Penrith Methodist Church, Penrith
5 February 2000
The well-planned and meticulously presented concert given by the Wordsworth Singers under their conductor Hugh Davies on Saturday will have done much to enhance the choir's growing reputation.
The first half of the programme was built around Christopher Tye's Euge Bone Mass, four movements of which were separated by anthems and organ music of the period creating a liturgical ambience. The 22 members sang with obvious commitment and fine sense of style, clearly enjoying the richness of the six-part texture with its frequent false relations and making the most of Tye's dramatic juxtaposition of homophonic and polyphonic techniques. A certain lack of clarity amongst the divided tenors and basses was largely attributable to a performing pitch which favoured the upper parts.
Eccard's motet When to the temple Mary went was given a thoughtful and relaxed performance, while Parson's serene Ave Maria completed the choral items in the first half. This was sung with great control, although I did wonder whether the lower contrapuntal lines might have acquired greater intensity.
The second half of the concert was devoted to music of the 19th and 20th centuries. Grieg's Ave maris stella was highly expressive, after which came two of Bruckner's more popular motets, Ave Maria and Os Justi.
For me however, the highlight of the evening was Tippett's five spirituals from A Child of Our Time. Each was sung with consummate assurance, precision and attention to detail. The choir produced a wonderfully resonant tone and explored a wide dynamic range. Ensemble was tight; diction was clear and the soloists were excellent.
For the last, the solo quartet moved to the gallery above the main chorus, adding a further dimension to an already rich sonority. Such was the intensity of the atmosphere thus created that the audience found it hard to begin the applause.
In addition to his clear and concise direction of the singers, Hugh Davies also contributed four delightfully varied pieces on the organ.