Glorious! A Baroque Feast, Vivaldi

On Saturday November 11th at the Blake Theatre the Monmouth Choral Society performed four of Vivaldi’s most celebrated choral works.
Vivaldi’s style is exuberant and innovative; full of harmonic contrasts and rhythmic vitality.
He wrote extensively for the female choir of the Ospedal della Pieta; a home for girls with ‘anonymous’ fathers. The evening’s programme repeatedly reflected what must have been the remarkable skills of those young female musicians.

The Monmouth Choral Society conducted by Steven Kings with the Regency Sinfonia and 3 soloists proved themselves well equipped to cope with the demands of the Baroque style.
The programme began with the dramatic and expressive Magnificat.The contrasts of mood and tempo were well directed and the string and continuo playing was tremendously energetic throughout. The tenor Jack Parry was not featured in a solo but his superb voice added depth to the trio and the sopranos Gillian Wells and Rachel Crisp gave a pleasing performance of the duet.

The trumpet and two oboes added dynamism to the performance of the Dixit Dominus. Soprano soloists Gillian Wells and Rachel Crisp both sang with vitality and plenty of colour.
The chorus were able to demonstrate their full dynamic range and rhythmic entries were crisp. There was a most engaging ‘conversation’ between the trumpet and alto (mezzo soprano Hollie -Anne Bangham) and this exceptional work finished with a triumphant fugal movement.

The short work Jubilate, O Ameoeni Chori showcased the talent of the brilliant young mezzo-soprano Hollie-Anne Bangham. The melismatic passages were sung with ease and her vocal agility and tonal range delighted and captivated the audience.

The programme ended with the ever popular Gloria. It is undoubtedly a work of great brilliance and gave the chorus the opportunity to be at their rhythmic best in the Propter magnum gloriam and Domine Fili Unigenite. The sopranos were beautifully matched in the charming Laudamus te duet. There was some lovely phrasing from the oboist and soprano Rachel crisp and the alto solo was wonderfully sonorous. The double fugue presented a fitting climax to the work and a magnificent end to the evening’s performances.

Conductor Steven Kings kept the pulse moving to facilitate the vocal stamina required for these impressive works.
There was much to enjoy here and what was so apparent in the evening’s performances was the commitment and joy of a musical community coming together to sing and to delight in Baroque at its best.

Yvonne Lewis

Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, St Mary’s Monmouth 

St Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth, was the setting on Saturday 17 June 2017 for Monmouth Choral Society’s Summer Concert.

The choir presented just one work, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle (Little Solemn Mass), which is renowned for being neither small in stature nor predominantly solemn in mood. Taking the form of the Latin Mass, it was written in 1863, during a particularly creative period in the composer’s later years, and contains much deeply felt music.  It is accompanied by the unusual combination of piano and harmonium.

The choir’s hushed tones in the opening Kyrie and their secure intonation in the unaccompanied Christe set a reverential mood. The quartet of vocal soloists blended well in the Gloria. Monmothian Andrew Henley excelled in the operatic tenor aria Domine Deus, while Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano) and Helen Anne Gregory (alto) expressed the devotional music well in the Qui Tollis duet, and bass Meilir Jones captured the lyricism of the Quoniam. The choral Cum Sancto Spiritu, with its intricate melodic writing, brought the first half to a rousing close.

Conductor Steven Kings drew out the intensity and drama of the Creed. The choir impressed in their phrasing, articulation and diction, particularly in the fugal sections. The central solo Crucifixus was sublime. The instrumental Offertory gave the singers some respite and the audience an opportunity to hear more of the superb playing of Gus Tredwell (piano) and Peter Dyke (harmonium). The Agnus Dei, with its prayer-like sentiment, brought Rossini’s final serious work to a fitting conclusion.

Altogether, a most enjoyable concert of which all the performers should be justly proud!

Keith Ellerington

Bach St. Matthew Passion, Saturday 1 April 2017 Blake Theatre

Monmouth Choral Society took on a brave challenge in its choice of Spring concert this year.  To perform Bach’s St Matthew Passion, a powerful work of epic proportion, team-work between soloists, orchestral players, continuo and choir members is essential.  An array of exceptional soloists together with orchestral players from the Regency Sinfonia provided a high standard of musical proficiency for the choir to emulate and they certainly rose to the occasion. They proved that through determination, commitment and by having sufficient rehearsal time a performance of exceptional quality can be achieved.

In the Blake Theatre, a full audience was captivated from the outset.  In particular, the dynamic versatility of the choir was evident from the rich quality of sound in forceful interjections such as “Loose him! Leave him! Bind him not!” and the effects of “Have lightnings and thunders forgotten their fury?  Then open, O bottomless pit thy terrors!”  In addition, the delicate sensitivity of such moments offered by “O Saviour, why must all this ill befall Thee? and “Lord Jesu, fare Thee well” swept the audience along by bringing to life the dramatic sequence of events from Christ’s Last Supper with his disciples up to his crucifixion and the intense sorrow felt thereafter by his followers.  Enhancing this portrayal through music was the impressive clarity throughout of enunciation by soloists and choir members.  This can be attributed to the conscious effort of the performers with the added bonus of materials used in the construction of the Blake Theatre enabling an optimum blend of sound to be projected directly to the audience.

This performance, under the musical direction of Steven Kings, must surely be one of the best and most moving that Monmouth Choral Society has ever delivered.  The evening ended with hearty applause, cheers and smiles in appreciation of a timely event of which all involved can be justly proud.

Angela Hoyle

Carmina Burana and Lili Boulanger, 19 March 2016, Wyastone Concert Hall

Monmouth Choral Society’s March concert took place at the Wyastone Concert Hall and it was pleasing to note in a month when we celebrate the achievements of women that tribute was paid to French composer Lili Boulanger. Her proficiency in the playing of several musical instruments, her skill in orchestration as well as writing for voices and her prolific output of compositions in her tragically short life rank her amongst the most outstandingly talented women of her time. The choir’s performance of her Buddhist prayer and her Biblical Psalm 129 adapted and arranged for choir and two pianos by Steven Kings were performed with great sensitivity and set the scene for an evening depicting the many facets of life from the spiritual to the earthly.

The inclusion of David Lion’s Suite for Percussion and the Scherzo from Leonard Salzedo’s Concerto for Percussion showcased a variety of textured sounds, rhythms and cross-rhythms adeptly performed by the Regency Percussion Ensemble under the expert direction of the ever popular Diggory Seacome who has had a long-standing relationship with Monmouth Choral Society.

The sensuality derived from texture and rhythm experienced through pieces in the first half of the concert led to an appropriate sequel in Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana for the second half. Orff’s belief that music should be taught through senses using poetry, drama and dance but in particular rhythmic precision using words is epitomised in this work. Performed here in the exceptional Wyastone acoustics in a version for two pianos (Christopher Northam and Gus Treadwell) and percussion (The Regency Percussion Ensemble), did not detract from the exhilarating orchestral version. The choir took on board ‘con gusto’ the speedy tempo and rhythmic dynamism of the relevant sections while the lyrical pieces, in particular, ‘Chume, chum, geselle min’, were performed with great delicacy.  Rob Waters (tenor) and Phil Wilcox (bass) exhibited great skill and quality of tone in both extremes of their vocal ranges while the audience held its breath as soprano Catherine Greenwell’s flowing top notes soared seemingly without effort.

The choir’s Musical director Steven Kings promised a concert of “percussive brilliance, pianistic virtuosity and choral exhilaration”. He and all participants involved certainly delivered as was evident from the richly deserved applause, smiles and cheers at the end of a memorable evening.

Angela Hoyle

Schubert’s Mass in E flat, St Mary’s Priory Church, Saturday 14 November 2015

Monmouth Choral Society gave a splendid performance of Schubert’s Mass in E flat for their autumn concert. This is a grand work with rich scoring involving timpani and brass as part of a full orchestra, and the choir, along with the Regency Sinfonia, did it justice. It was composed in the last year of Schubert’s life and the first performance was after his death. While Schubert was working on it, it had been only a year since he had been a torch-bearer at Beethoven’s funeral. It is remarkable how he overcame his illness and personal sorrows to achieve this beautiful work.

It is a largely choral work with three brief episodes sung by the ensemble of soloists; there were no arias. Their voices blended superbly. The first half of the concert consisted of two other short works by Schubert, and Mozart’s serenade, Eine Kleine Nachtmusik, played by the Regency Sinfonia, though the serenade sounded too lightweight for this heady context. Even Schubert’s very early Magnificat had a certain grandeur. ’

The concert was prefaced by a speech from the conductor, Steven Kings, in remembrance of the appalling events in Paris of the evening before, and of the recent deaths of several former choir members.

David Young

Monmouth Wyastone Concert Hall, Saturday 20 June 2015

Members of Monmouth Choral Society had more than one string to their bow when they boldly turned their summer concert into a wider presentation to commemorate the 600th anniversary of the battle of Agincourt. The event took place at the Wyestone concert hall and commenced confidently with Steven Kings’ chord-crunching arrangement of the 15th century folk song the Agincourt Carol that set the mood of disarray prior to battle.  Mindful of Henry V’s victory and heroism widely recorded in our history books and immortalised in Shakespeare’s plays via stage and screen, the choir not only sang of Henry’s glory but in true sporting spirit also included French music in the programme as a tribute to French culture.

The concert, comprised a well-balanced selection of appropriate works, giving the choir a window to show-case its skills.  Enunciation and phrasing were beautifully delivered in the patriotic song England by Hubert Parry and the inclusion of 3 French Renaissance motets gave the choir an opportunity to sing with conviction in French.  Although concentration on the French text in Pierre Sandrin’s Douce Mémoire seemed to detract the choir’s attention from intonation, particularly in descending passages, the superb acoustics at Wyestone optimised the choir’s tone especially in Parry’s setting of James Shirley’s The Glories of Our Blood and Tears, where we are reminded that glory is short-lived and that losses are sustained on both sides in battle.  Here they gave some beautifully unaccompanied moments with wholesome sound and good enunciation.

Special treats were in store for audience and choir members alike.  The Dolly Suite by Gabriel Fauré performed by accomplished pianists Steven Kings (the choir’s Musical Director) and Christopher Northam (Accompanist) drew cheers as well as applause.  Interesting and imaginative contributions through readings and a musical composition from pupils of Monmouth Comprehensive School gave a clear indication of the school’s enthusiasm to participate in local events.  The interval provided an opportunity to view the school’s art exhibition portraying different aspects of the life and times of Henry V, later perspectives of the battle of Agincourt and giving food for thought including a victory feast menu.  In addition, a model display of the battle site together with a selection of jousting items set up by PP Studios provided an opportunity to ask questions and even hold a bow and arrow!

The evening culminated in a performance of Sir George Dyson’s cantata Agincourt in which the choir took full advantage of its capability to project the word-painting skills of the composer. This work ended with a majestic arrangement of the Agincourt Carol contrasting with Steven Kings’ opening arrangement, to provide a rousing finale and tribute to military endeavours.

The choir had undertaken a challenging programme at a time of year when choirs in general are not at full membership capacity. Nevertheless through this event Monmouth Choral Society has ventured towards new horizons to provide a memorable occasion for all generations.

Monmouth Beacon, Angela Hoyle 21 June 2015

St Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth, Saturday 28 March 2015

For their Spring Concert, Monmouth Choral Society delighted a large and appreciative audience at St Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth, with two works written 150 years apart.

The main work in the first half was Vaughan Williams’ Benedicite, a vibrant and joyful piece written for the Jubilee of the Leith Hill Festival in 1929 with biblical text and English poetry. The choir maintained a good line with a rich balance of voices and good diction. Soprano soloist Eleanor Stowe provided effective contrasts in the middle section and also soared gloriously above the choir to bring this song of praise to a superb conclusion.

Dating from 1799, the Maria Theresa Mass filled the second half. This is the fourth in a series of late masses written by Haydn to celebrate the name day of the Princess Esterhazy, wife of his patron. It uses text from the Latin Mass, and at times has a martial flavour, possibly reflecting the mood of the Napoleonic Wars.

Conductor Steven Kings expertly captured the sombre mood of the opening Kyrie, with the choir and orchestra responding well in the exultant praise of the Gloria and the colourful and exuberant Credo. Haydn cleverly interweaves the choral writing with contrasting solo voices throughout the work and the assured singing of the solo quartet of Eleanor Stowe (soprano), Olivia Gomez (alto), Daniel Joy (tenor) and Meilir Jones (bass) was much in evidence, notably in the meditative Et incarnartus est and the reflective Benedictus. A dramatic intensity from all performers in the Dona nobis pacem brought the work to an exciting close.

The Regency Sinfonia provided sterling support throughout and provided a stylish account of Elgar’s Serenade for Strings to open the concert.