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Concert Reviews

Guildford Cathedral - Saturday, 16th June 2018

The Chichester Singers and Guildford Choral Society

Guildford Cathedral – 16thJune 2018

Perform Walton’s cantata Belshazzar’s Feast in Guildford Cathedral? Sixty years or so ago the idea would have seemed preposterous. Quite apart from the fact that Guildford Cathedral was not yet complete, a performance of the work in any cathedral was considered unsuitable by no less august a body than the Church of England.

And could the elaborate score stand the resonant acoustic of the refurbished Cathedral as it stands today? In fact, it worked remarkably well, although some subtleties were lost in the cavernous space. Under the steady baton of Jonathan Willcocks (whose father was responsible for introducing the work to the Three Choirs Festival), Guildford Choral and The Chichester Singers sang capably and convincingly with a good sense of drama when they could be heard above the splendid sounds of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra. They were served by an excellent soloist in Gareth Brynmor John, who led the forces through the heartfelt lament for Jerusalem, the Babylon ‘catalogue’, and the dramatic description of the writing of the wall, with an appropriate sense of menace from the orchestral percussion depicting an immense balance.

Elgar’s gloriously autumnal Cello Concerto received a fine performance from Pavlos Carvalho, although the long sinuous melodies were better heard than the rapid passagework of the scherzo movement. This is a work that goes straight to the heart, and soloist and orchestra both ensured that it did so.

Gareth Brynmor John had begun the evening’s proceedings with a richly-voiced and sincere performance of Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs. In that building, and in that atmosphere, George Herbert’s words rang deeply true.

On 11thNovember the Guildford Choral Society will be joined by the London-based Bach Choir for a performance of Britten’s War Requiem to coincide with the centenary of the Armistice.

Shelagh Godwin

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The Chichester Singers, with the Southern Pro Musica orchestra, served up a mixed programme of music in Chichester Cathedral, with compositions by three composers from three centuries. They got off to a wonderful start with Handel’s Zadok the Priest, with its exciting orchestral build-up and a cracking entry by the chorus. The choir were extremely well disciplined, singing entirely from memory, watching the conductor Jonathan Willcocks, who directed the chorus and orchestra so as to achieve a powerful and well balanced delivery. Set against the ancient walls of the Cathedral, with instruments producing an 18th century sound, it was as good a performance as one could wish for. The choir and orchestra also performed a second Coronation Anthem by Handel, The King Shall Rejoice, a longer and more complex work with several contrasting movements. The chorus sang strongly and accurately, the sopranos particularly having developed a pleasant fresh sound, and the orchestra continued to give the work the atmosphere of Handel’s time.

The concert included two arias from operas by Handel. Stephanie Wake-Edwards sang Cornelia’s Lament from Giulio Cesari. Stephanie has an impressive mezzo-soprano voice and used it to convey the sorrow of a lady who has seen her husband beheaded and her son taken from her and has no one to comfort her. Hugo Herman-Wilson had a more cheerful piece from Berenice and sang in a pleasant conversational style with a strong and flexible baritone voice.

These 18th century works were followed by Hubert Parry’s extended anthem Hear My Words, Ye People, which had a contrasting Victorian sound. It was originally written with organ accompaniment, but for this performance the Singers’ organist, Richard Barnes, had written an accompaniment that included orchestral players as well as the organ. This worked well, and the chorus, organist and orchestra performed the unfamiliar work with accuracy and enthusiasm. The baritone had a solo piece in the middle of the work, which again he sang strongly and directly to the audience. In the last movement the music finally became familiar, as the movement has become one of Parry’s favourite hymns.

The final work in the concert was a major 20th century choral mass, Duruflé’s Requiem, which also was accompanied by both orchestra and organ. It is a powerful work, the orchestra plays a major part, and the chorus were singing forte for most of the performance without losing their quality. It was nice to hear the mezzo-soprano again, with a solo part where she could sing out; her lovely voice soared into the space of the Cathedral. The baritone also sang an enjoyable solo, but the performance will be mostly remembered for the powerful playing of the orchestra, organ and above all the chorus, skilfully directed by their conductor Jonathan Willcocks.

Bill Witts

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SATURDAY, 11th NOVEMBER 2017

Chichester Cathedral – 7.30 pm

It was fitting that The Chichester Singers should choose a Requiem Mass for their autumn concert this year, falling as it did on Remembrance Day. Verdi’s masterpiece, composed by that doyen of romantic Italian opera, manages perfectly to combine the sorrow of the occasion for which it was written with the emotion that this highly charged music generates. And all the musicians involved did the work more that justice. From the lyrical opening Requiem – beautifully performed by the Singers without scores – to the fiery Dies Irae – containing some excellent brass ensemble playing, the performance as a whole came together to produce an evening to remember.

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At the start of the second week of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced their concert, which had been prepared so as to suit the Festival.  For those who have been attending the Singers’ concerts for some years, the programme was full of surprises.  There was no major work by a famous classical composer, but rather a number of pieces by contemporary musicians, the men of the choir had taken off their black dinner jackets and appeared in shirt sleeves, there was only one soloist and there was no orchestra.  But, reliably as ever, the music making was good.At the start of the second week of the Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers produced their concert, which had been prepared so as to suit the Festival.  For those who have been attending the Singers’ concerts for some years, the programme was full of surprises.  There was no major work by a famous classical composer, but rather a number of pieces by contemporary musicians, the men of the choir had taken off their black dinner jackets and appeared in shirt sleeves, there was only one soloist and there was no orchestra.  But, reliably as ever, the music making Continue reading

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For their latest concert, The Chichester Singers produced a programme with a variety of little-known works, most of which were based on instrumentation by organ and brass only. However, the first, and best known work was the totally unaccompanied set of choral pieces known as Rachmaninov’s Vespers. This presented a major challenge to the Singers, as not only was there no instrumental accompaniment to help them find their notes, but also the work was sung in Russian. The choir rose to the challenge admirably and delivered a fine performance of the work which evoked the feeling of Orthodox chants in a religious building. Despite the language, the sound in the Cathedral was decidedly English, and was dominated by the female voices, which were particularly sweet and clear. The basses sang manfully and produced very satisfying crescendos with their series of alleluias but lacked the sonorous sound of true Russian basses. On the other hand, a tenor in the choir (Martin Ridley) sang the short solo in the Nunc Dimittis in a splendidly Russian style.
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On a bitterly cold evening in January, how wonderful to hear this dramatic retelling of the familiar Creation story with the The Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica, conducted by an inspirational Jonathan Willcocks.  The audience were warm with appreciation even if the air was freezing.  The infectious music of Haydn and his colourful instrumentation depicting God in the very act of creation was brought to life vividly by the excellent orchestra, disciplined chorus and professional soloists, Margaret Ravalde, Thobela Ntshanyana and Kieran Rayner.
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Vaughan Williams – Overture “The Wasps”
Peter White – Te Deum
Vaughan Williams – The Lark Ascending
Vaughan Williams – Hodie

There was some brave programming for the Chichester Singers’ concert on 12th November.   Not only were there four works in the programme but one was a cantata by Vaughan Williams which is not often performed, and another was a completely new choral work that the Singers had commissioned for this concert.  Chichester audiences are fairly conservative and are cautious about going to listen to modern music, so it was no surprise to see a number of empty seats in the cathedral for this event.  But it was an excellent concert, the Singers and orchestra were in fine form and gave enjoyable performances of the unfamiliar works.
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Brahms – Academic Festival Overture
Brahms – Nanie and Alto Rhapsody
Elgar – The Music Makers

Performed as part of this year’s Festival of Chichester, the Chichester Singers and Southern Pro Musica, under the direction of Jonathan Willcocks, came together for a programme comprising works by Brahms and Elgar, their composition spanning about 50 years.

The programme opened with Brahms’ Op.80 Academic Festival Overture, written as a result of the composer being bestowed with an Honorary Doctorate in Music from the University of Breslau. This is one of Brahms’ most boisterous works, (in marked contrast to the companion Tragic Overture, which will be performed by the Chichester Symphony Orchestra on 16th July) the work being peppered with various well-known student drinking songs! The forces of the Southern Pro Musica under Jonathan Willcocks gave a performance that was full of character and vigour, and the overture ended with an unexpected but hearty rendition of Gaudeamus Igitur from the Chichester Singers towards the end of the piece.
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