No Small Wonder
Penrith Methodist Church
24 January 2004
An enthusiastic audience was treated to an adventurous concert of choral and organ music given by the Wordsworth Singers, conducted by Jeremy Suter, with organist Hugh Davies at Penrith Methodist Church. The theme of the concert was Epiphany - the Wise Men, the water into wine, Christ's baptism, and the massacre of the Innocents: all themes traditionally associated with the period immediately after Christmas.
The concert included several old favourites, among them Three kings from Persian lands afar, The shepherds' farewell, Here is the little door, and Bethlehem Down, all beautifully sung, but the outstanding feature of the programming was the inclusion of several pieces by living composers.
Audiences sometimes fight shy of supposedly difficult modern music, but these pieces were very approachable and enjoyable and presented with obvious enthusiasm by the singers. Judith Weir's setting of medieval Scots words, 'Jerusalem rejos for joy' was noticeable not only for the music but also for the clarity of the words and for the fact that the choir was in tune at each point when the organist joined them for the chorus. Two French pieces were probably new to most of the audience: Les Mages (The Wise Men), from La Nativite du Seigneur, by Olivier Messiaen, the French mystical organist, was performed by Hugh Davies, creating a wonderful picture of the Magi plodding across the desert on their camels; and Videntes stellam, a motet by Francis Poulenc, a well-known disaster area for choirs, was given a triumphant performance.
Also from the 20th century we heard music by Herbert Howells, William Walton and Kenneth Leighton, and there was very new music from Richard Shephard (Prayer for a new mother), Paul Edwards (No small wonder) and Adrian Self (A sword shall pierce thy heart). For this last piece, a soprano soloist was located high up in the gallery, providing a spatial as well as a musical separation from the choir. As with all of Adrian Self's music, the result was most effective.
The concert opened with a double choir motet by Palestrina and featured other music from the Italian Renaissance, as well as English music from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, a varied mix which nonetheless kept to the theme of the evening.
This was a delightful concert, with good programming, good diction, good intonation and quite obviously a good lead from Jeremy Suter.