In Green Pastures
St Andrew's Church, Penrith
27 June 2009
The Wordsworth Singers were founded in 1997 and since that time have established themselves as one of the finest chamber choirs in the north of England. Much of the credit for their recent success can be ascribed to the inspirational direction of Edward Caswell. His final appearance as conductor featured works by three of the great 19th century German Romantic composers, Schubert, Mendelssohn and Brahms in a programme well suited to the spacious acoustics of St. Andrew's Church, Penrith.
From the outset the choir sang with a confident and relaxed sound, the soprano line in particular dealing with high notes and difficult intervals effortlessly. The intense harmonies of the opening unaccompanied motets by Brahms (O Heiland, reiss die Himmel and Es ist das Heil) would be a challenging start to any concert, but the control of dynamics and phrasing showed a choir assured in its teamwork and excellent in its balance. The gentler harmonies of Schubert's setting of Psalm 23 brought some beautiful sounds from ladies' voices while the rarely-heard Gebet was almost like a choral setting of a lieder ballad with its inventive piano accompaniment, dramatic moods and elaborate vocal lines.
Two contrasting works by Mendelssohn began the second part of the programme. Fiona Weakley showed both power and sensitivity as soprano soloist in the ever-popular Hear My Prayer while the rich harmonic textures of the unaccompanied Nunc Dimittis were sung most evocatively. Three further motets by Brahms followed, the choir responding to the challenging and advanced harmonic style of the third (Wenn wir in höchsten Nöten sein) with particular conviction. The final work, Brahms's Geistliches Lied was almost an epilogue, gentle and heartfelt, with a quite ravishing Amen.
Ian Hare was, as ever, an excellent and unobtrusive accompanist on the organ (and on the piano in the Schubert works) and made his own contribution to the evening with two Brahms choral preludes for organ, including the exquisitely-phrased Es ist ein Ros' entsprungen, and a lively performance of the majestic first movement of Mendelssohn's Sonata No 3.