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Christmas Concert

St Michael's Church, Dalston
4 December 2004

In the reverential setting of St Michael's Church in Dalston, The Wordsworth Singers proved that the music of Marc-Antoine Charpentier sounds just as fresh and lively today as it did when it was first written almost 350 years ago.

The Singers were under the direction of their new conductor, James Grossmith, also director of choral music at the Royal Scottish Academy, who was handed the baton by Michael Hancock.

The evening began with the glory of the first Christmas Day and the great mystery of Christ's birth as portrayed in the serene music of William Byrd and the exultant glory of Victoria's O Magnum Mysterium.

The centrepiece of the concert was the Messe de Minuit pour Noel.

Charpentier based the mass on folk carols. Jeremy Suter on the organ announced the sprightly rhythms and the choir transformed them into seasonal images of harmonic peace and light.

The choir’s pleasure in the music and the disciplined liveliness of their performance conveyed the natural joy at the heart of the sacred music.

A solo performance of Messiaen's depiction of the shepherds by Jeremy Suter on the organ was followed by two medieval French carols to complete the second half of the concert.

Michael Hancock, the founder of The Wordsworth Singers, has found a worthy successor in James Grossmith. To the very fine voices and ensemble singing and the eagerness to perform challenging programmes, James has added an historical understanding that has given new depth to their performance.

Steve Matthews

Songs of Heaven and Earth

St Andrew's Church, Penrith
18 September 2004

The Wordsworth Singer's audience, at St Andrew's, Penrith on Saturday, enjoyed a rare treat.

Interesting harmonies, occasional dramatic dissonance and very singable lines of melody sung by a first-class choir all combined to produce some moments of exquisite beauty.

The first piece was Kenneth Leighton's Sequence for All Saints, at times dramatic, at others contemplative. The bass solos in the second and fourth movements were sensitively sung by Jim Johnson.

Next came two unaccompanied pieces by Scotland's premier composer of his generation, James MacMillan. In The Gallant Weaver, a setting of Robert Burns, the sopranos excelled themselves, and the contemplative alto solo was beautifully sung by Hilary Hodgson.

Christus Vincit, to a short Latin text, starts quietly and builds up to an impressive climax sung by the soprano Emma Harper.

After the interval we heard Dvorák's Songs of Nature, performed with the appropriate delicacy.

Finally Kodály's Missa Brevis. In the Kyrie and Agnus Dei the sopranos split into three solo parts and go very high, soaring above the rest of the choir – a most moving moment.

Nicholas Howard

Mozart Requiem

10 July 2004

The Baroque Voice

St Andrew's Church, Penrith
19 June 2004

The Wordsworth Singers' programme of choral and instrumental music was cleverly constructed – the first half given over to early baroque music by Purcell and Monteverdi and the second to the three most significant composers of the late period – Vivaldi, Bach and Handel.

The four early pieces – Purcell's Te Deum in D and his coronation anthem of 1685 My heart is inditing and Monteverdi's Ave Maria Stella and Laudate Dominum – gave the excellent soloists opportunity to show their mastery of the intricate ensemble work, and the full choir their precise singing.

Vivaldi's Concerto in C for two trumpets was expertly played by Timothy Barber and Thomas Osborne, recent students at the Royal Northern College of Music, and Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No 4 in G received a sparkling performance from Emma Hancock (violin), John Turner (recorder) and Amanda Babington (recorder). The Lonsdale Chamber Orchestra were stylish accompanists.

The vocal highlight was the choir's performance of Bach's Lobet den Herrn. The complex fugal textures were met with apparent ease and some carefully crafted dynamics.

All credit to conductor Ian Thompson for such a fine concert.

Colin Marston