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Twilight and Evening Star021102perth

St John's Episcopal Church, Perth
2 November 2002

St John's Episcopal Church was the venue on Saturday evening for a performance by The Wordsworth Singers, a choir from the north of England, who returned to Perth for a charity concert in aid of St John's Association. Conducted by Michael Hancock and accompanied, on the organ, by Charles Harrison, this very talented ensemble gave an evening of music entitled 'Twilight and Evening Star'.

The Wordsworth Singers have gained an enviable reputation for their imaginative programme planning and the high quality of their performances and a good size audience were privileged to hear this excellent concert which ranged from Monteverdi to contemporary composers.

The concert opened in perfect style with one of Monteverdi's Vespers, the setting of Psalm 112, Beatus Vir. This lively setting was a perfect curtain-raiser and immediately showed the professional style of performance from the 15 singers. This was followed by an organ solo by Charles Harrison of Cesar Franck's Andantino in G minor. A pleasant piece that was a short interlude before the choir sang the first of their contemporary pieces, a work by the Manchester composer Thomas Pitfield. His choral Suite - Night Music consists of five unaccompanied settings of poems by the composer and showed the versatility of the ensemble to very good effect in this difficult part-writing.

To complete the first half of the concert the singers performed Henri Duparc's Benedicat vobis Dominus, a beautiful setting that was given all the care and attention one had come to expect from this superb ensemble with a well balanced and clear toned performance throughout.

The second half of the concert began with a new piece by a Canadian composer, Harold East. His Songs of the Night consisted of four songs by different poets, Robert Louis Stevenson, Edward Thomas, W B Yeats and John Ford. The connection of night or sleep gave the composer ample scope to trace the effects of the dark hues that were conjured and the perfect diction of the singers made sure every word was heard.

The finale and major piece of the evening was Gabriel Faure's Requiem. This popular, beautiful setting was the highlight of the concert and was performed with finesse, discipline and a full sound by the singers and sensitively accompanied by Charles Harrison on organ. The soprano soloist, Naomi Dodd, sang the Pie Jesu exquisitely and James Johnson performed the baritone solos with command. Both are members of the choir.

The Wordsworth Singers are indeed an elegant group which performs with dedication, style and professionalism. Their conductor, Michael Hancock, had a flowing style which complemented the singers yet ensured nothing was missed in diction or in ensemble. It was a super evening and deserved a larger audience. Perhaps their next visit will not coincide with so many other events so a wider public can share this talented choir's recitals.

PJR

Twilight and Evening Star

St Michael's Church, Stanwix
19 October 2002

On Saturday, St Michael's Church in Stanwix was host to a world premiere. The Wordsworth Singers directed by Michael Hancock presented the first performance of Songs of the Night by Harold East.

The work is a darkly coloured setting of four poems that move from the haunted nights of childhood to the mysterious love of darkness and dreams and then emerges into the light of dawn as the shadows fly away. The moody darkness and the strong contrasts that the Singers conveyed must have pleased the composer, who was present.

There was an equally sensitive presentation of Thomas Pitfield's Night Music. The night begins with the eerie, noiseless trample of the horse's hooves beneath the glimm'ring moon, and ends in the easeful velvet walks of sleep. The performance drew out all the work's delicate impressionism.

The final work of the evening was Fauré's Requiem. The mood of darkness and fear and comfort had already been established by the preceding music, but, as the choir petitioned for eternal rest, we were made to feel the darkness of the abyss.

Georgina Harland sang the Pie Jesu with heartfelt tenderness and James Johnson made a profound appeal for salvation on the day of judgement. The choir concluded with the glorious light of the In Paradisum.

This was a concert that moved from darkness to light. Michael Hancock, with Charles Harrison on the organ, led the choir with a simplicity, sincerity and courage that made for a profound musical and spiritual experience.

Steve Matthews

Lunchtime Live

Carlisle Cathedral, Carlisle
24 September 2002

THE bass singers David Gibbs, Richard Hicks and Jim Johnson were the meat in a splendid lunchtime sandwich at the cathedral.

They sang three negro spirituals arranged by Dan-Olof Stenlund. Set either side of these was a selection of mostly English songs which are gradually becoming a hallmark of the
Wordsworth Singers. They began with April Is In My Mistress' Face by Thomas Morley, followed by Ah! Look Upon These Eyes by Palestrina and then two songs by Thomas Morley: Though Philomela Lost Her Love and My Bonny Lass She Smileth. Their conductor Michael Hancock told us that the often used refrain 'Fa-la-la-la-la' was an Elizabethan form of censorship so that added a little je ne sais quoi to the enjoyment of them. Particularly beautiful was Sweet Day, So Cool by Walter Carroll and To A Skylark by Edgar Bainton.

They finished their concert with two songs arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams: The Dark-Eyed Sailor and with punch and panache Just As The Tide Was Flowing. The Wordsworth Singers have now become firmly established in the Cumbrian musical scene and I wish them much success with their Scottish tour.

JUDITH WEST

020414romanceRomance is in the Air

Theatre by the Lake, Keswick
14 April 2002

"ROMANCE is in the Air" claimed the programme of the Wordsworth Singers, and three Monteverdi madrigals had everyone in agreement from the start.

But there were other delights to follow as prize-winning young violinist Emma Hancock delivered a stunning performance: Ravel's G-Major Sonata, and co-directors Michael Hancock and Charles Harrison dueted at the piano in a couple of Dvorak‚Äôs Slavonic Dances, including the haunting E-Minor waltz.  They also combined to accompany the choir in Brahms's Love-song Waltzes.

Alistair Hogarth showed pianistic brilliance in partnering Emma in Ravel's Sonata, if not quite her instinct for jazz.  Ravel became hooked on Gershwin's music after seeing Funny Face in New York and, given the right performers, as here, it shows.  The young duo also excelled in Tzigane.

With Michael Hancock up front and Charles at the piano, the choir sang the Gypsy Songs in style.  Being in love with Vienna becomes more difficult as the sequence of love-songs unfolds.  The phrasing really needs to take wing - a matter of linguistic and musical fluency.  But singers have lives to live and other concerts to deliver and overall there was so much to admire.  The crystalline quality of the sopranos topping such a well-blended ensemble in the Monteverdi piece remains an abiding impression.

Quick! We Have But A Second ran the unromantic encore, and the audience took the words literally, bursting in with premature applause.  It brought the proceedings down to earth with a bang and good humour all round.

ANDREW SEIVEWRIGHT