Across the German Ocean
3 June 2003
The Wordsworth Singers lived up to their reputation for imaginative programming in last Saturday's concert which explored the cultural exchange of ideas across the North Sea in the 19th and early 20th centuries.
Most pieces were by German composers, and the four works by Englishmen bore all the hallmarks of Teutonic influence. A direct line of descent can be traced from Jacob Handl, represented by an eight part Pater Noster, to EW Naylor, whose Vox Dicentis uses the earlier master's technique of contrasting upper and lower voice groups.
This dramatic motet received a full-blooded performance from the 26-strong choir, including accomplished solos from Georgina Harland and Ian Wright.
In between we explored the complex vocal writing of J S Bach, whose eight part Singet dem Herrn was performed with a stylistic awareness that more than made up for any lack of clarity in some of the women's lines.
The German early-romantic pieces elicited some of the finest singing of the evening. Under Hugh Davies's economical direction the choir produced a polished sound in Bruch's richly textured Music's Sweet Voice and a lovely warmth of tone in the sparser writing of Brahms's Geistliches Lied. Rheinberger's Abendlied was particularly expressive. Of the two Stanford works Coelis ascendit came off particularly well, with a strong sense of rhythm and much attention to detail, whereas Wood's Hail, Gladdening Light seemed disappointingly sluggish. The concluding item, Strauss's Der Abend was a veritable tour de force. The advanced harmonic language and complex 16-part texture of this remarkable work makes it the ultimate challenge for a choir, yet this performance succeeded admirably in conveying the imagery behind the text. Three varied organ solos beautifully played by John Morris gave the choir some respite and the audience additional pleasure.