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Spanish Gold

St Michael's Church, Dalston

21 February 2015

Mark Hindley, conductor of the Wordsworth Singers, demonstrated courage and conviction when he chose a lengthy programme of unaccompanied Spanish secular and religious works of the Romantic and modern period, sung in Latin, Spanish and Basque. I suspect no member of the large audience at Dalston’s St. Michael’s Church had previously come across even one of the works, making a demanding experience for the listener accustomed to recognising at least some ‘old friends’ in a programme. Nevertheless the result was compelling, because this choir performs with impeccable attention to tempo, dynamics, rhythm, intonation and balance. The overall effect resembled observing some large, exotic and elaborate edifice being carefully constructed, ultimately achieving something of great power and beauty.

To pick out a few components of this experience, The Nightingale by Basque composer Jesús Guridi opened dramatically in unison and subsequently the sustained bass notes suggested the drone of Basque pipes. Fernando Sor’s O Crux Ave was sung with appropriately passionate pleading. Manuel Oltra’s Three Love Songs brought the first recognisably Spanish intervals and rhythms with repeated staccato passages and Spanish decorations. To finish, Antonio José’s Five Castilian Songs were full of life and humour, making huge demands on the choir to produce percussive and guitar-like effects.

A real guitar, beautifully played by Manus Noble, provided perfect, quiet contrast. Leo Brouwer’s A November Day was delicate and hauntingly languid. Tarrega’s familiar Memories of the Alhambra with its evocative tremolo sustaining the melody completed the sense of Spanish Gold.

Manus can be heard in solo concert at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle on 19th March.

JULIET ROWCROFT