish Conservatoire, performed with distinction. The Contralto, Taylor Wilson, sang with great feeling particularly in “He was despised” and was a valuable member of the group. Tenor, Ronan Busfield sang with the Choral Society a few years ago with distinction as the Evangelist in the St. John Passion and his “Comfort Ye my People” was delightful. His voice however seemed to tire in his final aria. He was probably suffering from the all prevalent cold! It was a pleasure to welcome back a former Choral conductor in Nicola Junor. Her voice was clear, pure and effortless and her breath control amazing. Her singing of both her major arias, “ Rejoice Greatly” and “I know that My Redeemer Liveth” was a sheer delight. To the same degree Andrew McTaggart delighted the audience with his dramatic, operatic performance making the audience take instant notice on his first appearance. He has a voice of such power and yet capable of gentleness that he is bound to be in great demand. His diction too was beyond praise making “The Trumpet Shall Sound” a final solo of great beauty.
Finally in charge of the whole performance was Musical Director, Edward Taylor. Appointed to the Choral Society in August, he showed that he has already made his mark for good on the singers. Diction has improved, eye contact much more apparent and small but noticeable changes in style observed. All this added to the success of the performance but it was his complete mastery of choir, orchestra, soloists that made the evening such a resounding success.
We, therefore, look forward with considerable expectation to the Christmas Concert in St John’s Church on 19th December and further ahead to the Easter concert on 18th March 2016, also in St John’s, where works by John Rutter, Andrew Carter and George Shearing will be performed.
Once again congratulations to all concerned for a memorable evening made all the more poignant in contrast with the evil deeds being perpetrated round the world at this time in Mali, Syria and Paris.
Spring in the step after Choral Concert
Review in Dumfries and Galloway Standard by Brian York
Those with long memories will recall, on the occasion of the Queen’s 60th birthday in 1986, a ditty performed by an army of Cockney kids belting out before the poor lady`s very bedroom “ Appy birfday Marm, Gawd bless ya …” Now this was a serious lapse of taste which has haunted me ever since and which I had always ascribed to Malcolm Williamson. However, I was wrong as it turned out, so that I was, thankfully, able to approach the Society’s Spring concert in St. John’s Church, Dumfries, with an open mind, at least.
As we have now come to expect, a strong start was made and the choir continued to produce a unified and taut account of Williamson’s “Procession of Palms”.
There were many commendable moments in this short work. I appreciated the well- disciplined control of the terraced dynamics near the start, noting also the soprano, Emma Versteeg’s powerful and grateful voice and the tenor, Paul Featherstone, with his equally powerful contribution, well-modulated voice control and excellent diction. Both managed to adjust to the acoustic of the space and far-from-capacity audience.
This was a pleasing start.
Next came a work unknown to me – Carl Nielsen’s “Springtime on Funen”. This is an entirely pleasant piece, full of appropriate seasonal joie-de-vivre and conceived in a relatively unchallenging musical idiom. It was given an equally satisfying account, to my ears. This is not, of course, to claim that it was ‘easy’ because all had a lot of work to do. The baritone, Anders Ostberg, was, everywhere, quite superb and I loved the interplay between soloists and choir in the delightful “See, apple blossoms falling ….” involving all three soloists. This joyful music was made to sound just that.
The second half consisted of two movements, “Spring” and “Summer” from Haydn`s great Oratorio “The Seasons”. Although the musical idiom is, of course, entirely Viennese Classical, it is nonetheless an ambitious and challenging sing. Less well known than Haydn’s other masterpiece, “The Creation”, it received a buoyant performance which at times was quite moving and managed to convey Haydn’s innocent delight as he beholds the miracle of Spring. Some people have problems with what they regard as a slightly gauche text – but I love it. If you worry about these things you should keep clear of Mozart’s operas as the libretti often make no sense at all. It is the music that is the glory of it and everybody rose to this producing a sympathetic, if not flawless, performance.
An evening of many delights. Especial thanks are due to all three soloists and to John Kitchen, whose very demanding organ part throughout the Haydn was accomplished with his usual aplomb, which we have come to regard as axiomatic. Likewise, Margaret Harvie’s piano accompaniment in the Nielsen was, as usual, polished and proficient.
Lastly, our enormous gratitude is due to Ian Hare who is, sadly, stepping down from his post as Musical Director of this Society. Everybody will, I am sure, extend their sincere thanks and best wishes to him.
Choral’s concert was a real delight
Review in Dumfries & Galloway Standard by Brian D. York
There were delights indeed awaiting a near-capacity audience on Saturday evening, 15th November, in St. John`s Church, Dumfries.
From the opening bars the Choral Society got right into its stride with an alert, buoyant account of Bach`s Cantata no. 140, “Wachet Auf.”
This is deservedly popular, and, despite being first in the programme (invidious position!) did not suffer the usual “warm-up” indignities.
Although the number of male singers is now alarmingly thin, this did not impinge on the overall balance, volume-production, or quality of sound to any great extent. Projection and diction were clear, and volume was managed without evident strain or loss of control, all of which combined to produce a most satisfying whole.
Soloists Rebecca Tavener (soprano) and Malcolm Bennett (tenor) were clear, audible and well-attuned to the (good) acoustics of the space. Rebecca appeared to be fighting a seasonal cold, but did not sound it, whilst Philip Gault (bass/baritone) looked fine but sounded rough – at least in the Bach.
A special mention should be made of John Kitchen, here, for his splendid organ accompaniment which, in Baroque music, is no small responsibility for the man at the keyboard.
Next came – what was to this reviewer – the principal delight of the evening. This was the exquisite “In Terra Pax” by Gerald Finzi, that most unjustly neglected of English composers. It was given sensitive and beautiful treatment by both choir and soloists and here Philip Gault recovered his richness of timbre, the tempi being truly “tempo giusto.” Had the evening ended at this point, I should have gone home rejoicing.
But the second half produced French (mildly) Romantic choral music. There was a bridging link with Bach with the ever-popular Bach/Gounod “Ave Maria” performed (at a cracking pace) by Margaret Harvie on the wheezy old Broadwood, which, to her credit, she did manage to awaken from its ecclesiastical slumbers.
I have never been a fan of French Romanticism, but Gounod`s quite sizeable “Messe Solennelle de Sainte Cécile was nicely performed and well sung throughout. The final Agnus Dei, a lovely movement, was quite redolent of moments of Fauré`s Requiem, with its flowing triplet accompaniment.
A well-chosen programme, then, juxtaposing familiar with unfamiliar, and professionally performed by all. Especial thanks are due to Ian Hare, the most charming of choral directors, to John Kitchen and to Margaret Harvie, and to the evening`s three soloists.