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Songs of Farewell

St Barnabas' Church, Carlisle
St Lawrence's Church, Morland nr Penrith
4, 5 March 2017

This was the first concert I have attended of the Wordsworth Singers as a member of the audience. I was not disappointed. The sense of ensemble in the choir and the sensitivity of the performance were impressive and we were treated to an afternoon of delightful music appropriate for the more reflective season of Lent.

The theme and title of the concert, ‘Songs of Farewell’, ran through all the choral pieces and even the first set of piano pieces. It began with Brahms Fünf Gesänge Op104 which was performed with the intensity required for this work. The choir’s diction was faultless and there were some beautifully shaped phrases in the quieter movements which were quietly passionate while being magnificently controlled. In the more lively movements the Wordsworth Singers provided a great sense of cohesive attack and vigour.

The ‘Songs of Farewell’ theme continued with the first set of three piano pieces from Klavierstücke Op118 by Brahms. They were played by Leah Nicholson, a very talented young pianist from the northern reaches of Cumbria, currently studying at Chetham’s School of Music in Manchester. She was very warmly received by the audience. Leah played with a touching sensitivity while at the same time being able to provide a sense of power when the music demanded it.

Jonathan Dove’s Into thy Hands was refreshingly different to the other works. Particularly of note was the light touch given to the ostinato bass towards the end of the piece which provided a beautiful foundation for other parts to bring the piece to a gentle end. The first half closed with the rich harmonies of the double choir in Bring us, O Lord God by William Harris.

After the interval we enjoyed Parry’s Songs of Farewell; sublime music designed to carry the listener to another place. After four of the six songs we enjoyed another piano interlude again by Brahms; his Rhapsody Op79, No 1, again played by Leah with a great intensity and passion.

Parry’s final two songs demand a great deal of the singers, which they readily gave. At the end of the last, there was an intense silence before the applause began - a reflection perhaps of a reluctance to return from the sublime place to which all the performers had taken us in an afternoon of wonderful music.

Then, to paraphrase the final words of Parry’s last song we all ‘went hence and were no more seen’.