Monmouth Choral Society's autumn concert at the Blake Theatre Monmouth on 17 November began by bringing choir, organ and audience together brilliantly in a short rehearsal of two hymns which Britten included in his work, St Nicolas, the last piece of the programme. Everyone responded with great enthusiasm under the guidance of Steven Kings, the musical director, accompanied by organist, Sam Baylis.
This was followed by a piano duet featuring a selection of pieces from West Side Story. James Drinkwater and Christopher Northam entertained the appreciative audience with these most exciting arrangements.
The Broadway spirit continued in the following work by Leonard Bernstein, Chichester Psalms. Hailed as a masterpiece it is a perfect choice to celebrate the composer's centenary. The setting of three Old Testament texts, in Hebrew, of praise, prayer and petition began powerfully with the exhortation, ‘Awake!' Thrilling and vibrant moments were balanced by passages of serene beauty. The work is considered exceptionally challenging, yet on this evening Steven Kings melded each element; the choir, the Regency Sinfonia and the soloists, Ruth Bamfield, Heather Ashford, Jack Parry and Charlie Morris. Capturing the essence of this glorious and uplifting work it was truly a stirring performance which ended on a note of peace and calm.
The final work of the programme, Britten's St Nicolas, a dramatic cantata, recounts the legendary life of the 4th century Bishop of Myra: his miraculous birth, his growth in compassion and spirituality.
This was a superb performance with the tenor, Ben Thapa, singing the role of the saint with great power throughout. He immediately engaged with the audience with the opening phrase, ‘Across the tremendous bridge'. The choir, taking the part of different characters in the story, act as eyewitnesses to the unfolding drama. Their prayers and praises were sung with joy and exuberance which contrasted with poignant passages. A particularly moving section occurs where St Nicolas journeys to Palestine. The storm that arises was evoked with a vibrant intensity by choir and orchestra. After building to a climax the piece concludes in tranquility: the saint, now in his old age, prepares himself for death. The audience and the choir conclude this work by singing the final hymn, ‘God moves in a mysterious way'.
Steven Kings brought out the nuances of the music, creating an integrated and extremely impressive performance in which the sensitive playing of organist, Sam Baylis and the Regency Sinfonia, complemented those of Ben Thapa, soloists and choir thus ensuring a profound and memorable experience. This concert certainly fulfilled its promise of offering a rich and varied evening of music.