Concert Reviews

Review of Christmas Concert 2015

From time to time a choir benefits from a look at itself. And so it has proved with the Baslow Choir. A change of programme format and of appearance - maybe it was the buttonholes, red for the choir and white for the musicians - and, with it, your reviewer sensed, a change of mood and of tone. The Christmas concerts were, it is true, the tried and tested seasonal mixture of popular carols, familiar hymns, readings and other entertainment. But there was about it all a certain freshness of approach. The tenors sang with more confidence and the basses with less rumbling; the sopranos and altos seemed more balanced and, something the watchful in the audience never miss, there were fewer heads buried in the music and more attention to the conductor - and Andrew Marples seemed more at ease. All of this communicated itself to the packed Curbar Church on what for once in all the years that your reviewer has attended these concerts was a mild December weekend. And did not two very talented accompanists - Carol Reid on the piano and Robert Girdler on the organ - join the choristers when not needed on their instruments?

And so to the music. As ever, the Choir was not afraid to try unfamiliar works. The first - a bold move for any choir eager to get off to a good start - was Pachelbel’s Magnificat. And then on to more familiar pieces by John Rutter and Gustav Holst and, after a splendid reading from John Betjeman, a carol by the late David Willcocks. All were well sung and a pleasure for the listener. Plague o’ Bells supplied the next slot. As ever, Robert Wright introduced the pieces and explained some of the ringing techniques. The sound of the bells is so true and so enchanting that, even if the ringers had performed badly, the audience would have been charmed. But the Plague ringers are skilled at their art and listening to them is an unending source of pleasure. The first half ended with a second performance of Michael Coe’s fine reworking of Thomas Tallis’s Glory to thee my God. The first had been by the Choir last year.

After mince pies and wine in the interval - a delightful nod in the direction of the time of year - the second half began with Mendelssohn’s Christus for choir and soloists (Norma Clough, Brian Shaw, Andrew Vout and Robert Wright) - another first for your reviewer - and a delightful German carol arranged by Philip Ledger (David Willcocks’ successor at King’s ,Cambridge) and a Mendelssohn hymn and a heart- warming and appropriately seasonal extract from Laurie Lee’s Cider with Rosie, Plague o’ Bells returned to provide more enchantment. It was then Christmas all the way with the Choir’s spirited performance of four very popular carols, Ding Dong Merrily on High, Good King Wenceslas, Deck the Hall and Jingle Bells. But there was an interesting variation from this familiar theme: Ding Dong Merrily on High was in an entirely new working by Michael Coe; this was its first performance. And as if to add to the novelty the carol was accompanied by the hand bells.

Your reviewer went home afterwards with a warm feeling in his heart and a gentle humming sound in his head. And that is how a Christmas concert should end is it not?

William Blackburne

Review of Spring Concert 2015

Baslow Choir treated an appreciative audience to a sparkling spring concert on Saturday 18th April at Ecclesall Parish Church. The opening - Haydn’s Te Deum introduced the celebratory theme of the concert and presented the well blended voices of the choir, demonstrating their ability to achieve the required volume to compliment the orchestra whilst maintaining vocal quality. This was followed by another 18th century piece, the Mozart Mass in C – again in celebratory style nicknamed “The Coronation Mass”. Baslow Choir was joined for this performance by soloists Rachel Abbott (Sop), Anna Cooper (Mezzo) and Christopher Littlewood (Tenor) who appeared by kind permission of the Northern College of Music and by Stephen Godward (Bass).

Following the interval we heard a remarkable debut concerto performance by a talented young trumpet soloist, Francis Sinfield. Having played since the age of 7, Francis, still only 15 and studying for his GCSEs, performed with increasing confidence through the Trumpet Concerto in E flat by Hummel. The second movement Andante demanded considerable control through the sustained notes and following flourishes. He accomplished this, and the joyous concluding Rondo, with a sensitive maturity which fully deserved the loud and lengthy applause he modestly received.

The choir next performed ‘Music All Powerful’, written and dedicated to them in 2005 by composer (and previous MD) Michael Coe, an uplifting, joyful piece.

This was followed with a composition by the choir’s current musical director Andrew Marples. ‘Canticle of Praise’ was written in 2002 for two groups of performers in different parts of the concert venue. Baslow Choir were joined by members of MusicWork Vocal Ensemble – an acapella group also directed by Andrew, who offered the echo response to great effect in this beautiful prayer setting, dedicated to the memory of Jane Ramsden. Stephen Godward also joined to give the baritone solo, and Robert Girdler played organ.

The concert was concluded with the ceremonial coronation anthem ‘Zadok the Priest’ by Handel. The full choir, together with guest soloists and MusicWork Vocal Ensemble gave their final rousing performance supported, as throughout, by the excellent free-lance professionals of the South Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra under their leader Karen Hoyle, all conducted with consummate precision by Andrew Marples.

This was an exciting, varied concert of uplifting music and the audience left with the memory of some magical moments.