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Pearls of the Italian Baroque

St Thomas's Church, Kendal
13 June 2015

This was an evening of truly sumptuous baroque choral music, interspersed with two impressive cello solos by Bach and Vivaldi played beautifully by Cecily Smith.

The Choir, under the expert direction of Mark Hindley, filled the listener with enjoyment and confidence. The luscious music flowed, always with impressive attention to detail, intonation, and dynamics appropriate for a sensitive delivery of the texts.

For some of us, the music was mostly unfamiliar and this provided an extra interest. There were pieces by Lotti, Gesualdo, D. Scarlatti, A. Scarlatti and Carissimi. The choir was happy both with and without instrumental continuo accompaniment. The continuo, which consisted of a double bass, cello and chamber organ added excitement and colour to the choruses and was always played with great precision and sensitivity.

The singers were arranged in various positions depending on the number of voice parts in the pieces, and were obviously experienced enough to be happy with this.

It is impossible to select a favourite item as all were so good, but perhaps Gesualdo’s interesting harmonic progressions in O vos omnes were really well executed, and the expert solo singing in Domenico Scarlatti’s Stabat Mater was impressive. Carissimi’s Missa L’homme armé was a magnificent ending to a wonderful concert which was very enthusiastically appreciated by the audience.

It was a privilege to listen to such a dedicated ensemble who produced a very professional result.

MARGARET PATTINSON

 

 

 

 

 

Spanish Gold

Holy Trinity Church, Millom
22 February 2015

I attended a concert given by the Wordsworth Singers on Sunday the 22nd February in Holy Trinity church in Millom with little expectation that I would be surprised or moved.

I was - both!

You see, I am used to attending, on sufferance, concerts given by the general run-of-the-mill Anglican-sound-inspired British amateur choir, and leaving unconvinced by the performance, yet convinced that more could be done if folk were only encouraged to really use their voices. Here, at last, was the proof - a choir of amateur voices prepared to take the (Spanish) bull by the horns and give us some good, tonic Iberian tones. The sound was full, the pitching sound, the phrasing exemplary, the pronunciation quite acceptable, and the vocal texture generally full, vibrant, and well-balanced. When a 'solo' effect was demanded from a section a solo is what we got, and when Hispanic special effects - vocal guitar strumming and so forth - were called for, these likewise were served up with panache. We even had true, gutsy chest singing from the women, especially so from the altos, something I had quite given up on from British choirs. Both the choir and its very talented young director, Mark Hindley, are to be roundly congratulated. ¡ Muchas gracias! ¡ Muy bravo!

The repertoire, in three languages, Spanish, Latin and Basque, and drawn from the last two centuries, was extraordinarily varied, ranging from the Renaissance and Baroque flavours of Pablo Casals' (Yes, it is he!) 'O Vos Omnes' through the wonderful folk-inspired 'Sagastipean' of Javier Busto, to the extraordinary cycles of Manuel Oltra and Antonio José, respectively 'Tres Canciones de Amor' and 'Cinco Coros Castellanos'.

I couldn't pick a favourite - or, more correctly, I suppose, there were so many! If pushed to nit-pick, I would venture an opinion that the men's singing, though very fine in strong passages, might perhaps have been a little less assured than the women's in the softer passages, needing more tone and support, and that the soprano sound, though flexible and valiant throughout, might have profited by leaning towards that of the 'gutsier' alto chest voices in this repertoire. Again, the Latin pronunciation might have drawn more upon the articulations of the Spanish language, and the singing in this language, though well-managed, might have profited from tenser 'e's and 'o's, and stronger tonic accents in places.

But these are quibbles: the concert, the programme, and the singing were all wonderful. The choir was complemented by fine and sensitive performances from a very good young guitarist, Manus Noble, who was at ease and informative in the presentation of his pieces, as was Mr Hindley. I especially enjoyed Mr Noble's performances of Len Brouwer's 'Un Dia de Noviembre', a piece of great lyrical beauty, in which delicate melodic lines were to the fore, with beautiful tone drawn from the instrument, and Albeniz's 'Mallorca', in which Mr Noble showed us his perfect mastery of difficult voicings. ¡ Bravo!

All in all, a wonderful evening, and not the last, I hope!

IAN HONEYMAN

Spanish Gold

St Michael's Church, Dalston

21 February 2015

Mark Hindley, conductor of the Wordsworth Singers, demonstrated courage and conviction when he chose a lengthy programme of unaccompanied Spanish secular and religious works of the Romantic and modern period, sung in Latin, Spanish and Basque. I suspect no member of the large audience at Dalston’s St. Michael’s Church had previously come across even one of the works, making a demanding experience for the listener accustomed to recognising at least some ‘old friends’ in a programme. Nevertheless the result was compelling, because this choir performs with impeccable attention to tempo, dynamics, rhythm, intonation and balance. The overall effect resembled observing some large, exotic and elaborate edifice being carefully constructed, ultimately achieving something of great power and beauty.

To pick out a few components of this experience, The Nightingale by Basque composer Jesús Guridi opened dramatically in unison and subsequently the sustained bass notes suggested the drone of Basque pipes. Fernando Sor’s O Crux Ave was sung with appropriately passionate pleading. Manuel Oltra’s Three Love Songs brought the first recognisably Spanish intervals and rhythms with repeated staccato passages and Spanish decorations. To finish, Antonio José’s Five Castilian Songs were full of life and humour, making huge demands on the choir to produce percussive and guitar-like effects.

A real guitar, beautifully played by Manus Noble, provided perfect, quiet contrast. Leo Brouwer’s A November Day was delicate and hauntingly languid. Tarrega’s familiar Memories of the Alhambra with its evocative tremolo sustaining the melody completed the sense of Spanish Gold.

Manus can be heard in solo concert at St. Cuthbert’s Church, Carlisle on 19th March.

JULIET ROWCROFT

Fire and Light

St Martin's Church, Brampton
29 November 2014

Angels literally descended upon St Martin's Church in Brampton on Saturday evening as we were treated to the latest tour de force by Cumbria's premier choir, the Wordsworth Singers. Entitled Fire and Light the incredibly diverse programme took on the subject of angels and how they are represented in music spanning some 500 years.

We perhaps think of angels today as benevolent spirits looking after our best interests, but tonight we were reminded that different ages and diverse cultures saw them as powerful, fiery, intimidating and often mischievous beings too and we were both soothed and stirred up in equal measure by the sheer breadth of repertoire, all skilfully woven together by the choir's musical director, Mark Hindley. Under his authoritative guidance precision and control were paramount from beginning to end. The effect was spellbinding from a choir clearly at the top of their game, able to exploit the many and varied contrasts throughout the concert, whether it be the sustained rich harmonic language of Rachmaninov or the sense of drama with Stainer, the clashy anguished chords of Howells or the lush harmonies from William Harris' Faire is the heaven. Breath control and dynamic subtlety came to the fore with such luminescence during Whitacre's Lux aurumque that not even the less than harmonic exhaust noises from Brampton's boy racers outside could prevent the long-sustained and pianissimo notes from holding sway and hushing those warring angels without. The composer himself wrote in the score "...If the tight harmonies are carefully tuned and balanced they will shimmer and glow" and this was achieved skilfully and seemingly effortlessly by the choir.

From the organ stool, Hugh Davies once again added an assured and sensitively balanced support to the choir, never overpowering but richly diverse in tonal colour to add an extra sparkle to the programme.

The rousing conclusion to the evening came from Parry's well known Blest Pair of Sirens, a swashbuckling choral and organ feast that drew out the genuine enjoyment and exuberance from each and every singer, safe in the knowledge that they had delivered this imaginative programme with sensitivity and musical aplomb.

JERRY KING