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All Things New

St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle
29 June 2019

What a treat! To hear The Wordsworth Singers perform a concert of works by Kodály, Reger, MacMillan and Bevan in the elegant surroundings of St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle, was sheer pleasure. Entitled “All Things New”, this interesting and challenging mixture of compositions was conducted by Mark Hindley, with accompaniments provided by Michael Bawtree (organ) and Nick Butters (piano).

Zoltan Kodály’s Missa Brevis filled the first half, with its eight sections, accompanied with greatly varied registrations and musicality by Michael Bawtree, playing the large but electro-mechanically temperamental organ of St. Cuthbert’s. There was an excellent blend of voices and organ accompaniment throughout the varied sections, ranging from very dark and foreboding sonorities in the opening Introit and Kyrie (this work was written as World War II raged outside the composer’s refuge) to the serenely gentle and beautiful Sanctus and Benedictus. The work ended with a very forceful organ solo, climaxing with the sounds of the very loud Tromba.

The second half started with Max Reger’s 8 Geistliche Gesänge. These are a very varied, richly chromatic and atmospheric set of songs, written at the beginning of World War I. Mostly mildly discordant, they range from the confident to the mysteriously peaceful. There was plenty of bright, clear singing in the climaxes, as well as gently flowing choral sounds in the quieter passages.

Kodaly’s ‘Este’ is an evocation of the tranquillity of the late evening, beautifully captured by the choir, making use of exotic harmonies and with a solo soprano floating exquisitely above the choral textures.

After this, Nick Butters played ‘New Roads, Old Destinations’ by Australian composer Stuart Greenbaum, an expertly crafted and performed piano solo, an audio illusion with interesting twists and turns along the way.

James MacMillan’s ‘Alpha and Omega’, with words based on a passage from the Book of Revelation, opens with strident chords, suddenly changing to a more fluid and slightly syncopated section, which then builds to a fine climax. There were a couple of moments of uncertainty in tuning here, however Mark expertly restored equilibrium.

Finally, we heard Allan Bevan’s ‘Singers to Come’. After an introduction on the piano, the music intensifies noticeably, although, overall, it is a soothing work, building to several climaxes, all sustained expertly by Nick’s excellent accompaniment, which matched the ebb and flow of the music perfectly.  Overall, this was an evening of fine musical performances in eminently beautiful surroundings.

Mike Town