Penrith Methodist Church, Penrith
5 February 2000
The well-planned and meticulously presented concert given by the Wordsworth Singers under their conductor Hugh Davies on Saturday will have done much to enhance the choir’s growing reputation.
The first half of the programme was built around Christopher Tye’s Euge Bone Mass, four movements of which were separated by anthems and organ music of the period creating a liturgical ambience. The 22 members sang with obvious commitment and fine sense of style, clearly enjoying the richness of the six-part texture with its frequent false relations and making the most of Tye’s dramatic juxtaposition of homophonic and polyphonic techniques. A certain lack of clarity amongst the divided tenors and basses was largely attributable to a performing pitch which favoured the upper parts.
Eccard’s motet When to the temple Mary went was given a thoughtful and relaxed performance, while Parson’s serene Ave Maria completed the choral items in the first half. This was sung with great control, although I did wonder whether the lower contrapuntal lines might have acquired greater intensity.
The second half of the concert was devoted to music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Grieg’s Ave maris stella was highly expressive, after which came two of Bruckner’s more popular motets, Ave Maria and Os Justi.
For me however, the highlight of the evening was Tippett’s five spirituals from A Child of Our Time. Each was sung with consummate assurance, precision and attention to detail. The choir produced a wonderfully resonant tone and explored a wide dynamic range. Ensemble was tight; diction was clear and the soloists were excellent.
For the last, the solo quartet moved to the gallery above the main chorus, adding a further dimension to an already rich sonority. Such was the intensity of the atmosphere thus created that the audience found it hard to begin the applause.
In addition to his clear and concise direction of the singers, Hugh Davies also contributed four delightfully varied pieces on the organ.
This Worldës Joie
St John’s Church, Keswick
31 January 1999
Relative newcomers to the Cumbrian musical scene, the Wordsworth Singers operate a professional-type schedule, rehearsing as concerts demand. Co-directors of Music are Michael Hancock and Charles Harrison, much admired for their work with the Cockermouth Harmonic Society and at Carlisle Cathedral.
Keswick had a chance to hear this talented ensemble on Sunday January 31st at St. John’s Church. If more could have taken this opportunity, there was no mistaking the enthusiasm of those present, or the quality of the music-making. Clearly the Wordsworth Singers is a name to look out for: the group has already achieved much, and promises more.
Entitled This Worldës Joie, the programme was subtitled A Sequence of Seasonal Music. Although Byrd’s O magnum mysterium had to be replaced by Weelkes’s Hosanna, this piece still bears on the post-Christmas scene as well as having its more obvious Palm Sunday context. A crisp, well-maintained tempo gave an incisive start, despite one or two tentative entries.
Poulenc’s O magnum mysterium and Videntes stellam quickly make friends with audience and performers alike given accurate chording as on this occasion.
At the organ Charles Harrison then contributed a further seasonal offering in Les bergers from Messiaen’s La Nativité du Seigneur, deploying the beautiful, but limited, resources of the organ to telling effect.
Formidable difficulties abound in the Arnold Bax motets I sing of a maiden and This Worldës Joie which followed. The slithering chromatics that pervade this composer’s sumptuous symphonic scores are so much harder to realise with unaccompanied voices, especially when divided. Strength in depth is required, as the football managers say; and it is probably appropriate here to commiserate with those choir members who were not so much confined to the substitutes bench as debarred through illness from entering the fray. An unwelcome seasonal touch this!
If the Bax pieces lacked the necessary security, there was much to enjoy in the two motets by Pierre Villette. The second is a real choral lollipop, if that is not a disrespectful term for a Hymne à la Vierge. Both singers and audience revelled in the Glenn Miller harmonies which still, 50 years on, have mileage in them, as the King’s Singers and others have abundantly shown.
Post-Interval Monteverdi madrigals offered relaxation for the singers and delight for the audience. Two real finds in this enterprising programme were the Holst Op. 12 Partsongs – simple and warm as In the bleak midwinter – and two anthems by Edgar Bainton, despite the second’s strangely fanciful Robert Graves text. All beautifully sung.
Those who know it from the Carlisle Cathedral CD were delighted, as was everyone, by Michael Hancock’s expressive singing of the aria from Bach’s Ich habe genug, while Anthony Peacock’s artistry in Brigg Fair (well-backed by the choir) was sheer delight.
Moving from Lincolnshire to more flat terrain in Yarmouth Fair the Singers showed only modified rapture at the thought of the East Anglian resort as a holiday venue, despite the twin attractions of the Fair and the maid with golden hair: not to mention Peter Warlock’s ravishing setting of the folk-song. Perhaps by now the Choir were a tad anthem-bound. More likely copy-bound: the show-bizzy demands of light concert-hall material differ from those of the Cathedral choir, and words and music need to be virtually memorised if the performance is to come alive.
But all in all what a splendid concert with its exciting programme blend of the known and unknown. This was a memorable evening of music. Make a note of the 15th of May at Caldbeck Parish Church for the next concert. You won’t regret it, I promise you!