|Mendelssohn: Sinfonia No.10 in B minor for strings|
Mendelssohn: Zweistimmige Lieder op. 63
Brahms: A German Requiem
When one doesn’t read the programme during the concert you know that the concert itself has been an interesting one. This was the case last night. A delightful programme introducing me to some new Mendelssohn and the familiar Brahms German Requiem although this time in English.
Welcomed into a warm St Mary’s church on a cold night by smiling volunteers on the ticket desk set the scene for an event where people were obviously enjoying themselves either participating or appreciating. The happy string symphony (Mendelssohn’s 10th at the age of 14) continued that feeling. The Thornbury Camerata strings were on form in this delightful symphony, just a pity only one movement remains.
The highlight for me was the Mendelssohn duets. Steven Kings’ orchestral accompaniment was nicely judged and the Camerata were never intrusive, in fact ideal accompanists. Such was the ensemble of the two soloists they appeared to be using the same set of lungs. Their expressive and light vocal sound gave a real sense of enjoyment.
The second half was taken up with the Brahms. I haven’t been to the last couple of concerts but I sense that TCS has a recruited some new members. Steven Kings has good control and a lot of contact with members. This enabled the choir to respond to the dynamics and commit to important passages such as “For all the flesh is grass”. St Mary’s has constraints and perhaps we could have done with a little more sound from basses and tenors who were some way back in the chancel.
The two soloists once again provided lovely interpretations – I sensed that the soprano’s beautiful rendition of “You now are sorrowful” inspired the choir to sing even better when they joined in.
It was good to see a large audience enjoying this concert. Thornbury is lucky to have a large choral society ably led by Steven Kings and run by an enthusiastic and welcoming committee.
Coleridge-Taylor: Hiawatha's Wedding Feast
The singers were accompanied by a piano and strings which suited the balance very well from where I was sitting. The Cotswold Romance is fairly lightly scored with strings sitting out many movements and this probably helped to give good ensemble for the most part. The tenor soloist, Andrew Henley, was admirable in his role as Hugh the Drover echoing the lighter numbers from Songs of Travel in its style. The excellent programme notes (maybe there should be a credit for the author) guided us through the story to its happy conclusion.
After the interval the much better known Hiawatha was performed. This time the strings were more in demand and the good tone of the Thornbury Camerata was nicely managed through the orchestral solos passages. Throughout the evening the very able pianist, Christopher Northam was kept busy managing the rest of the orchestral score. The choir obviously enjoyed the piece and told the story.
Dr Steven Kings is to be congratulated on bringing an interesting programme to Thornbury and managing the singers and players to good effect. An enjoyable evening for TCS and their audience alike.
Elgar: The Spirit of England, Polonia, The Music Makers
The Thornbury Camerata opened the evening with Polonia. The Orchestra created a warm sound and brought out the various quotations clearly. The Polish National Hymn was played with a grandeur befitting the tune.
The Spirit of England, a setting of Binyon’s words is a less well known work but the choir were well on top of the music. The helpful programme notes point out the many references to earlier Elgar works. I felt these were well managed and added to the Spirit rather than distracted. These are telling words with particular poignancy around the centenary of the end of the First World War.
Following the interval we were treated to the Music Makers. Special mention should be made for the Mezzo Oliva Gomez whose delivery was superb with well controlled vibrato used to warm the notes. The choir were under strength this evening due to illness and absence and this showed in the balance at times. However the overall performance was enjoyable and the message from the music powerfully put over.
It can be difficult to programme an entire concert from one composer, particularly when the items are composed in a similar timespan. Thornbury Choral and their conductor gave us a good insight into the music of the time and ably demonstrated the variety in Elgar’s compositions.
Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine
Steven Kings: Care Charming Spells
Parry: I was glad
Franck: Panis angelicus
In complete contrast there then came Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus. It is, of course, a hugely popular work and it was well sung and received, and was an interesting contrast with Parry’s very English style of writing. The contrast was even more marked by the inclusion, next, of Faure’s exquisite Cantique de Jean Racine. Here was French polish of the highest order: Faure’s gentle chromaticism and feel for understatement are hallmarks of his style, and combined with an unfailing sense of melodic invention, the Cantique is deservedly one of his most popular works.
The choir responded well to the mood of the piece and entries were generally secure. The concluding pages, with their ‘squiffy’ chromatic chords, are always a challenge to choirs, and there was considerable groping for notes in the lower voices whilst the sopranos sailed serenely on to the hushed pianissimo ending. A very satisfying performance in the main, with the choir responding eagerly to conductor Stephen Kings’ directions, who elicited some finely controlled dynamics.
In further celebration of Parry, and whilst the choir took a deserved ‘breather’, the evening continued with a performance of his Fantasia and Fugue in G for organ. An electronic organ had been hired for the evening’s concert, and the organist tackled this hugely demanding work on a relatively small and inadequate instrument. That the performance was utterly convincing and immensely impressive is due in no small measure to the astonishing virtuosity of organist James Drinkwater.
No ‘breather’ for James, as he launched into the last piece of the first-
The entire second half of the concert was given over to John Rutter’s Requiem, written in memory of the composer’s father. Conductor Stephen Kings really brought out the best of his choir in this work: the sombre opening had just the right degree of hushed anticipation (though again the lower voice parts had difficulty in precisely placing their notes). The main theme, announced by the sopranos, was a welcome diatonic contrast to the complex chromaticism of the opening and the choir were at ease with the remainder of this movement, as indeed they were in the following one – a setting of Psalm130 (Out of the deep).
Ruth Bamfield was a splendid choice of soprano soloist in Pie Jesu: her crystal-
The Sanctus was especially exciting with its tumult of canonical writing – all brought to a magnificent climax. The Agnus Dei which followed is an impressive piece of writing – mixing Latin text with Biblical passages. The relentless repetition of the Latin words built to a fine climax, with the choir divided into six parts, before subsiding to a most effective pianissimo ending.
Rutter again interpolates a psalm setting into the Latin Mass – this time as setting of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd). Here the angularity of themes previously heard is replaced by a flowing pastoral style, supported most effectively by a solo Oboe. The choir responded well to the music – seemingly at ease and at peace throughout.
The final movement, Lux aeterna, brings all the performers together – starting with yet more Biblical texts where, here again, soprano Ruth Bamfield was outstanding. The Latin text resumes and quietly recapitulates the Kyrie theme from the first movement to bring the work to a hushed conclusion.
Thornbury Choral Society are to be congratulated for having devised and performed such a first-
Haydn: Nelson Mass
After the interval the choir returned to much more well-
Once again Thornbury Choral Society put together and performed a good programme of works. The audience appreciated their efforts and the work Thornbury Choral Society do to keep good quality choral music in the locality.
Brahms: A German Requiem with other works
It occasionally happens that a concert programme takes on unexpected significance, shaped by external events. Such was the case on Saturday 21st November when a performance by Thornbury Choral Society of Brahms’ A German Requiem was given at the Castle School; the occasion was particularly poignant, coming as it did only a week after the indiscriminate massacre of more than 120 innocent people in Paris.
Vocal music grows from a text. The composer seeks to express the depth of meaning hidden in that text, and -
However, despite its length and seriousness, there is another side to this music of Brahms’ early maturity; that is its intimacy. This can be especially apparent in the version heard on Saturday where piano accompaniment replaces a large orchestra. Brahms had been deeply affected by the death of his friend Robert Schumann in 1856. In 1865, Brahms lost his mother; her death left him inconsolable. Whatever may have been Brahms’ motivation for his Requiem, he expresses his personal thoughts in such a way that he was able to say to a friend that he would have been quite happy to let the work be known as ‘A Human Requiem’.
Brahms chose his own texts from the German Bible (another indication of the deeply personal aspect of the work). Saturday’s performance was sung in the original language rather than English translation, a brave move when amateur singers might find it tricky enough to achieve security in the musical demands of the work. However, the chorus of some 75 voices certainly rose to that challenge, sustaining the intensity of the music through this demanding score: not an easy task in any hall and certainly not in a dry acoustic (Thornbury does need a new auditorium!).
The two soloists, Frances Gregory (soprano) and Samuel Oram (baritone), were also vital to the success of the performance, both of them adding with sensitivity that extra dimension to the musical structure that Brahms demands. The single movement which involves the soprano soloist requires a rich, even tone in a sustained line that moves effortlessly to high B flat; this we heard in the voice of Frances Gregory. Meanwhile, it was a pleasure to hear the two movements involving the single male soloist sung by a true baritone: warm and even in tone throughout the range demanded by the composer, and never strained or over-
The success of the evening’s performance also depended immeasurably upon the fine piano accompaniment provided by Christopher Northam and Gus Tredwell, and of course the assured direction of the conductor, Steven Kings, who drew from the chorus such a well-
The first half of the concert included two short choral works: Mendelssohn’s much-
This was a thoroughly rewarding concert -
Symphony No 9 "Choral"
A full house responded enthusiastically to a varied programme and to performances of the highest quality, opening with Beethoven's Egmont Overture. In this, the conductor Steven Kings demonstrated his ability to get the best out of the orchestra, and the degree of his meticulous preparation of both orchestra and choir became ever more apparent as the evening went on.
The Te Deum is not one of Dvorak's best known works, but the Soprano and Bass soloists (Stephanie Edwards and Edmund Saddington), together with the choir and orchestra, gave a performance which was appealing to those hearing it for the first time. Most memorable were the hushed, mellow men's voices in the slow movement, and the well blended answering phrases between men and women in the third movement.
After the interval we were treated to Beethoven's Choral Symphony in a manner which exceeded all our expectations. The three orchestral movements were played with great feeling and musicianship, including a sprightly scherzo, and a most tender and moving variation movement.
The high point of the symphony is of course when the four soloists and choir join the orchestra to sing Schiller's Ode to Joy. Beethoven makes great demands on the choir's stamina and resilience, particularly in the very high repeated-
It is regrettable that Thornbury cannot offer a venue which can do justice to a work of this calibre, when the orchestra is required to field such large wind and percussion sections. The confined space meant that much of the subtlety was lost.
22 November 2014 at the Castle School
There was another full house for Thornbury Choral Society’s recent performance of Handel’s Messiah at The Castle School.
Under the baton of Steven Kings, Thornbury Camerata, ably led by Katie Latham, introduced this popular oratorio with a spirited “Overture”. The opening recitative and aria, sung by tenor Pablo Strong, with excellent diction and expression, set the standard for the rest of the evening.
The choir sang with gusto, taking some of the choruses at a quick pace, “And the Glory” and “For unto us a child is born” really motored along but without any loss of clarity or emotion. Entries were good and crisp and it was evident that the choir was enjoying the music as much as the audience.
Olivia Gomez, the contralto, sang with feeling, with a voice full of warmth in “Behold a virgin” in the first half and with steel in “He was despised“ in the second half. The soprano, Emily Rose Wenman, sang with great passion, her voice ringing out in “Rejoice greatly” and most sensitively in “How beautiful”. Despite their contrasting voices they blended well in “He shall feed his flock”.
The bass soloist, James Geidt, sang well, perhaps just lacking a little passion and connection with the audience in some of his arias, but making a great sound in “The Trumpet shall sound”.
The small orchestra created just the right accompaniment for the choir, with some excellent playing from Paul Harris and Eiron Bailey on trumpets. Steven Kings brings out the best in the dedicated singers. The work was well rehearsed and executed. Putting on a well-
Faure: Requiem, Poulenc: Gloria, Ravel: Pavane pour une Infante Defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)
10 May 2014 at the Castle School
Once again The Castle School was the venue for Thornbury Choral Society’s Spring Concert and once again the audience was treated to a wonderful evening’s entertainment. The concert started with Thornbury Camerata, ably led by Katy Latham, performing Ravel’s evocative “Pavane pour une Infante Defunte”. Originally written for piano solo, the title chosen for the sound of the words, Ravel, a master of orchestration, reworked it for orchestra in 1910. Its beautiful melody, taken at a speed Ravel would have enjoyed, has a dreamy quality caught by the Camerata which, despite a few split horn notes, captured the imagination of the audience.
This was followed by Poulenc’s “Gloria”. Despite being part of the ordinary of the mass, Poulenc’s Gloria written between 1959 and 1960 is refreshingly up beat with some parts reminiscent of mid-
The second half of the concert was taken up with Faure’s well known “Requiem”. As an organist Faure had played for many funerals but in this piece he wanted to create something different, missing out some sections and adding others. The opening words set the scene of calmness and dignity with the choir singing movingly, with clear diction and attention to detail and to the conductor, building up with precision accompanying from the orchestra, to the 3rd movement. Llio Evans sang Pie Jesu with such feeling that the air was electric and this was followed by an equally stunning Libera Me sung by tenor Meilir Jones. I’m sure much more will be heard from these two talented young soloists. The silence at the end of the final movement In Paradisum was palpable as the audience savoured the dying last notes before giving the choir, soloist, orchestra and conductor a rousing round of applause.
On the surface the pieces chosen for the concert are linked by French composers writing in the late C19th & early C20th. However the choice of pieces raises the programme above the ordinary. Three pieces which aren’t quite what they seem: Ravel’s piece written not for a dead princess, Poulenc’s Gloria written with a sense of humour and Faure’s Requiem not following the usual Requiem pattern and in Faure’s words “dominated..by a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest”. Another triumph for Thornbury Choral Society: don’t miss their next performance, Handel’s “Messiah”, on November 22nd.
Bach: A Christmas Oratorio & Vivaldi: Gloria
30 November 2013 at the Castle School
It was good to see The Castle School’s hall full for Thornbury Choral Society concert on 30th November. Performing two well-
The choir really came alive for the Christmas Oratorio making a great sound in the opening chorus. The tenor soloist, Alexei Winter, sang the Evangelist’s part confidently and Sebastian Field’s recitative and aria were beautifully sung. The choir sang movingly in the chorale sections, with clear diction and following the conductor, Steven Kings, so that they were always together. The bass soloist, Daniel Robson, sang strongly and really engaged with the audience. His duets with the soprano, Jennifer Walker, were excellent and her voice was most fitting as the Angel.
Mention must be made of the excellent orchestra. The solo oboe and trumpet performed well and the timpanist always confidently on cue. Steven Kings did a very good job conducting both choir and orchestra. Thornbury should be justly proud of its Choral Society.
50th Anniversary Concert
18 May 2013 at the Castle School
Once again Thornbury Choral Society produced a magnificent evening’s entertainment. Never shy to try new works their 50th Anniversary Concert on 16th May was packed with musical gems. The first item was Handel’s well-
“Rejoice in the Lamb” composed by Britten for another 50th anniversary in 1943 is based on a long, rambling poem by the C18th poet, Christopher Smart. It is in several sections: how animals praise the Lord, the blessings of flowers, Smart’s personal tribulations and the mystical nature of four letters of the alphabet -
Steven Kings has been the conductor of Thornbury Choral Society since 2005. He is also an accomplished composer. He was asked to write a piece for the 50th anniversary by TCS and “Care-
There was a lovely instrumental interlude before the final Chichester Psalms. Robin Baggs (organ) and Kathryn Rees Peak (harp) played a delightful duet by a lesser known impressionist composer, Grandjany, harking back to an earlier time. “Aria in a Classic Style” was just that. Idiomatic writing for both harp and organ produced a light, elegant sound and gave both soloists the opportunity to shine.
Having shown their prowess by singing in Czech, the choir and soloists sang in Hebrew for the final piece, Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms”. Originally written with an orchestral accompaniment, Bernstein prepared this alternative version for organ, harp and percussion. The counter tenor solos are not easy but Simon Clulow, despite looking nervous, hit the correct notes for his difficult entries. The choir coped well with the sudden changes in mood and the asymmetrical rhythms and created a wonderful sense of joy and awe which brought the concert to a close.
This was a challenging programme and Thornbury Choral Society should be proud of their achievements in this their 50th Anniversary Year. Do come and support them: they deserve a much bigger audience.
Elgar: Dream of Gerontius
1 December 2012 at the Castle School
I doubt that anyone could have left The Castle School unmoved after the fabulous performance of Dream of Gerontius by Thornbury Choral Society on Saturday 1st December. From the opening notes of the Prelude by the orchestra, ably led by Katy Latham, to the final strains of the Choir of Angelicals, the evening was a triumph.
Edward Elgar’s setting of Cardinal Newman’s “Dream of Gerontius” is a difficult work, both musically and spiritually. As a practicing Catholic, Elgar knew Newman’s poem well and it marked important events in his life, notably receiving a copy from his priest at his marriage to Alice. After completing his setting of parts of the poem in 1900 he said “This is the best of me”
The opening Prelude sets the scene, not just by playing some of the themes to be heard later in the work, but it’s spirituality and meaning. Conducted by Steven Kings, the orchestra captured this spiritual quality preparing the audience for the entrance of Gerontius. Philip Lloyd Holtam as Gerontius gave a vivid and moving portrayal of a man near to death, full of fear and dread, hitting beautiful top Bbs in “in thine own agony”. The audience could feel the intensity as he placed himself into the hands of God in “Novissima hora est”. Thornbury Choral Society, assisted by the semi chorus, New Bristol Voices, sang powerfully but with great compassion “Rescue him, O Lord, in this his final hour” as Gerontius prepares to be judged by God.
The introduction to Part 2 is typically Elgarian in sound, light and with a clarity of texture, setting the scene for the soul of Gerontius, “I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed”. Diction was clear and anguish gave way to calmness and rest. The Angel, in the form of mezzo-
The bass/baritone soloist has a difficult role. He has two short parts-
The closing music, “Praise to the Holiest” sung by the choir was magical with only the rapturous applause breaking the spell.
I look forward to Thornbury Choral Society’s 50th Anniversary and their next concert on Saturday 18th May.
12 May 2012 at the Castle School
Thornbury Choral Society presented their spring (Team GB) concert of music from around the British Isles at the Castle school on Saturday 12th May. The concert opened with a sprightly performance of Purcell’s “Bell” anthem where the Alto (Helen Bruce), Tenor (Philip Styles) and Baritone (Niall Hoskin) soloists were used to good effect in dialogue with the Choir. This was followed by a more substantial piece with a contrasted setting of Psalm 48 (Great is the Lord) set to music by Elgar for Choir and Baritone soloist. The Choir was able to demonstrate a wide dynamic range and the effects of an orchestra were ably produced on the organ by the Choir’s accompanist Robin Baggs. Helen Bruce provided two Irish folksongs which were charmingly sung. We were treated to two organ pieces by James MacMillan also based on folk song themes. The folk theme continued with a set of charming Scottish folksongs sung expressively by the “Octaves”, a Thornbury based youth Choir, who were clearly directed by Kate Phillipson-
The second half of the programme opened with Benjamin Britten’s setting of the Te Deum in C, which gave us the opportunity to hear the excellent soprano soloist once again. Although this is an early work it showed all the hallmarks of Britten’s style demonstrated in later and better known settings of the morning canticles. The “Octaves” returned with folksongs from Scotland and Wales and were beautifully accompanied once again by Steven Kings. The moving setting of “All though the night” ably sung in Welsh, gave the opportunity to hear a short semi-
MOZART REQUIEM and SCHUBERT MASS IN B flat major
26 November 2011 at the Castle School
Thornbury Choral Society, under their Conductor Steven Kings and with the Bristol Ensemble gave us another inspiring evening on Saturday 26 November at The Castle School with their performance of two settings of the Mass. These works were the lesser known Schubert setting in B flat followed by the well loved Mozart Requiem.
The Schubert work featured in the first half of the evening’s programme. The short opening introduction from the orchestra led into the Kyrie where the singing of the Choir was nicely balanced with the orchestra. This contrasted well with the short passages for the four soloists. The first solo came from the soprano (Linda Gerrard) who took an operatic approach to the work. The other soloists were Louise Tucker (alto) Richard Rowntree (tenor) and Steven Foulkes (bass) who formed an atmospheric quartet for the Et Incarnartus section of the Credo. This contrasted with the full toned singing of the Choir in the earlier parts of the movement. The difficult tempo change for the Cum Sancto Spiritu section was successfully negotiated and it was clear that the Choir had been working hard on improving their diction with clear enunciation and entries particularly at the start of the Gloria. Whilst this work is not as well known as the more often performed Schubert masses in G and A flat, an enjoyable performance was given
For the Mozart Requiem the orchestra was slightly augmented and produced a flowing introduction before the Choir’s confident entry to the Kyrie. A brisk pace for the Rex Tremendae was matched with precise entries from the Choir. The excellent quartet work from the soloists was interspersed with well executed contrasting choral passages for the Choir capturing the spirit of the work. The choir also presented some good dynamics contrasts in the Hostias section which was maintained in the later movements. The steady pace of the final Cum Sanctis allowed the fugal writing with both themes to be clearly heard above the orchestral tutti as the work reached its triumphant conclusion. A most enjoyable concert which was very well attended.