Concert Reviews

Review of Summer Concert 2016

This summer entertainment was very much a joint occasion as the Choir shared the evening with Eyam’s celebrated consort of handbell players, Plague o’ Bells. The Friday concert was in Chatsworth’s magnificent Painted Hall and the Saturday in lovely St Anne’s Church in Baslow.

The audience can tell when a choir is enjoying what it sings and is confident that it can do it properly. There is an attentiveness and a togetherness, of both tone and rhythm, and an appreciation of the piece’s dynamics. Heads are not buried in the score; mouths open a little wider; eyes shine a trifle brighter. They make for the difference between drift and drama in a choir’s performance. There was this feeling about the Choir’s singing at the Summer Concert. As a result, their performance, under the able direction of their musical director, Andrew Marples, and with piano accompaniment by Carol Reid (on the Friday) and Chris Flint (on the Saturday) had about it a quality of verve and self-confidence, notwithstanding a missed entry in one of the pieces (such occasional mishaps really do not matter). These qualities were evident from the start with a lovely piece by Elgar called The Dance (from a relatively early work called From the Bavarian Highlands which your reviewer recalls hearing at an earlier concert) and an exceptionally well-balanced performance of Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine. These were followed later by three well known spirituals and, in the second half, by two equally celebrated folk songs (sung unaccompanied) and a glorious piece, new to your reviewer, called Sure on this Shining Night by the American composer, Morten Lauridsen. Andrew Vout, a Choir member, supplied the solo line in one of the spirituals and did so with great aplomb. The Choir rounded the evening off with a fizzing performance of some items from West Side Story.

A star of the evening was the soprano, Kate Hudie, who lives and works locally and has a musical track record (both when training and as a performer) to match her very impressive voice. She sang the wonderful solo from Mozart’s Laudate Dominum with the Choir performing the choral accompaniment. They had the audience of the edge of our seats as we listened to this music from Heaven. And she followed this with an exceptionally demanding solo of the stirring aria, Parto Parto, from Mozart’s last opera, La Clemenza di Tito. What a talent we all thought as she took her bow amid enthusiastic and richly deserved applause.

Plague o’ Bells performed from the north aisle so that no time was wasted over setting up. As ever, they charmed the audience. It is not just the bells’ purity of tone and the shimmering effect produced by their harmonies which so delight the listener but also their measured quality: the sound they produce seems almost to hang in the air. The pieces chosen contrasted in style and rhythm and demanded - and received - great concentration and skill on the part of each performer. The programme ranged from the serene and stately Prelude in C by Bach to the syncopated and staccato tones of Henry Mancini’s Pink Panther. Other items included Fly Me to the Moon, Moon River and Fantasy on Greensleeves. All were sheer pleasure. Three of the pieces were by the Choir’s former musical director, Michael Coe, two of them being arrangements of well known tunes. The more one listens to Michael’s compositions, the more impressed one is by his skill as a composer for this very unusual form of instrument.

A last reflection: the printed programme is first class: it is informative to just the degree needed, includes text where that is appropriate (as in Fauré’s Cantique) and is handsomely printed. Your reviewer’s only surprise is that the whole evening, complete with printed programme and an interval glass of wine, costs a mere £10. Your reviewer, and I suspect others, would willingly pay a little more.

William Blackburne

Review of Spring Concert 2016

I was glad to have attended the St George’s Day concert of Baslow Choir, which took place in Ecclesall Parish Church under the direction of their conductor, Andrew Marples. The programme reflected the occasion through a presentation of music by English composers old and new, with the exception of the first piece - the popular Magnificat in D by Johann Pachelbel. This set the tone for the first half firmly in the clean simplicity of the Baroque. The liturgical text of the Magnificat offers many opportunities for layering character above the formal vocal setting, and the choir provided a careful and emotive rendition. At various points it was easy to pick out trumpets heralding the strength of His arm, the hushed consideration of His mercy and the unending nature of God in the final wording - “As it was in the beginning, is now and ever shall be”.

The concert continued with Henry Purcell’s anthem “Rejoice in the Lord Alway”, sometimes known as the “Bell” anthem for its instrumental introduction, which brings to mind change ringing of church bells. This offered a good opportunity for the organist, Andrew Cummings, and the soloists (who, excepting the bass, are choristers of Sheffield Cathedral) to demonstrate their firm knowledge of period technique, as well as their excellent ensemble in the trio-led verses. The choir supported the group in the choruses and supplied a meaty contrast between stanzas.

The first half concluded with an ode to St Cecilia, the patron saint of musicians, composed by John Blow, an English Baroque composer who is sadly often unknown outside of fans of Baroque music. The florid text of the work again allowed the choir, now working in concert with the soloists, to demonstrate the less stuffy secular side of the era which can be forgotten when compared to the grand sacred works of the time.

In the second half of the concert we were transported three centuries forward into the (relatively) modern era with Benjamin Britten’s setting of a highly unusual 18th century poem by Christopher Smart. The text offers heartfelt, if confused, praise to God through visions of irate policemen, bold mice and the elegance of the common domestic cat. The choir and soloists led us successfully through the challenging text and Britten’s masterful blend of modern harmony and ancient forms, with a special mention due to the treble and alto soloists for evoking the drama of the confrontation between cat and mouse.

Our journey through English choral music old and new was brought to an end with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Five Mystical Songs”. The sweeping, lush melodies of these songs stood in strong contrast with the rest of the program and were, on St George’s Day, suitably evocative of the (contemporary) setting of the anthem “Jerusalem” by Parry - although thankfully not reflecting the bombastic part of the English character brought to mind by that piece. This piece offered an opportunity for the bass soloist (Daniel Sumner, senior teacher at St Anne’s Primary, Baslow) to come to the fore and lead the choir through the magical poetry of Williams’ work. The thrilling Antiphon closed the evening on a thoughtfully planned and strongly executed programme.