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020112dulcijubiloIn Dulci Jubilo

St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle
13 January 2002

In dulci jubilo was the Wordsworth Singers' joyful reminder of Christmas choral music.
The rich tonal qualities of the choir and well balanced harmonious sound were well maintained throughout.

The programme started with Riu, riu, chiu which introduced a number of solo voices and lively chorus to set the tone. A delight was Palestrina's Dies sanctificatus where the choir excelled in performing the polyphonic harmonies of the composition. This quality was continued in Bach's harmonies of O Jesulein süss and Praetorius's In dulci jubilo.

The audience was then treated to the wonderful talents of Helen Thomson performing Respighi's Siciliana and Godefroid's Etude de Consert Op 193 on the harp. The choice of music complemented the Singers' programme and showed the versatility of the harp and high competency of the harpist.

A confident start to the second half was a performance of Harold East's version of There Is No Rose. The strong start set the mood for the second half of the concert producing a fuller sound strengthening the dynamic range of the choir.

An interesting programme and good quality performance from soloists and choir proved an enjoyable concert with the added serenity of the harp.


Finzi Centenary Concert

Sands Centre, Carlisle
7 July 2001

It would be hard to think of a more apt choice for a Cumbrian celebration of Finzi than his inspired setting of Intimations of Immortality.

The composer would surely have been delighted with last Saturday's performance at the Sands Centre. Conductor Michael Hancock had a firm grasp of the work's structure which he communicated effectively to his musicians, who responded superbly to the many changes of tempo, dynamic and mood through which Finzi sought to interpret Wordsworth's poetry.

The well-drilled choir of 130 appropriately included the Wordsworth Singers, as well as the Cockermouth Harmonic Society and the Sale Choral Society.

Words were articulated clearly and meaningfully; if the choral sound was rich and thrilling at times, it was also gentle and transparent when it needed to be.

The Northern Chamber Orchestra were on top form too, with some particularly distinguished woodwind solos. Ian Thompson, the tenor soloist, sang with enormous inspiration, communicating the work's profundity despite occasional moments of imbalance with the accompaniment.

Emma Hancock returned (this time with her violin) to give a stunning performance of The Lark Ascending.

Once again visionary programme planning and inspired direction produced a real winner.


New Horizons

St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle
18 November 2000

Darwin has a lot to answer for. In a musical context the process of natural selection is hugely wasteful, consigning a great deal of fine music to the rubbish tip. Under the expert direction of their conductor Michael Hancock the Wordsworth Singers did something to redress the balance by devoting the greater part of their autumn concert to the performance of some unjustly neglected items from the repertory of unaccompanied choral music. Several of these pieces are included in the choir's latest CD New Horizons.

Two highly expressive part songs by Edgar Bainton were first in a succession of delightful surprises (why is this fine composer only remembered for his anthem And I saw a new heaven!) after which Josquin's El Grillo was neatly rendered by the sopranos and altos of the choir. Palestrina's Ah! Look upon these eyes was sung with great feeling, whilst Passerau's Il est bel et bon was rhythmically taut and full of fun.

Guest soloist Scott Bradley showed how versatile and dynamic the classical guitar can be in the hands of virtuoso. A Sonata by Torroba explored many different timbres, and alongside passages of manual dexterity there were moments of magical beauty in Duarte's Variations on a Catalan Folk Song.

The first half concluded with two sacred pieces from the 19th century. I wondered whether Verdi's Pater noster needed a larger choir, notwithstanding the accuracy of the performance and the singers' attention to detail. On the other hand Mendelssohn's richly scored Ave Maria seemed tailor made for this group, an impressive climax in the central fugal section contrasting nicely with transparent part singing elsewhere, capped by a fine tenor solo from Ian Wright.

The music performed after the interval was more demanding both of the singers and the listeners. Wolf’s highly chromatic Resignation posed no intonation problems and the mood of this song was captured superbly. Familiarity with other settings of God's Grandeur did nothing to prepare me for Samuel Barber's highly original treatment of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem. The scoring was more orchestral than choral, with vocal glissandi and sudden batteries of fast repeated notes.

Three part songs by the same composer were given committed and energetic performances. Excellent choral precision enabled the text of Mary Hynes to be clearly heard, and The Coolin was packed with emotion. Scott Bradley's second appearance ended with display of breathtaking virtuosity in Mertz's Hungarian Fantasie. Two negro spirituals were sung with great rhythmic drive by the tenors and basses of the choir, after which the entire ensemble brought the evening to a close with some exquisitely beautiful singing in three folk song arrangements by Holst and Moeran.

The Wordsworth Singers deserve great credit both for their imaginative programme planning and also for the highly professional standard of their singing. Carlisle eagerly awaits their next concert!



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.