Penrith Methodist Church
11 January 2003
The chill of winter outside Penrith Methodist Church was not reflected inside. Not only was the church warm, but the warmth of the performance by the Wordsworth Singers assured the audience that spring was just round the corner.
The Wordsworth Singers, formed in 1997, pride themselves on imaginative programme building, and this concert, called Midwinter Spring, was a perfect example of this. Their programme was a combination of French songs by Saint-Saens, Faure and Debussy, and Song Cycles by English composers Benjamin Britten and Nicholas Maw. The French aspect was reflected again in piano duets by Debussy and Ravel.
The opening two songs by Saint-Saens, Opus 68, were most atmospheric and the first one, Calme des Nuits, was particularly enchanting. The Singers certainly created a feeling of calm with fine legato singing.
As a complete contrast, One Foot in Eden, composed in 1994 by Nicholas Maw, used interesting harmonies not familiar to many listeners. A quartet of soloists from the Singers and the rest of the choir sang well the complexities of harmony and structure and created a feeling of unrest and tension in the middle section. During the singing of this work one could reflect on our Eden Valley before, during and after the foot and mouth crisis.
Britten wrote the Hymn to St Cecilia (the patron saint of music) in 1942. It consists of three contrasting sections, each ending with a chorus Blessed Cecilia. The third section included solo voices from the Singers. All sang with a pure tone and clear words, something that was excellent in all the choral items throughout the programme. The Singers' principal musical director Michael Hancock accompanied most sensitively the Faure Madrigal, a very pleasing piece of music.
Each half of the concert contained piano duets played beautifully by Michael Hancock and Charles Harrison. Petite Suite, by Debussy, and Ma Mere d'Oi, by Ravel, were complementary in style and were composed by the two foremost Impressionist composers. These duets not only showed the skill and musicianship of the performers, but also the range and colour of Penrith Music Club's Steinway piano.
The concert concluded with Trois Chansons de Charles d'Orleans, by Debussy. Again this included solo parts from the choir. As a bonus for the audience, the evening closed with a light-hearted encore Calico Pie (words by Edward Lear), by Richard Rodney Bennett.
With the small numbers in this excellent chamber choir, each singer is vitally important to the whole. The fact that many singers sang solo parts during this one concert shows the high quality of all members. They were a credit to Michael Hancock, while Charles Harrison, who conducted the performance, showed that his skill in conducting equals that of his organ playing.
All who made the effort to attend this excellent concert on a cold winter's evening were rewarded with a delightful programme of singing and playing of the highest quality.