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This Worldës Joie

St John's Church, Keswick
31 January 1999

Relative newcomers to the Cumbrian musical scene, the Wordsworth Singers operate a professional-type schedule, rehearsing as concerts demand. Co-directors of Music are Michael Hancock and Charles Harrison, much admired for their work with the Cockermouth Harmonic Society and at Carlisle Cathedral.

Keswick had a chance to hear this talented ensemble on Sunday January 31st at St. John's Church. If more could have taken this opportunity, there was no mistaking the enthusiasm of those present, or the quality of the music-making. Clearly the Wordsworth Singers is a name to look out for: the group has already achieved much, and promises more.

Entitled This Worldës Joie, the programme was subtitled A Sequence of Seasonal Music. Although Byrd's O magnum mysterium had to be replaced by Weelkes's Hosanna, this piece still bears on the post-Christmas scene as well as having its more obvious Palm Sunday context. A crisp, well-maintained tempo gave an incisive start, despite one or two tentative entries.

Poulenc's O magnum mysterium and Videntes stellam quickly make friends with audience and performers alike given accurate chording as on this occasion.

At the organ Charles Harrison then contributed a further seasonal offering in Les bergers from Messiaen's La Nativité du Seigneur, deploying the beautiful, but limited, resources of the organ to telling effect.

Formidable difficulties abound in the Arnold Bax motets I sing of a maiden and This Worldës Joie which followed. The slithering chromatics that pervade this composer's sumptuous symphonic scores are so much harder to realise with unaccompanied voices, especially when divided. Strength in depth is required, as the football managers say; and it is probably appropriate here to commiserate with those choir members who were not so much confined to the substitutes bench as debarred through illness from entering the fray.  An unwelcome seasonal touch this!

If the Bax pieces lacked the necessary security, there was much to enjoy in the two motets by Pierre Villette. The second is a real choral lollipop, if that is not a disrespectful term for a Hymne à la Vierge. Both singers and audience revelled in the Glenn Miller harmonies which still, 50 years on, have mileage in them, as the King's Singers and others have abundantly shown.

Post-Interval Monteverdi madrigals offered relaxation for the singers and delight for the audience. Two real finds in this enterprising programme were the Holst Op. 12 Partsongs - simple and warm as In the bleak midwinter - and two anthems by Edgar Bainton, despite the second's strangely fanciful Robert Graves text. All beautifully sung.

Those who know it from the Carlisle Cathedral CD were delighted, as was everyone, by Michael Hancock's expressive singing of the aria from Bach's Ich habe genug, while Anthony Peacock's artistry in Brigg Fair (well-backed by the choir) was sheer delight.

Moving from Lincolnshire to more flat terrain in Yarmouth Fair the Singers showed only modified rapture at the thought of the East Anglian resort as a holiday venue, despite the twin attractions of the Fair and the maid with golden hair: not to mention Peter Warlock's ravishing setting of the folk-song. Perhaps by now the Choir were a tad anthem-bound. More likely copy-bound: the show-bizzy demands of light concert-hall material differ from those of the Cathedral choir, and words and music need to be virtually memorised if the performance is to come alive.

But all in all what a splendid concert with its exciting programme blend of the known and unknown. This was a memorable evening of music. Make a note of the 15th of May at Caldbeck Parish Church for the next concert.   You won't regret it, I promise you!