Light Eternal Yonder
St John's Church, Keswick
28 May 2011
The Wordsworth Singers' concert entitled "Light eternal yonder" given in St. John's Church Keswick on Saturday May 28th certainly gave us the prospect of an afterlife full of beauty. Mark Hindley, the choir’s musical director, is not someone to hold back from making demands on his singers and giving them challenging works to perform. It was appropriate to begin with an extended work by the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria, the 400th anniversary of whose death we celebrate this year. This is an almost seamless work lasting just over 30 minutes. One was immediately struck by the excellent sense of ensemble and the exquisite blend of this well balanced choir. Singers were not placed in vocal blocks of parts but disparately which means they have to listen more and not rely on their neighbour to support their line. Only the very best choirs can withstand this formation and it was very effective.
Contrasting with the almost homogenous sound of the Victoria was Take him earth for cherishing by Herbert Howells, written in 1964 for the memorial service to John F Kennedy in Washington. This is almost a test piece for choirs with every bar offering problems of balance and demanding great attention to subtle nuances. The choir sounded less at home with the style of this composer and there were some problems in the harmony and tonal shifts. Stylistically the performance felt slightly hurried and it lacked the contrasts of intensity and contemplation which the work requires.
John Tavener is probably best known for his setting of the carol The Lamb and Song for Athene sung at Princess Diana's funeral. The Funeral Ikos is a serene work where a verse in unison is contrasted with a simple choral setting of the words 'Alleluia'. The choir's smooth vocal line with every word given clarity was superb and there was sonority in the sound mainly thanks to the excellent basses.
The final work was J S Bach's sublime motet in eleven contrasting movements Jesu, meine Freude. This was a well thought out performance with beautiful shading of phrases and dynamics and good contrasts of legato and staccato singing in individual vocal lines. This work was accompanied unobtrusively by Hugh Davies on the organ who gave the singers just the right level of support. Hugh also performed solo organ works by J S Bach in each half of the programme, all played with precision and stylistic understanding.
Once more the Wordsworth Singers brought to Cumbria a programme of choral music performed at a high standard giving the audience and performers a great deal of pleasure.