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From Lithuania with Love

St Mary's Church, Wigton 
27 January 2007

In July 2006 the Wordsworth Singers, ambassadors for music and for Cumbria, toured Latvia and Lithuania. On Saturday, with the generous support of Cumbrian Seafoods, the choir brought to St Mary's Church in Wigton a programme performed for the first time in the Old Church in Zagare, a small town in northern Lithuania.

This was a very special occasion, with a reception, and a concert, and a professional CD recording, taking advantage of the fine acoustic of St Mary's. Music brings people together and this programme brought together music from Germany, Czechoslovakia, Britain and Lithuania, sung in six languages!

Following introductory remarks by Bill Dufton and June Hall of Lithuania Link, the Cumbrian charity which helped to arrange and finance the tour, by James Grossmith, now of Scottish Opera, who directed the music, and by the composer, the choir sang, in Lithuanian, Kristina Vasiliauskaite's motet Blessed Barbora of Zagare. Barbora, beatified in 2005, was the daughter of a 17th century landowner, whose disapproval of her devout Christianity led to her early death. Kristina Vasiliauskaite specialises in composing for voices and her work, commissioned by the Wordsworth Singers and receiving its world premiere on their 2006 tour, is in the great tradition of European Catholic music.

It was followed by the same composer's Missa brevis, an earlier piece, dynamic, precise and textured, by music composed by Brahms and Dvorak and by five English folksongs, in Daryl Runswick's artful arrangements. Sam Hutchings, an exceptional young Scottish pianist, played five pieces from the piano cycle 'On an Overgrown Path' by Janacek.

This choir aims high and, under James Grossmith's direction, achieves a very high standard.

Hugh Thomson

Tudor Glories and Inspirations

St Martin's Church, Brampton
18 November 2006

The Wordsworth Singers were in Brampton on Saturday and a good crowd turned out to see this highly accomplished group.  Under their musical director and organ soloist, Hugh Davies, they did not disappoint.

The programme was of English sacred music of the Tudor period and late romantic and early 20th century music and Brampton church itself provided a wonderfully generous acoustic. The choir as usual was accomplished and committed and made a warm, pure, accurate sound. In the opening Sing Joyfully they did just that – a terrific wall of sound ringing around the church. However the choir took time to warm up and in the early stages I could hear individual voices and too many singers were buried in their copies. But they do sing antiphony well and we were regaled with very rich double choir to-ing and fro-ing with great assurance in pieces by both Gibbons and Stanford.

Vox Dicentis by the Cumbrian Canadian, Edward Naylor, was an excellent discovery to start the second half of the concert and the strong, dominant bass entry to open it belied the small number of singers. There were some extremely beautiful, quiet passages, a particularly magical one in Stanford's Beata Quorum Via. The singers excel in narrative passages, such as in the final 'hymn' by Edmund Spencer set by William Harris – such passages seem to help them communicate to the audience so much better.

Anice Paterson

Songs of Love and Longing

Penrith Methodist Church
27 May 2006

The Wordsworth Singers are off on tour to Lithuania shortly and we were treated to some of the repertoire they are taking with them.

It was a challenging programme, most of it a capella in Czech and German, and it came off splendidly. The choir musically danced their way through the centrepiece of the luscious Brahms Liebeslieder waltzes. They gave us a wide range of expressive qualities, though a few entries and the balance suffered a bit from having no conductor out front. The piano accompaniments, plus the well-chosen Slavonic dance piano duet interludes from Ian Ryan and Michael Bawtree, were light and flexibly played with energy.

This fine choir is improving every time I hear them and having a new and up-and-coming musical director, James Grossmith, is clearly having benefits. A colleague of his, Michael Bawtree, directed the choir on this occasion with clarity and precision.

The only thing I missed was a stronger, earthier tone quality for the first set of Dvorak songs - they were a bit too sweet and English for my taste. But then, their gusto and humour in the refreshing English folksongs that finished the programme couldn't have been bettered.

Anice Paterson

Poulenc Mass, 
Scarlatti Stabat Mater

St Michael's Church, Dalston
25 February 2006

The Wordsworth Singers under James Grossmith were joined by Carlisle Cathedral assistant organist John Robinson. He started the programme with a Bach Adagio, and then provided the continuo for Scarlatti's Stabat Mater, a long, taxing work with the voices in 10 parts.

The opening built splendidly to a tutti of some grandeur, but there were uncomfortable moments later on.

Small solos emerged from the choir, but Paul Hutchinson and Mary Hitch had longer virtuosic passages. The Amen was impressive, with great waves of sound.

Bach's Organ Concerto in A minor, its vigorous outer movements framing a beautiful aria over a pulsating bass, was followed by Poulenc's Mass in G, a difficult work with angular melodies contrasting with complex legato chord progressions. It was an interesting idea to intersperse the movements with organ pieces by Vierne, but for me it broke the flow and mood.

The Singers performed magnificently. The ethereal Christe eleison floated between the robust Kyries, the chording in the Gloria was spot on, Hosannas rang out in rich chords, Mary Hitch's melismatic solo opened the Agnus and the whole work ended in peaceful resolution.

Douglas Cook