Ancient Stories and Modern Voices, November 2018
Review by Margaret Iggulden
Monmouth Choral Society’s autumn concert at the Blake Theatre Monmouth on 17th 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 eye witnesses 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.
SUMMER CONCERT 2018
Monmouth Choral Society presented an eclectic programme of music to an appreciative audience in St Mary’s Priory Church, Monmouth, on Saturday 23rd June.
The first half was devoted to a programme of sacred music from the 17th to the 19th century. The choir produced a confident sound with clear diction and an expressive quality throughout, although, in some of the intricate unaccompanied passages, tuning and balancing of parts proved more challenging. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus set the mood well, while of the three Liszt pieces presented, O Salutaris Hostia demonstrated the choir’s ability to sing effectively in both hushed and more dramatic tones. The choir excelled in both Viadana’s Exsultate Justi, clearly relishing the joyful nature of the music, and Schubert’s setting of The Lord is my Shepherd. The choral items were interspersed with two fine organ solos performed by the evening’s guest accompanist David Bednall.
The second half took on a more secular flavour. In the four songs From the Bavarian Highlands, conductor Steven Kings adeptly ensured that the choir brought out the detail and nuance in Elgar’s music – the lyrical alto line in the Lullaby being a particular highlight. In the Choral Dances from Gloriana all sections of the choir coped well with Britten’s rich harmonic textures. Copland’s Old American Songs with its At the River and Ching-a-Ring Chaw brought this glorious summer concert to a rousing close.
GLORIOUS! A BAROQUE FEAST
On Saturday 11 November 2017 at the Blake Theatre the Monmouth Choral Society performed four of Vivaldi’s most celebrated choral works.
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.
ROSSINI PETITE MESSE SOLONNELLE
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!