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Beware the Armed Man

St George's Church, Kendal
9 February 2019

The Wordsworth Singers came to town and proved to be a wonderful choir under their conductor Mark Hindley.

They presented a challenging and innovative programme of works pleading for peace. Two of the works were set against a background of the growing threat from Nazism: the Five Spirituals by Tippett, and Poulenc’s Un soir de neige.  There was also a new work by Savourna Stevenson about St Magnus, the patron saint of Orkney and his refusal to take part in violence, and the Missa L’homme armé by Morales. A programme containing powerful lyrics and evocative imagery of peace in times of conflict

The performance of the Morales Mass had beautiful shaped lines. The choir’s great sense of the interplay of parts, such as in the Sanctus, was wonderful. There were times when there was an imbalance between the parts but a stunning performance nevertheless.

Being a small choir, performing the Negro Spirituals allowed them to present a performance of immense clarity and flexibility.  This was as evident in the softer lyrical movements such as Deep River,  as in the fierier rhythmic movements such as Nobody Knows.

The cold church provided a wonderful backdrop for the desolate bleak snowy landscape of Poulenc’s  Un soir de neige. This highly chromatic work showed off the choir’s ability to perform such a challenging work but I wasn’t sure whether, at times, they captured the sense of the wintery journey of despair and the snowy landscape.

Another aspect of this accomplished choir is their excellent diction which was captured in their telling the story of St Magnus in this English premiere of Magnus by Savourna Stevenson

Please come back to Kendal and bring with you Savourna Stevenson who performed two stunning pieces on the Scottish folk harp. The different timbres she created such as those from South America in Mexican Monterey, and the speed of changing keys using the levers, was dazzling.

Philip Burton

Songs of Deliverance

Austin Friars School, Carlisle
17 November 2018

The acoustically vibrant chapel at Austin Friars School was the perfect setting for a Renaissance musical masterclass on a dark November evening. And who better to deliver this masterclass than The Wordsworth Singers, a choir of significant prestige who have rightly garnered praise and an eager following throughout Cumbria and the North of England? ‘Songs of Deliverance’ explored settings of the Psalms in Latin and German, by two of the foremost Renaissance composers, Schütz and Lassus. All but one of Schütz’s motets here were set for two choirs competing and complementing from balconies on opposing sides of a cathedral. The intimate setting within this chapel precluded this logistical feat, and although there was an element of separation allowing the audience the sense of this, the overall effect was nonetheless stunning. These were dense textures where up to eight parts could be competing for your attention, but the balance was perfect, and never overwhelming. Cellist Lowri Preston’s sensitively played continuo added just the right amount of warmth without upsetting the balance. The acoustics no doubt played their part but had to be managed too, and the balance between lines, dynamic range, tuning and above all the sense of enjoyment from each member of the choir was second to none. Just as the quality of sound was glorious, so too was the use of space between sections and movements that allowed the sound to play out without breaking the spell. At times percussive and declamatory, this was also a sensual dark chocolate melt-in-the-mouth performance! The two Lassus works were no less complex in texture but the clarity of tone blended with the energy and placement in the delivery allowed the words to shine through. This was a brave programme of rich textures that the Wordsworth Singers delivered with full commitment, and praise must be due to their Director, Mark Hindley who not only devised the programme but coaxed and cajoled them from behind the organ continuo, giving them the space and time to really enjoy and express this fabulous music. This was no more evident than in the final piece, ‘Selig Sind die Toten’  (Blessed are the Dead) by Schütz with its modern harmonic shifts and dissonant suspensions that almost hung in the air, a beautiful and moving conclusion to another first class concert by The Wordsworth Singers.

‘Songs of Deliverance’ was performed at Austin Friars School Chapel on Saturday 17th November 2018, and repeated at Our Lady, Star of the Sea & St Michael’s Church, Workington the following day.

Jerry King

Tree Spirits

United Reformed Church, Cockermouth
21 July 2018

Under the inspired leadership of their director, Mark Hindley, the Cumbrian based The Wordsworth Singers have gained a deserved reputation for innovative and creative programming. Their concert last Saturday (21st July) in the United Reformed Church in Cockermouth entitled "Tree Spirits" was no exception. I am sure that to the audience much of the music was unknown, as it was to me. Though we may be well acquainted with the music of Mendelssohn and Vaughan Williams that of the other two composers in the programme, John Bevan Baker and Luke Byrne is unknown to most of us. However, if the works performed on Saturday are an example, I would like to hear more of their compositions.

I have heard The Wordsworth Singers over many years and, in my view, Mark Hindley has taken the choir to new heights. They sing with precision, clarity of diction, musically shaped phrases, graded dynamics and impeccable tuning. He now has a wonderful body of singers who respond to him as a group and not as a collection of individual voices.

This concert of four major choral works without any instrumental interludes, performed in a small hall, must have been exhausting for the singers. The unaccompanied Six Songs “Im Freien zu singen” by Mendelssohn, written to be performed outside were perhaps, at times, a little overwhelming in this small enclosed space but were brilliantly and musically executed. Bevan Baker’s “Dryads”, evoking his love of trees and woodland had all the hallmarks of mid 20th century English style and the influence of his teacher, Vaughan Williams. “In Windsor Forest” by Vaughan Williams, contains five songs from his 1929 opera “Sir John in Love”. There was considerable musical variety here and it was good to hear the splendid singing of the ladies and men separately as well as a characterful solo by Fiona Weakley. The Australian composer Luke Byrne’s witty settings of four of Grimms’ tales were a musical delight and much enjoyed by both singers and audience. Apart from in the unaccompanied Mendelssohn the singers enjoyed the superb accompaniment of Glasgow based Michael Bawtree.

Cumbria can feel very proud of its association with The Wordsworth Singers, which now ranks amongst the best of the amateur choirs in the country. It was good to see the hall so full that extra chairs had to be brought in and to know that this choir is appreciated in this area.

John Cooper Green

The Keys to the Kingdom

St John's Church, Keswick
5 May 2018

If Peter was given the keys so the Wordsworth Singers were given the gift. The gift to bring to life, in a church building, the music of the angels. Twenty-seven voices came together in this cacophonous age to express beauty, hope, peace and harmony.

Saint John’s Church, Keswick, with its barrel ceiling, is just the right place to share such an experience. The building is uncluttered and beautifully kept. This music, this experience, belongs in a sacred building. Every word was distinct and crisp - and in the responsive psalm there were those perfectly kept, mystical silences.

The Director chose the music, drawing from the abundance of Spain and Italy in the sixteenth century, he found Morales ‘Salve Regina’ and Palestrina’s Mass for Saint Peter - amongst other treasures. It was a flawless presentation by twenty-seven individuals who certainly knew their onions. The Sanctus incorporated the whole of life, the whole human experience, before God.

To supplement this Martin Eastwell gave us two reflective moments on the vihuela and the lute. These were brilliantly conceived and delivered. Totally appropriate.

Cumbrians and Border folk are immensely proud of The Wordsworth Singers. Mark Hindley, Director, has that capacity, through his conducting, to release the very best in the individual, thus creating a corporate experience which is an inspiration and a lesson to us all.

Malcolm Stonestreet