12th May 2018
Conductor: David Burgess
Elgar: Spirit of England
Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man
Winchester and County Music Festival Chorus consists of seven choirs. Four of them, Botley, Itchen Valley, Overton Choral Societies and Twyford Singers gave a magnificent concert in Winchester Cathedral on Saturday evening (12th May).
The first half of the programme was a performance of Elgar’s “Spirit of England”, dedicated to “Our glorious men” who had fallen in WW1.
The acoustics of this iconic building are perfect for the liturgical music sung daily by one of the best (if not THE best) Cathedral choirs in the UK: less so for a choir of c.200 and a large orchestra playing the rich orchestrations of Elgar’s wonderful music. As a result, despite the great efforts of the Conductor, David Burgess, the words and nuances he worked so hard to project with his very clear beat and directions, tended to be sometimes lost in a general “mush” of lovely sound.
In the quieter passages we could hear the choir in good voice, producing some beautiful moments.
Soprano Helen Bailey was her usual magnificent self, although even some of her lower notes were acoustically “challenged”, but her upper range soared over both choir and orchestra to superb effect.
Whatever the vagaries of the acoustics, we were treated to a veritable feast of marvellous Edwardian splendour!
Sir Karl Jenkins’ “Armed Man – A Mass for Peace” constituted the second half of the programme. Here sections of the wonderful orchestra, led by Elizabeth Flower, showed their prowess – firstly the percussion, starting the superb build-up which is the first movement of the brilliantly orchestrated work.
The Muezzin, Kasim Sumra, was unable to be present due to a family bereavement, however his last-minute replacement, Ibraheem Ahmed performed the “Call to Prayers” superbly. I have heard it in this context many times and this was probably the finest.
The men’s chorus in the fourth movement was particularly excellent – a great sound and very together (the percussion explosion at the end of it, not quite so together!) The brass section played magnificently throughout, but the “Last Post”, played by Principal trumpet, Dave Price, was a highlight.
Adrian Green (Tenor) joined Helen Bailey for this work, both singing convincingly describing the horrors of the effects of the Atom Bomb attack. Helen’s solo “Now the guns have stopped”, was moving and beautiful. Nicola Heinrich, Principal ‘cellist, played the extremely difficult solo in the “Benedictus” with feeling. “Better is Peace than always war”, declares the final movement – sung with great enthusiasm by the excellent chorus, and accompanied very stylishly by the woodwind section in “Irish Jig” mode.
During the work there were one or two tentative entries from the choir, but once in full swing, they were impressive, particularly so in the unaccompanied, in-tune final “God shall wipe away all tears”. Jenkins’ masterful orchestration allows the soloists, chorus and orchestra to “have their heads” and yet come through as required, and they did, making this a most enjoyable performance of a marvellous work.
So, thanks to the Conductors of the constituent choirs – Jane Bryant, Paul Timms and Derek Beck; and a particular “Thank you” to Sir Karl, Maestro Burgess and WCMF.
19th May 2018
Conductor: Graham Kidd
Rutter: Mass of the Children
Haydn: Mass in Time of War
The Festival continued to mark the centenary of World War I by delivering a powerful performance of Haydn’s 1797 Mass in Time of War to a delighted audience in Romsey Abbey. However, apart from a minor key Benedictus (for solo voices) and a solemn start to the final Agnus Dei featuring threatening drum-beats, Haydn creates a very positive even optimistic version of the Mass. This was reflected in the sprightly, energetic approach of the large choir and the efficient Festival chamber orchestra. Crisp rhythms, bright, tuneful chording and confident, balanced part-writing in fugues such as Et vitam venturi showed both the thorough preparation of the three participating choirs – Compton & Shawford, Sarisbury and Winchester City – and their corporate enthusiasm for this music. Neat instrumental playing, including a lyrical cello solo in the middle of the Gloria, added to the enjoyment of this piece.
The concert began with John Rutter’s atmospheric Mass of the Children and again the orchestra contributed significantly to capturing the many mood changes. The choir responded with great warmth and sensitivity both in the more serene and quiet moments but also in Rutter’s signature irregular metres. It was sad that GCSE examinations decimated the children’s choir. Yet with a small amount of adult reinforcement they were impressively assured in their independent lines throughout. The adult choirs could take a leaf out of the youngsters’ book for the latter rarely took their eyes off the conductor. If ensemble suffered slightly at the end of this Mass it was certainly not the fault of conductor Graham Kidd. He is meticulous about cues and always scrupulous in establishing tempo changes. He watches his singers……they should return the compliment !
WCMF fielded an excellent quartet of young solo voices. Their parts in the Haydn were small but perfectly delivered by soprano Jocelyn Somerville, mezzo Felicity Turner, tenor Adrian Green and bass Edmund Saddington. Jocelyn and Edmund made more substantial and very beautiful contributions to the Mass of the Children. This well chosen programme made for a most enjoyable and thought-provoking evening, bringing the Festival’s 97th season to a very satisfactory conclusion.