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England, Shakespeare and St George040423stgeorge

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
23 April 2004

For his last concert as conductor of the Wordsworth Singers, Michael Hancock devised a programme to celebrate all things English.

George Dyson's resolute setting of Three Songs of Courage set the tone of appreciative pilgrimage.

The pianist, David Jones, gave a plangent rendition of Salut d'amour by Elgar, which was forcefully juxtaposed against a set of bawdy catches by Purcell.

Andrew Leggott, who read the poems throughout the evening, became Prospero as he set the scene for Vaughan Williams' magical setting of Shakespeare's Tempest, and then directed the mischievous Puck to go Over hill, over dale in search of a potion for love.

Northumbrian folksongs followed. The sprightly rhythms of Dance to thy Daddy and Bobby Shaftoe were delivered in good warm Geordie accents. Then there were mellow renditions of Scarborough Fair and the Irish song She Moved through the Fair.

The women sang Charles Wood's beautiful Music When Soft Voices Die and the evening was completed with Vaughan Williams' setting of lines from the Merchant of Venice in Serenade to Music. These words, “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank", marked the end of an evening and the end of an era for the Wordsworth Singers.

Tonight's concert was imaginative and inventive.

Let us hope the Wordsworth Singers continue to provide us with equal pleasure in the future.

STEVE MATTHEWS

No Small Wonder

St Cuthbert's Church, Carlisle
28 January 2004

A most imaginative programme of music for the Epiphany season was given in St Cuthbert's Church by the Wordsworth Singers, conducted by Jeremy Suter (Master of the Music at Carlisle Cathedral) and accompanied at the organ by Hugh Davies.

The standard of singing throughout was excellent, enhanced by solo contributions, sensitively sung by members of the choir. Clear, flowing polyphony in anthems by Palestrina, Marenzio and Bull contrasted very effectively with music by Crotch, Cornelius and Mendelssohn. In The Three Kings by Cornelius, James Johnson contributed a fine baritone solo part, with the a cappella chorale accompaniment superbly done by the singers. In the first of three organ solos, Hugh Davies played Les Mages from Messiaen's La Nativité, a most evocative musical portrayal of a journey, magical and mysterious. Continuing the Christmas theme, the singers performed music by Poulenc, Howells, Warlock and a colourful piece entitled Illuminare Jerusalem by the contemporary Scottish composer Judith Weir.

In a serious vein, the Innocents were commemorated in music by Richard Dering and William Walton, culminating in a lament by Kenneth Leighton, in which Georgina Harland sang the soprano solo part most beautifully. More familiar pieces by Berlioz and Tchaikovsky, together with strikingly original items by contemporary composers Richard Shepard, Paul Edwards and Adrian Self were heard. In the last of these, Fiona Weakley, singing from the gallery, contributed an excellent soprano solo. Hugh Davies played further brief organ pieces concluding with a lively chorale prelude by Telemann. The presentation of Christ in the temple was aptly portrayed by the singers' interpretation of William Byrd's counterpoint and that of lesser known contemporary Johann Eccard. As a finale the Wordsworth Singers' performance of Nunc Dimittis by Holst provided a true reflection of a magnificent concert, much appreciated by the audience.

Alan Wilcock

No Small Wonder

Penrith Methodist Church
24 January 2004

An enthusiastic audience was treated to an adventurous concert of choral and organ music given by the Wordsworth Singers, conducted by Jeremy Suter, with organist Hugh Davies at Penrith Methodist Church. The theme of the concert was Epiphany - the Wise Men, the water into wine, Christ's baptism, and the massacre of the Innocents: all themes traditionally associated with the period immediately after Christmas.

The concert included several old favourites, among them Three kings from Persian lands afarThe shepherds' farewellHere is the little door, and Bethlehem Down, all beautifully sung, but the outstanding feature of the programming was the inclusion of several pieces by living composers.

Audiences sometimes fight shy of supposedly difficult modern music, but these pieces were very approachable and enjoyable and presented with obvious enthusiasm by the singers. Judith Weir's setting of medieval Scots words, 'Jerusalem rejos for joy' was noticeable not only for the music but also for the clarity of the words and for the fact that the choir was in tune at each point when the organist joined them for the chorus. Two French pieces were probably new to most of the audience: Les Mages (The Wise Men), from La Nativite du Seigneur, by Olivier Messiaen, the French mystical organist, was performed by Hugh Davies, creating a wonderful picture of the Magi plodding across the desert on their camels; and Videntes stellam, a motet by Francis Poulenc, a well-known disaster area for choirs, was given a triumphant performance.

Also from the 20th century we heard music by Herbert Howells, William Walton and Kenneth Leighton, and there was very new music from Richard Shephard (Prayer for a new mother), Paul Edwards (No small wonder) and Adrian Self (A sword shall pierce thy heart). For this last piece, a soprano soloist was located high up in the gallery, providing a spatial as well as a musical separation from the choir. As with all of Adrian Self's music, the result was most effective.

The concert opened with a double choir motet by Palestrina and featured other music from the Italian Renaissance, as well as English music from the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, a varied mix which nonetheless kept to the theme of the evening.

This was a delightful concert, with good programming, good diction, good intonation and quite obviously a good lead from Jeremy Suter.

David Jones

Duparc Benedicat vobis Dominus
Martin Mass
Duruflé Requiem

Carlisle Cathedral
17 July 2003