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Press Comment

 Monday Rehearsal
Monday evening rehearsal - John and sopranos.

" This must count as one of the most rewarding occasions staged in Leeds Town Hall for some time, with a gratifyingly large audience to share it. "

Yorkshire Post
(about a joint concert with Ashville College)

16 March 2013
Handel’s ‘Saul’ Impresses Wetherby Audience.
Wetherby Choral Society – Wetherby Pro Musica

The Oratorio, Saul, composed by George Frederic Handel was first performed in 1739 and tells the story of the relationship between Saul, the first King of Israel, Jonathan, his son and David, who, by killing Goliath, had become the saviour of the nation. It also tells how envy, jealousy and hate on the part of Saul, slowly destroys the relationship until Saul eventually dies by his own hand and Jonathan is killed in battle.

The performance at St James’ Parish church last Saturday evening was given by Wetherby Choral Society and the Wetherby Pro Musica, led by Christine Brown under the baton of John Dunford attracting a large and appreciative audience.

Saul is, without doubt, one of Handel’s finest scores with marvellous use of orchestral colour including a carillon of bells. On this occasion the Overture was performed in its entirety, and, after a slightly tentative start, it included a sparkling performance of the often omitted organ concerto movement on the continuo organ.

The Choir had obviously enjoyed their through preparation of this score under John Dunford and their delight in singing it clearly showed through. From the very outset, they were on very good form, with firm, confident tone and excellent enunciation.

The soloists for the evening were a particularly good choice. Rebecca Lea, soprano enticed us in the dual roles of Merab and Michal, her beautiful voice filling the church with honey-warm tone and stylish singing. Tim Kennedy, tenor, took the role of Jonathan. His voice, full of character, was an excellent choice for this rather under-played and yet absolutely essential character within the story. Jonathan is David’s closest friend and above all, it is Jonathan’s death in battle that wounds David most of all. Tim sang with feeling and with great sincerity carrying the part very well.

Thom Meredith, bass, was a superb choice for the lyrical part of Saul. Beginning with the fairly mild-mannered and noble king, Thom showed, in his performance, how Saul, eaten up with envy, jealousy and hate, became a quite murderous character, seeking to use the dark arts to solve the problem of his relationship with David. This was indeed a very fine performance by any standard.

The role of David was sung admirably by Jorg Delfos whose relatively young voice suited the part superbly well. His clear diction and sense of expression ranging from a very gentle calm to anger and exasperation were really quite exemplary. His rendering of the lament for Jonathan ‘Brave Jonathan, his sword ne’er drew’ was a thing of sheer beauty. Heather Marsh sang a very good Witch and John Dunford made the part of Samuel’s ghost very effective.

The orchestra, with splendid leadership from Christine Brown played with great depth of colour, reflecting the changing moods within the story – always confidently, always supporting both soloists and chorus with the sensitivity we have come to expect from Wetherby Pro Musica. Altogether this was a very fine evening of music.

HJ – Wetherby News

NOTE: This is our most recent review. Below this, the reviews are set out in chronological order, starting with the most recent and the oldest at the bottom of the page.

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The Splendour of Elgar at Ripon Cathedral
‘The Dream of Gerontius’ - Wetherby Choral Society and North Yorkshire Chorus.
Conductor – John Dunford
Saturday 17th November

Elgar’s composition ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ stands as one of the greatest choral works ever written by a British composer. This monumental ‘oratorio’ (Although the composer disapproved of the term) is based on a poem by Cardinal Newman, a pioneer of the Oxford Movement in the mid-19th Century It traces the journey of the central character, Gerontius from his death to his eventual meeting with God and then to his rest in what some describe as purgatory. The performance was given by Wetherby Choral Society together with the North Yorkshire Chorus (Chorus Master, Greg Smith) the choral forces being accompanied by the Mowbray Orchestra under the most capable baton of John Dunford who is also the Conductor of Wetherby Choral Society. The soloists for this performance were Margaret McDonald, mezzo-soprano (The Angel), Philip Sheffield, tenor, (Gerontius) and John Cunningham, bass (Priest and the Angel of The Agony). John Dunford began his journey by conducting an excellent prelude from the Mowbray Orchestra, exacting every detail from Elgar’s score as the various themes used throughout the work were introduced. It was clear from the start that this was going to be a very special and unique performance as Philip Sheffield rose to sing. Gone was the smoothly rounded Gerontius heard sometimes. This interpretation was the worried and scared Gerontius, finding himself in a strange and unfamiliar place, in a state of limbo in its truest sense and struggling to retain his earthly identity. His rendering of ‘Sanctus Fortis’ was passionate, keeping true to the extremes of range demanded by Elgar rather than taking the easier options. The tone of the joint choirs forming the chorus was simply superb; supportive and encouraging as they sang and chanted the funeral rites on earth, led by John Cunningham as the Priest, his warm and resonant voice leading the funeral procession as it gently marched to the burial. One felt lifted and carried along with them as the Choir sang ‘Go forth’ with splendid tone and feeling, accompanied by magnificent playing from the Orchestra and Organ. Gerontius had been laid to his earthly grave .

The opening of the second part has been criticised over the years as being too long and sparse. In this performance, John Dunford had the measure of tempo and phrasing perfectly judged and so we were presented, through Philip Sheffield, with a much calmer Gerontius. Gone were the earthly trappings – he was floating and waiting and we were with him. The Angel, sung by Margaret McDonald greeted him. This passage in the score, beautifully sung by both soloists is quite extraordinary as the Angel helps Gerontius understand what is and what is to be. Margaret McDonald’s role as the Angel was consummately performed, her voice stunningly beautiful. She sang not only to Gerontius but to each and every one of us in the audience involving us within the narrative as Gerontius asked the questions and waited patiently for the answers.

Elgar achieves an amazing sense of perspective within his score both vertically between ‘heaven’ and earth and also horizontally as we travel along with the Angel and Gerontius. No more so than when we approach and pass the Devils who sing with vehemence and hate. Here the evidence of excellent choral training by Greg Smith with the North Yorkshire Chorus and John Dunford himself with Wetherby Choral Society became very apparent. Elgar’s writing here is brilliant but complex; he writes a choral fugue for the singers and a separate orchestral fugue for the instrumentalists and yet this performance produced complete clarity throughout – no mean feat. Leaving devils behind we were met by the semi-chorus and chorus of Angelicals who, singing with perfect tuning and excellent enunciation led us to the great chorus ‘Praise to the Holiest’ which left the Cathedral resounding with sumptuous choral and orchestral tone. Gerontius is left by the Angel to move forward towards his meeting with The Lord as the Angel of the Agony, sung with great passion and understanding by John Cunningham pleads for his soul. The Orchestra, guided towards the great climactic moment of union under the expert baton of John Dunford and for one brief moment played ‘with all their might’. Then, the most magical moment of the evening as Margaret McDonald sang the Angel’s Farewell. This was breathtakingly beautiful as she comforted Gerontius on his return – I strongly suspect there was more than one tear in evidence as this almost perfect performance of this incredible work reached its conclusion. Many thanks to the Soloists, the Choir, the Orchestra, to Greg Smith but especially to John Dunford whose musical expertise and intimate knowledge of Elgar’s Dream made this remarkable performance possible.

Adrian Selway

For a review in the North Yorkshire Chorus's web site by Andrew Bennett, an edited version of which appeared in the Darlington and Stockton Times on 30 November 2012, CLICK HERE

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Spectacular summer concert - 23 June 2012

As the final concert of an immensely busy season Wetherby Choral Society gave two outstanding and contrasting works; Purcell’s opera ‘Dido and Aeneas and Handel’s flamboyant psalm setting Dixit Dominus.

The tragic setting of Dido and Aeneas is widely acknowledged as the first true English opera but works exceedingly well in concert performance. It is a work that demands much of all its performers; the moods created by subtleness in recitative, reflection and comment from the chorus and cleverly written mini-arias for the soloists.

The performance required a total of seven soloists and what a well matched group they were. Strong voices yet characterful and engaging throughout.

Jessica Broad sang with power and emotion with the famous lament, ‘When I am laid in earth’, most beautifully expressive.

Jon Stainsby gave a wonderful rendition as Aeneas. His warm, yet strong and lyrical baritone sound was ideal for the role yet only performing recitative presents its difficulties. Not so for Jon. His ability to shape phrases and colour words was excellent.

Sarah Ogden as Belinda was a superb match to Jessica. Her well rounded, bright vocal tone and her engaging stage presence enabled her dialogues with Dido to involve everyone in the performance.

Sarah Richmond as both the Second Woman and more significantly the Sorceress and clearly defined each part. Where one might picture a wizened hag as a sorceress we were presented with a young and attractive singer. Her skill as the Sorceress was in conveying the plotting to drive Dido and Aeneas apart and this was wickedness and wicked at one and the same time.

Tim Kennedy was a suitably drunken sailor, his very English tenor voice clear and diction superb, while from the choir Alex Cranfield and Heather Marsh sang the parts of the two witches in cahoots with the plotting Sorceress and with Alex as the Spirit with well blended voices and colourful performance.

The Choir meanwhile had to reflect the moods of all the scenes which they did with great skill. From supporting Belinda to joining the cackling of the witches or from being drunken sailors to the beautiful final chorus ‘With drooping wings’ they rose to the task. The choir is sounding well balanced with each vocal part well defined and mostly with good diction. These bite sized chunks of chorus which last only a minute or so each are much more demanding than might appear at a superficial glance but they were assured throughout.

Dixit Dominus was written by Handel while a young man in Italy. This piece is his way of showing that he could do write in the Italian style better than the Italians themselves. It has to be the most difficult chorus piece he ever wrote and makes extraordinary demands on all the singers.

The soloists now reverting to minor roles as concert singers showed just what a happy combination of singers they were. The Orchestra, lead so well by Christine Brown gave great support to the choir. The continuo section of Margaret Bryan, Adrian Selway and John Dunford worked superbly well as a team to support the performance.

The whole of the evening’s performance would not have been possible without the superb musical direction of the Conductor, John Dunford who guided both singers and instrumentalists through the exciting and challenging programme.

But perhaps the honours belong to the choir who gave a spectacular, energetic and memorable performance. The exuberance and satisfaction they displayed in this breathtaking piece and at a pace demanding all their energy and concentration was palpable and from the comments and appreciation of the capacity audience it was clear that they should be justly proud of their achievements.

The town of Wetherby is so fortunate to have such a skilled group performing to such a high standard throughout the year. You would have to travel a great distance to hear better!

HJ - WETHERBY NEWS

 

Musical triumph for Ashville College and Wetherby Choral Society
Verdi Requiem in Leeds Town Hall: March 11th 2012.

The choral forces of Ashville College students and Wetherby Choral Society combined last Sunday evening to raise the roof with one of the truly inspiring pieces of choral music. Three hundred singers aged between 11 and 85 were joined by an orchestra of sixty and four top quality soloists to produce a concert that was at times inspired, breathtaking, and exhilarating.

From the opening breathy tones and hushed sounds of the ‘Requiem’ at the beginning of the work to the dramatic ‘Dies Irae’ the choirs produced intensity, quality and energy.

The combination of the young sounds of the Ashville College school pupils to the experienced voices of the Wetherby Choral Society produced a superbly balanced choir who effortlessly soared to the highest notes and whose tuning was impeccable in all the unaccompanied passages.

The Orchestra of local professional musicians produced an excellent accompaniment; tremendous power from the brass and percussion in the ‘Tuba mirum’ section, some fine woodwind solos throughout and at the core a rich string sound. The attention to detail was impressive, the choir, soloists and orchestra expressing a wide range of dynamic contrast and colour of sound.

The quartet of soloists was a happy choice producing a well matched team. The young bass-baritone Matthew Kellett was authoritative, tenor Campbell Russell was totally at ease and his range of expression, power and colour was impressive. Mezzo-soprano, Karina Lucas, has a significant role and was dramatic in her rendition.

Samantha Hay, soprano, was perhaps, the pick of this excellent quartet. Hers was a commanding performance that demanded attention from those listening. Top C’s rang over the entire forces of the orchestra and choir. You will not hear greater control of the most difficult of octave leaps to the pianissimo B flat near the end of this demanding work, and the ease with which she sang made her performance seem effortless.

There will be few schools in the country that would tackle such a programme, but for the pupils at Ashville College this was a performance which they will not forget and one of which they should be justly proud. For the Wetherby Choral Society sharing their experience with a younger generation should give them the greatest joy.

The evening owes much to the energetic and inspirational direction of the conductor, John Dunford, who brought all these forces together. His musicianship, clarity of direction and detailed preparation brought the best of performances to a highly appreciative audience.

HJ

WETHERBY NEWS  

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A Splendid Evening of Music
Wetherby Choral Society and Wetherby Pro Musica
StJames’ Parish Church

Saturday 19 November 2011

It was on an unusually still and calm autumn evening that Wetherby Choral Society, under its Conductor John Dunford and accompanied by Wetherby Pro Musica met to perform music for what may be called The Season of Remembrance. The programme comprised two works, both of which were composed in the 20th Century and both by English composers.

The first work of the evening, Dona Nobis Pacem, composed by Vaughan Williams, was first performed in 1936 shortly before the outbreak of the Second World War. The text is drawn from the poems of Walt Whitman and John Bright together with texts from the Old and New Testaments of the Bible. The serious nature of the texts brings the idea of war from the battle field into our homes and streets and to our neighbours and friends. The soloists on this occasion were Sally Johnson (soprano) and Benjamin Weaver (baritone). After the short introduction from the orchestra the soprano voice began with the words ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’. The vocal quality seeming just a little coarse with a little lack of fine tuning in the upper register and yet the character of Sally Johnson’s voice suited the rather terrifying atmosphere of Vaughan Williams composition. In the second section, ‘Beat! Beat! Drums’ the chorus of voices brought home the horrifying effect of warfare on homes and neighbourhood whilst in the contrasting ‘Reconciliation’ we were treated to the warm and generous tone of Benjamin Weaver as he reflected upon the quiet and uneasy silence, full of death yet beneath a still beautiful sky. The ‘Dirge for two Veterans’ followed next and, reminiscent of Brahms, the piano and lower strings marked the pace while the voices observed and commented on the procession with great dignity and respect. The Choral Society, beautifully honed by John Dunford showed a great maturity in their balance and vocal prowess, sliding the harmony with great precision in verse seven of this most moving movement. A glimpse of hope came with the words ‘O man, greatly beloved’ where the baritone voice of Benjamin Weaver together with the voices of the chorus gradually filled us with optimism and led us onwards to the last section in which the unaccompanied voices and soloists caressed us beautifully towards an almost tear-jerking sense of peace and comfort which followed the previous all-consuming sense of strife and destruction. This was a fine performance of this splendid but not so frequently heard work.

Following the interval, there followed a performance of the ‘Requiem’ by John Rutter. This was an excellent choice of work to follow ‘Dona Nobis Pacem; the colourful harmony of Rutter contrasting nicely with the rather modal quality of the previous work. The Requiem sits well amongst the many settings of these words by other composers and tonight’s performance was well handled by the Conductor and his assembled musical forces. The haunting opening led us into the first warm melody; Rutter always seems to make us feel secure and comfortable with his melodies and the well-supported singing made this particularly effective. Out of the Deep was well sung with its overtones of plainsong accompanied by a very fine solo on the cello and fine woodwind playing. We heard, once again from Sally Johnson in ‘Pie Jesu’. This time she sang with much more assured tone, finishing the movement with a well-controlled ascent, centering her voice well and supporting her top register with grace and ease. The Sanctus rather reminded us that Christmas is on its way, the Chorus dancing its way through the phrases. The ‘Sanctus’ with ‘Man that is born’ was notable for its amazingly sensitive orchestral playing from all especially flute, strings, harp and beautifully balanced faint timpani strokes. ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ followed with one of the most beautifully played oboe solos I think I have ever heard; the phrases deliciously caressed and the lines carried seamlessly through. This movement was indeed one of the highlights of the evening. The Requiem finished with ‘Lux Aeterna and the reprise of the opening movement bringing the music of the evening to a peaceful and most satisfactory conclusion. Congratulations must go to the instrumentalists in the orchestra, the two soloists, to the splendid singers in the Wetherby Choral Society and especially to John Dunford for providing the large audience with such a splendid evening of music.
Adrian Selway
Wetherby News

 

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Wetherby Choral Society and Wetherby Pro Musica Orchestra, St James’ Church, Saturday June 25

THE spacious interior of St James’ Church, Wetherby was bathed in the evening light of summer as Wetherby Choral Society and soloists together with the Wetherby Pro Musica Orchestra, with their Leader, Christine Brown, gathered for their June concert. Under the fine directorship of their Conductor, John Dunford, they performed a fascinating programme of Baroque and Classical music featuring works by J. S. Bach and Joseph Haydn.

The first of the three works performed was Bach’s Cantata 78, Jesu, der du meine seele. This is a Cantata of great contrasts; the general mood being dark, reflecting man’s awareness of his own sin and yet hoping for shelter within the grace of God. It opens with a large chorus, the main theme of which consists of a descending motiv. The Choral Society sang with great confidence and a strong degree of pathos as the brilliant writing took them through a myriad of keys. The tripping movement that followed (We hasten with weak but diligent steps) shows Bach in one of his most joyous moods. Rebecca Lea (Soprano) and Zara Hibble (Alto) were in fine voice in this duet accompanied by organ, cello and double bass; the audience audibly appreciating the humour Bach creates here.

The rather tortuous Recitative: (Ah! I am a child of sin) with its wandering chromatic harmony was ably sung by Timothy Kennedy (Tenor), his lyrical voice having sufficient gravity to capture the mood here and in the following Aria (My will aspires to naught but evil) where the flute, exquisitely played by Christine Alp added to the beauty. The following Bass Recitative and Aria sung by Alistair Ollerenshaw injected a note of hope, his full-bodied tone together with delightful playing by Jill Garside (Oboe) sensing the passion in offering our hearts to God and then signifying the His grace in accepting our hearts and caring for our souls.

The first half of the concert ended with a stirring performance of Bach’s Magnificat. Although, compared with the major choral works of the composer, the items in ‘Magnificat’ are almost cameos, each illustrating the text of the verses with great intensity with superb examples of word-painting. The second movement (Et exsultavit) was very well sung by Alex Saunders (Soprano II) as was the duet later (Suscepit Israel) where she was joined by Zara Hible to form a sublime tone which floated over the heads of the audience gently guided by a sympathetic oboe melody forming a beautiful trio. Zara Hible gave a lovely performance of ‘Esurientes’ and Timothy Kennedy gave a dramatic performance of ‘Deposuit’ with energetic string playing from the Orchestra all of whom performed with delight and great accuracy throughout the evening. Alistair Ollerenshaw sang ‘Quia fecit’ well and in a very stately manner. This work included some excellent singing from the Choral Society who, joined by brass and timpani, sang the ‘Gloria Patri’ with great gusto bringing this unique work to a fine conclusion.

The second half of the concert consisted of one work, Haydn’s Mass in Time of War; otherwise known as the ‘Paukenmesse’ because of the inclusion of timpani in the last movement (Agnus Dei). Haydn scores the Kyrie and Christe Eleison for Soprano and Alto voices respectively with Chorus and these are joined by Tenor and Bass soloists later. The ‘Gloria’ was sung with remarkable energy, the second section, ‘Qui Tollis’ being introduced with a delightful Cello solo from Margaret following which, Alistair Ollerenshaw gave a telling account of ‘Qui Tollis’, his resonant voice filling the church with warmth and sincerity. The fugal opening of the ‘Credo’ was well sung with clear diction and a clear polyphonic style. ‘Et incarnatus est’, sung by the solo voices, had a beautiful haunting quality; the young singers blending with great care. This and the quartet in the ‘Benedictus’ were some of the greatest highlights of the evening. It is quite rare to hear soloists, so relatively early in their careers, singing with such attention to blend to produce such a delicious ensemble.

The ‘Agnus Dei’ opened with a spine-tingling blend of choral voices disturbed only by the timpani (played with well-judged insistency by Cherry Bratkowski), following which, the Orchestra and singers gathered to end the movement, and the Mass in fine style.

Huge credit to John Dunford, not only for the way he directed and encouraged his soloists, the chorus and his orchestra to the delight of all, but also for the way he embraced the audience making them feel that they are very much part of the proceedings as well. This was a very fine evening of music.

HJ - WETHERBY NEWS

 

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Faure: Requiem and Karl Jenkins: The Armed Man
Saturday 26 March 2011

Wetherby Choral Society

We read in times gone by, how concerts were so very popular, especially where celebrity performers were involved, that concert venues were filled to capacity and members of the public had to be turned away. We associate such events with the past and yet such was the interest at St James’ Church Wetherby in the Concert given by Wetherby Choral Society and the Wetherby Pro Musica Orchestra under their Musical Director, John Dunford last Saturday, that extra seats had to be provided at the back of the church.

Even when the Church was filled to capacity, the members of the public continued to arrive and the kitchen area had to be opened up to accommodate the throng. Those fortunate enough to be present were witness to quite a superb evening of choral and orchestral mastery. The first work on the programme was the Requiem by Gabriel Fauré. This work, as a concert item is a firm favourite with audiences but the accomplished performance it received here was quite superb. John Dunford conducted with almost extreme attention to detail in every movement.

The players and singers equally performed with such ease and sensitivity that the atmosphere within St James became quite magical. The tuning of the Choir in O Domine, Jesu Christe was extremely good and required no adjustment whatsoever on the return of the orchestral sections. Terence Ayebare filled the church with his warm baritone voice in Hostias, the strings of the orchestra cradling his voice with their gentle undulating figures. The ‘Sanctus’ contained some lovely controlled upper string playing together with the addition of the harp. Alex Saunders (Soprano) gave an exquisite rendering of Pie Jesu supported by gentle organ and string accompaniment; her beautiful light voice giving a very special and intimate feeling to this central item around which the whole Requiem can be said to hang. The Agnus Dei received very sensitive treatment from both singers and players as Fauré carried everyone along on his journey of tonality from F major to D major to then introduce the darker element of D minor in Libera me. This was sung with great feeling by Terence Ayebare while the orchestra, with perfect co-ordination providing the beating of the human heart faced with the prospect of eternal death.

The brass shone in the centre section (Dies irae, dies illa) following which the Choir sang with seamless perfection over the weakening heartbeats in the orchestra until finally the earthly body falls away and the soul is carried to Heaven ( In Paradisum ). This final movement was sung to perfection with gentle string playing and a piquant registration from the organ to bring the work to a peaceful end to the obvious and appreciative delight of the audience.

The second half of the concert consisted of one work, The Armed Man by Karl Jenkins. This unique work draws its texts from a number of sources, some religious and some secular, from Western and Eastern traditions and from poetry old and more recent.

From its small beginnings the first movement L’Homme Arme, built into a tremendous marching climax with superb playing from the piccolo, and battery of percussion. The Call to prayers was sung in Arabic by John Dunford himself, following which Alex Saunders led the Kyrie Eleison.

This serious movement contains, as its centre section (Christe Eleison) a quote from Palestrina’s Mass ‘The Armed Man’ accompanied by brass and percussion before returning to the opening section. There followed the virtually unaccompanied section ‘Save me from bloody men’ the loud interjection by the percussion towards the end causing many members of the audience to be visibly surprised!

The haunting Sanctus followed sung with a dark foreboding quality in perfect time and co-ordination; the Hosannas ringing around g horses and the thundering drums led us to the total destruction depicted later in the movement. After a beautiful rendering of the Last Post, the description of the mushroom cloud at Hiroshima and the harrowing effects on life were sung with great effect, the fine Tenor voice of Stephen Newlove being added to the other soloists who, together continued the description of horror in ‘Torches’. The Choir then sang ‘Agnus Dei’ with great feeling and following ‘Now the guns have stopped’, sung by the delightful voice of Karina Lucas, and Benedictus featuring the haunting and demanding cello solo played movingly by Heather Moseley, the merriment returned in full hope that peace is better than war. So returned the piccolo, brilliantly played, with full orchestra, organ and Choir.

The final unaccompanied Chorus ‘God shall wipe away all tears’ was sung with breathtaking beauty; the long silence from the huge audience before the final long applause saying everything about this most remarkable of concerts given by the Wetherby Choral Society, Soloists and fine Orchestra under the baton of John Dunford . It is wonderful to know that the people of Wetherby and the surrounding area show such love and respect to their local Choral Society. Long may it continue.

HJ
WETHERBY NEWS, Fri 1 April 2011

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There was no review of our Christmas 2010 Messiah; a pity, as it was both unusual and particularly good!

 

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Parish Church Resounds to Choral Society’s Concert. Wetherby Choral Society and Orchestra, St James’ Parish Church - Saturday, 20 November 2010.

Anybody who has attended a concert given by our Choral Society under its Conductor, John Dunford knows what a quite extraordinary experience it is. The standard of the musical performance we have come to expect is always of the highest quality and through his efforts and with the loyalty and hard work of the singers, we have, in Wetherby, a Society of which we are justifiably proud.

On Saturday last, a very large audience gathered to hear two works. The first, Christopher Steel’s 6th Symphony is not yet a well-known work but from the very start it was obvious that the audience were favourably interested in both the music and the intriguing Middle-English words of the text. Christopher Steel was a modest man but a fine composer. Dying prematurely in 1991 at the age of 52, he left behind him a legacy of fine writing of which this ‘Symphony Sacra’ is a worthy example. Composed in four movements and based on prose depicting the Incarnation, the Calling of Man, the Passion and finally the Ressurection, the work has a distinctly Christmassy and wintery feel to it.

The work is announced by a brass fanfare, followed by a setting of two Christmas hymns. Both choir and orchestra showed an eagerness in their approach and a joyful confidence in both singing and playing making a fine start to the concert.

The second movement, calling the souls of human kind to come to Christ introduced the very fine Baritone voice of Adam Green, filling the church with hugely resonant tone; the choir and orchestra quietly supporting in this beautifully constructed movement. The Allegro con fuoco which ends this movement and describes Christ releasing man from Satan’s grip was sung with great power and determination.

The third movement ‘The Passion’ takes the listener into some very strange territory; a wilderness of the feeling of lost with tremolo strings and scrunchingly discordant harmony. Steel writes on a broad orchestral canvas including piano and organ within his instrumental group. The wanderings of the piano added to the strange musical landscape. Here, the choir excelled themselves in breathtakingly beautiful harmonic balance and with a quality of tone almost too difficult to describe in words. It was in this section we were introduced to splendid voice of Samantha Hay, the Soprano soloist. In this work, the composer writes the dialogue between Christ and his mother as a slow conversation, full of tenderness and with great awareness of what is to come. Miss Hay sang with supreme calmness and with an air of great pathos, her voice filling the church with warm and generously sweet tone whilst the orchestra accompanied with beautifully muted tones and suitably agonised harmony.

The last movement shares with us the joy of the Resurrection; both orchestra with wonderful playing throughout and supported by grand tones from the organ and the choir here are full of joy whilst the soloists celebrate Christ’s victory over Satan. The ‘chorale’ featured in this movement is of worthy note and was sung quietly. After a feeling of rising excitement through orchestra and soloists it was repeated in slightly modified form with a great sense of grandeur at the end, closing this fine symphonic composition in great splendour and to the obvious joy of the audience.

The second work was the much more familiar Requiem of Brahms. First performed in 1868, this work has remained popular with choirs and choral societies for many years. The first movement Blessed are they that mourn was sung and played with the sense of calm resignation that befits this movement.

The second movement Behold all flesh had a dark severity with beautiful woodwind playing contrasted with harp and strings. The explosion of emotion in the second section But the ransomed of the Lord was taken at a well-judged tempo with clear and precise singing from the choir and splendid brass playing in the orchestra. The chorus How lovely are Thy dwellings fair was taken at a gently lilting pace (So often this is heard at a more urgent tempo spoiling the restful atmosphere intended by Brahms) both choir and orchestra relaxing and touching the hearts of the audience with the lovely melodies and harmonies Brahms creates.

Samantha Hay produced the most enchanting and sonorous tones in the movement Ye now have sorrow, accompanied with great feeling by the choir. Samantha’s voice filled the church and wrapped every member of the audience with her amazingly warm and full tone. Adam Green followed with an equally effective solo in For we have no abiding city. The chorus and orchestra under John Dunford sounding suitably wandering and lost reflecting the words in an excellent manner.

One of the highlights of this performance was the electrifying playing and singing in For behold the trumpet shall sound; the orchestra with organ playing with great verve and accuracy and the singers working exceptionally hard producing a terrifying and exciting effect. There then followed a very accurate and clean performance of the fugue Worthy art Thou bringing this fine movement to its end.

The last movement Blessed are the dead was sung and played with an excellent sense of unanimity from both choir and orchestra. John Dunford, his choir and the splendid orchestra deserve many congratulations for an excellent concert of wonderful music sung and performed with such excellence.

HJ

 

[Although this page is dedicated to press reviews and comment, we reproduce here some notes on Christopher Steel, as so little information about him and his work is available elsewhere.]

 

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Christopher Steel's Simfonia Sacra

Steel
Christopher Steel

Simfonia Sacra was commissioned by the Sheffield Bach Society in 1986 and was included in their 1994 season when John Dunford first heard it. Christopher Steel's last appointment was as Director of Music at Bradfield College, from which he retired in 1981 to devote himself to composition, including seven symphonies and a number of major choral works.

This work was composed between September 1985 and January 1986, the text being (according to Christopher) from the Faber Book of Modern Lyrics. The idea of a choral symphony was suggested by the fact that the birth, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus fall naturally into four movements with a slow, reflective penultimate movement and a vigorous finale. The work is sung in Middle English and was last performed by the Wetherby Choral Society in 1996

NOTE: Sinfonia Sacra is to be sung by Ripon Choral Society in Ripon on 17 March 2012.

 

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Christopher Steel - Biographical Note

Born: 1938 Died: 1991

Christopher Steel was born in 1938, and received his early education at Shrewsbury School. He developed an interest in music early in life, and began composing seriously while still in his mid-teens. In 1957 he entered the Royal Academy of Music, where his teachers included John Gardner and Denis Murdoch. He then continued his studies, with the aid of a scholarship, at the Hochschule für Musik, Munich, with Harold Genzmer - himself a pupil of Hindemith - in 1961.
His first mature compositions date from just before his German studies, and these early works - including the sonatinas (for piano and clarinet) - display an elegance, grace and lightness, coupled with the technical assurance and sincerity which characterise all his works.
It was after his return from the continent in the early part of the 1960's that his most important compositions started to make their appearance, works in all musical forms and for all forces. He returned to his roots as music master at Cheltenham College in 1963, moving to Bradfield College in 1966. Here he became director of music from 1968 to 1981 apart from a year instructing at North Hennepin College, Minnesota. During the 1980s he devoted himself increasingly to composition, combined with freelance teaching, against a background of ill health.
His contribution to the repertoire of music of the 20th century was significant, with a catalogue containing seven symphonies, several major choral works, concerti, orchestral pieces for large and chamber orchestra. Christopher Steel also made a very real contribution to educational music, where he was always at pains to strike a balance between the lucid complexities of his works for professional performance and the over directness of his amateur and light scores. His "Passion and Resurrection", Op 63, received its World Premiere at the Cheltenham Festival in March 2009

Click here My Husband for an interview with Christopher's widow

 

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Wetherby Choral Society, St Mary's Church, Boston Spa, Saturday 26 June 2010

An imaginative and varied concert was presented by Wetherby Choral Society in what was, for them, the less familiar surroundings of St Mary's Church, Boston Spa on Saturday 26th June. It was their final event of the season and pitched together the vividly contrasting styles of Schubert, Stanford and Rutter covering a period of about 180 years.

Schubert's 'Mass in G' is the least-complex work of the seven that he wrote in this genre but it was certainly written well enough for the choir to demonstrate a good attack and well-shaped phrases throughout the 20-minute piece. The Gloria was rhythmic and articulate and the Credo solid despite slight tuning problems in the quieter passages. However the spirited fugue of the Hosanna benefited from confident entries and the final Agnus Dei concluded with effective quietly sung reflection.

Despite being under-strength the choir had decided to tackle Stanford's setting of the Magnificat. This was not one of his compositions for evensong but a much more ambitious setting for double SATB choir. The main consequence of there being twice as many voice-parts as usual was the immediate production of a rich sound which was supported by the ever-reliable Marjorie Hodlin at the piano. The climaxes were excitingly produced and, despite the occasional slight insecurities, the challenges of the chromatic sections were risen to - generally successfully - and the whole-hearted performance reached a most emphatic Amen.

The final work in the programme was Rutter's 'Psalmfest', a collection of anthem-style psalm-settings of which eight were performed. The composer's varied melodic and harmonic vocabulary was fully in evidence and the opening thrilling and rhythmically complex 'O be Joyful in the Lord' was well-contrasted with the much more reflective 'The Lord is my Shepherd'.

Andrea Ryder (soprano) and Stephen Newlove (tenor) contributed a beautiful duet in 'How amiable are thy dwellings'. Their melodic lines floated engagingly over the rocking accompaniment although more eye-contact with the audience would have enhanced their performance. Earlier they had sung in the Schubert work and had been joined by John Dunford (also directing the concert) to make a well-balanced trio. Greg Smith accompanied both works on the newly-restored organ which had also been raised into a newly-constructed loft from its original ground-floor position. His playing enhanced both works, him producing a most wide range of tone colours.

The choir sang with excellent diction throughout, complementing its understanding of the darker sections of music with singing of real vitality when appropriate. The printed programme outlined the concerts for the 2010/2011 season and this concert whetted the appetite for what promises to be another series of quality performances from a fine choir.

Paul Dyson
WETHERBY NEWS

Haydn's Harmoniemesse and Mozart's Requiem, Saturday 27 March 2010

It is rather rare to hear in one concert two contrasting choral masterpieces both from the same period in music. It proved to be a successful combination much apprediated by a large audience . . . performed by the Wetherby Choral Society, conductor John Dunford, accompanied by the Harrogate Philharmonic Society . . . Abbi Temple (soprano) Beth Mackay (messo-soprano) Howard Clinkard (tenor) and Andrew Thompson (bass) supported the choir throughout and blended well together.

Haydn's last full-scale work, Harmoniemesse, actually reflects the age of Enlightenment . . . There were nice dynamic contrasts in the Sanctus and the organ continuo was here very effective. After a shaky start in the instrumental introduction . . . the overall performance was well managed , intonation was generally good, and the choir coped well with the syncopated rythms.

In the second half of the concert we heard Mozart's Requiem. At the beginning the sopranos fortunately took control of the tempo in the choruses. . . there were good dynamic contrasts in Confutatis Maledictus, but the most sensitive part of the work, Lacrimosa, could have been much quieter and steadier to begin with.

The choir was more confident singing the requiem, but was not as relaxed with the less familiar Haydn mass. The requiem is a more traditional choral work but paradoxically not as religious as Haydn's mass which in contrast challenges us to restore our own personal faith and belief in life itself.

MALCOLM GALLOWAY, Wetherby News.

 

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G.F.Handel’s 'Israel in Egypt', Saturday 21st November 2009.

As the year marking the 250th anniversary of Handel's death draws to a close and many performances of 'Messiah' start to dominate the concert-diary it was refreshing to hear a different oratorio from same composer's pen on Saturday 21st November in St James' Church, Wetherby. 'Israel in Egypt' is a good choice for an alternative choral work as there is so much writing for the choir itself. Not only that, because the scoring, unusually, divides the group frequently into eight parts, the demanding writing acts as a real challenge.

Wetherby Choral Society were very much equal to these demands and frequently produced a full, rich sound, providing the performance with its dramatic impetus. Most of the entries in the fugal passages were secure, the ensemble was generally tight and the strong sound meant that the climaxes, especially in the 'hailstones chorus', were no less than thrilling. In contrast, the more lyrical passages were sung smoothly and with considerable understanding of their style. Neither the occasional insecurities in the passages with more complex harmony nor the slight snatching at high notes detracted from the overall positive impression that the choir gave. The passion that they showed for the music was particularly well-maintained throughout the eleven consecutive choral sections which conclude the first half of the work. This was also the case after the interval when 'The depths have covered them' received an emotional performance.

A well-chosen team of soloists complemented the choir. Stephen Newlove (tenor) sang with clarity but was also authoritative and Matthew Lennox (counter-tenor) was also clear and annunciated his melismas particularly well. Sarah Kelly sang with a full tone, soaring well over the orchestra, although she tended to dominate in her duet with Kay Yates (soprano) despite the quality blending that they produced. Thom Meredith and John Dunford, in a bass duet, captured the mood of the movement extremely well.

Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra accompanied sensitively and stylistically, all of the sections making appropriate contributions, but it was the choir, expertly prepared and directed by John Dunford, who had the major part in the work and brought it to its triumphant conclusion.

Paul Dyson WETHERBY NEWS  

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Purcell - 27 June 2009

. . . This concert differed in several respects from past concerts. It was a celebration of the work of a single composer, Henry Purcell, the 350th anniversary of whose birth falls this year. There were five soloist singers, and so there was rather less choral singing . . . Nevertheless, the choir made a great and joyful impact in their choruses. The musicianship of soloists, choir orchestra and conductor was fully shown to an appreciative audience . . . Conductor John Dunford again demonstrated his versatility by singing lead parts as well as conducting.
His explanatory introductions to the pieces were very helpful and enlightening. Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra was outstandingly good, with opportunities for several of their soloists to show us their undoubted musical abilities.
We enjoyed a very good evening.

DENNIS ASHTON - WETHERBY NEWS

Bach's St John Passion - Saturday 4 April 2009
"Society maintains exceptional standards"

"A most moving performance of Bach's St John Passion was given by Wetherby Choral Society with Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra and six soloists on Saturday 4th April. As is customary with this Society, St James' Church was virtually full; regulars and visitors were treated to this choir's usual high standard.

This work is high on drama and the choir sang its role with a clear understanding of its place as the familiar story unfolds. This was very much so in its interaction with Pilate, the sopranos being particularly vibrant in their demands to 'Crucify Him!'. The contrapuntal passages were also very well-articulated with each part fully understanding its place in the structure. Much thought had been put into the performance of the chorales and these were meaningfully performed with suitable contrasts.

From the opening bars the orchestra played with clarity and accompanied the choir and soloists sensitively. This was especially true of the continuo players, despite the cellist having some intonation problems in the upper register.

The Evangelist, Robert Johnston, brought much to the varying moods of his 'commentary'. His diction was clear throughout, most of his lines were delivered with real strength and the intensity he brought to 'wept bitterly' and 'gave up the ghost' were almost tangible. Samantha Hay (soprano) sang with a lovely, clear tone and demonstrated some bright top notes while Beth Mackay (mezzo-soprano) gave an expressive performance especially in the poignancy of 'it is finished'.

Conductor John Dunford also doubled as the tenor soloist and brought strength to his part. Simon Deller, as Jesus, sang poignantly but lacked audience contact, and David Hall, as Pilate and Peter, gave solid emphasis to his characters especially in his lower register.

The final chorus was, at times, reflective and - unusually so - delicate and the last chorale was thoughtful in its early passages before making a truly triumphant ending. This concluded a memorable performance of this masterpiece. "

PAUL DYSON The Wetherby News  

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Handel's Messiah, 20 December 2008

For the third Saturday in succession residents of, and visitors to, the wider Harrogate area were able to hear a performance of that Advent favourite choral masterpiece - Handel's Messiah. This third such event was given by Wetherby Choral Society on Saturday 20th December and, once again, benefitted a capacity audience.

The choir were in excellent form, the four sections blending together extremely well and producing an outstandingly well-balanced sound. Although some word-endings were occasionally lost, the full and rich tone produced exciting climaxes, especially in 'Amen' and at the homophonic conclusions to several of the choral numbers. In 'Lift up your Heads' the upper voices produced a very strong opening and the full ensemble enjoyed the fast tempi in 'For Unto Us' and 'All we like Sheep'. It was pleasing to hear 'Their Sound is Gone Out' and the overall approach to the work portrayed thorough preparation.

The mezzo-soprano soloist, Beth Mackay, had been heard in Harrogate just 14 days previously and again gave an assured performance. Soprano Sarah-Ann Cromwell, taking part at just two-days' notice due to an indisposition, sang with clarity and true emotion, especially in the ecstasy she portrayed at the words 'now is Christ risen'. Alistair Ollerenshaw brought authority to the baritone role, being particularly emphatic in 'Why do the Nations' and bringing a real sense of 'mystery' to the relevant recitative. Conductor John Dunford doubled up as the tenor soloist and brought a most moving poignancy to 'Thy Rebuke'. In addition his direction of the recitatives ensured that they concluded with very neat cadences, them being much less obtrusive than is usually the case.

Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra set the standard for the evening with a precise performance of the overture, especially in the double-dotted section, and accompanied throughout with accuracy and sensitivity. John Dunford is to be congratulated, once again, on his fine work with all of the combined forces which gave such pleasure in yet another memorable 'Messiah'.

PAUL DYSON The Wetherby News  

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"Magic of Mozart" - 22 November 2008

For their first concert of the season last Saturday, Wetherby Choral Society treated us - and it really was a treat - to an evening of "The Magic of Mozart". . . Soloists, orchestra and choir clearly enjoyed themselves and indeed excelled themselves.

For their first work, the Society and conductor John Dunford had chosen Mozart's Solemn Vespers K 339 . . . The soloists, The Choral Society and the Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra did it full justice.

The Dixit Dominus began dramatically and powerfully and the chorus continued the momentum. Soprano Debra Morley, Mezzo-soprano Lucy Appleyard, tenor David Penn and bass Alastair Ollernshaw joined in for the closing Gloria. . . The second movement Confiteor Patri was lighter but flowed beautifully and melodiously, again with the four soloists balancing well with each other and with the chorus. . . . The Beatus Vir moved smoothly and strongly, the chorus backing the soloists very well. The basses of the chorus opened the Laudate Pueri with depth and sonority. The orchestra had the opportunity to feature in the opening of the Laudate Dominum before the soprano solo and the entrance of the chorus. The final Magnificat movement brought in all four soloists again with the chorus, and completed a joyful and elegant work.

For [The Great C Minor Mass K427] soprano Sarah-Ann Cromwell took the place of Lucy Appleyard. The work opened quietly with the Kyrie by the chorus, followed by a soaring solo from Debra Morley. The Gloria, in seven contrasting movements, featured powerful choral hymns of praise, and the sopranos . . . individually, in duet and as a trio with the tenor David Penn.

The chorus did full justice to each of these great movements. The two movements of the Credo which followed were also in contrast. The lively choral first movement was followed by a decorative and exacting soprano solo from Debra Morley.

In the second movement the Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra were also able to display the virtuosity of their woodwind section. The work closed with the great choral crescendo of the Sanctus, followed by the soloists as a quartet over the chorus in the Benedictus.

The Society, the soloists, the orchestra and the conductor are to be congratulated for bringing us such a superb evening. Special mention must be made of the effortless clarity of Debra Morley's high Bs and Cs. As ever, the light but firm touch of conductor John Dunford enabled all who took part to give of their best.

DENNIS ASHTON, The Wetherby News  

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Petite Messe Solennelle Saturday, 14th June 2008

An excellent end-of-season performance of Rossini's 'Petite Messe Solennelle' ensured that Wetherby Choral Society concluded its 2007/08 programme in a memorable way. St. James's Church contained a large and appreciative audience on Saturday, 14th June to hear the original version of this unusual work. This meant that the accompaniment used only a piano and, a rare event, a harmonium.

John Dunford, conductor, introduced the work as being 'far from solemn' and the prelude, which precedes the Kyrie, demonstrated this perfectly. Starting with a rhythmic figure in the piano, the harmonium interrupts this regularly with several quirky interjections. In contrast, the choir then enter with smooth melodic lines and perform unaccompanied in the first movement's middle section, during which they remained in tune very well indeed. They gave the Gloria an emphatic start and this was a well-contrasted movement with the four soloists each playing an important ròle. Charne Rochford (tenor) brought an operatic style to the proceedings while both Samantha Hay (soprano) and Karina Lucas (mezzo-soprano) sang with a most pleasing but full and rich tone quality. Their duet (Qui tollis) showed how well the two voices blended and matched each other. The original bass soloist was indisposed so his place was taken by Dunford who managed the two tasks most impressively, singing in a lyrical manner, this contrasting well with Rochford.

The choir began the Cum Sancto Spiritu with a very precise opening and the (only seven) tenors played their part fully in the succeeding lively fugue which brought the first half to a rousing conclusion.

The more dramatic Credo was also well-contrasted, the varied dynamics contributing to the differing moods, especially as the Et Resurrexit built up to its joyfulness from its unusually sombre start. An instrumental duet 'Preludio Religioso' was a pleasant diversion although the less-religious piano part detracted, as the composer intended, from the reflective but flowing nature of the organ's contribution.

The final three movements frequently juxtaposed quartet and choir together in a successful blend of contrasting forces. Unaccompanied passages were occasionally marred by some slightly faulty octave tuning between pairs of soloists but Lucas brought a real sense of pleading to the Agnus Dei especially when the choir joined her in a most passionate mood. The postlude was typical of the composer's eccentric conclusions to some of the movements in this work as it oscilated between major and minor.

Marjorie Hodlin (piano) and Adrian Selway (harmonium and organ) performed outstandingly well throughout showing a very good rapport and understanding of their places in the overall structure. John Dunford directed the whole with his usual sense of musicianship and calm authority, having prepared the choir to its usual high standard. This writer looks forward to their next season of Mozart, Handel, Bach and Purcell.

Paul Dyson, THE WETHERBY NEWS  

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Wetherby Choral Society's outstanding success

Judas Maccabaeus

St James Church, April 12th - a review by Margaret Hunt

It was with a sense of great anticipation that the audience gathered in St James Church for Wetherby Choral Society's latest concert; a performance of Handel's oratorio Judas Maccabaeus. It is a great shame that his most popular work, The Messiah, casts such a shadow over many other great works and it is to the credit of this society that they tackled this marvellous piece enabling a full house to enjoy its many fine choruses and arias. Perhaps the most well known is the chorus 'See the conquering hero', now used as the tune to the Easter hymn 'Thine be the glory'. But there is so much more in this work, and the pace of the performance enabled the story to be told in a clear and dramatic style with a wide range of emotion in the arias.

The Choir were in confident mood. The opening chorus 'Mourn ye afflicted people' immediately set the tone for the evening, and displayed the fine balanced sound of the choir, conveying the lamentation of the Israelites under the jackboot of the Syrians. 'Hear us O Lord' at the end of the first half, showed the choir in dramatic style invoking the power of God in their struggle, with the contrasting sections between dramatic block chordal work and the contrapuntal passages successfully managed, displaying clarity of line throughout.

Andrea Ryder-Smith, soprano, sang with an angelic clarity and beauty of tone that seemed effortless and the demanding 'So shall the lute and harp' displayed her magnificent breath control and instrumental technique in the long coloratura runs. Karina Lucas, mezzo-soprano, has a richness of voice that produced an ideally balanced blend of tone in the duets with the soprano and came to the fore in the wide range of the aria 'So rapid thy course is'. Much relies on the lead of the tenor and Philip Salmon engaged the audience in the struggles of leading the Isrealites. His warmth of tone and conviction gave a humanity to his performance that will remain most strongly. The bass, David Townend's rich and even tone was a delight and from his demand to 'Arm, arm ye brave' to 'Rejoice, O Judah' at the victory and subsequent peace was authoritative throughout.

To this fine quartet of soloists the Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra were on as good form as we have heard. The string section in particular was secure, balanced and responsive to the direction of the conductor. Margaret Bryan was an excellent continuo cellist, and Rebecca Todd's fine obbligato trumpet in the rather unusual aria 'With honour let desert be crowned' was superbly played.

In an evening of many highlights the contribution of the conductor, John Dunford, (in whom the spirit of Dr Roger Bullivant clearly lives on) should not go unmentioned. Like Dr Bullivant, under his clear direction the performance had pace and drama. Directing from the harpsichord, as Handel might well have done, his continuo playing added much to the performance. But to everyone's surprise he sang the prayerful Priest's aria 'Father of Heaven' while still conducting the orchestra. Wetherby audiences may be used to hearing occasional solos from their conductor as a tenor or bass, but in this countertenor number he was able to display the flexibility of his voice and clarity of tone.

One of the joys of the evening was the enthusiasm of the choir and their commitment to the performance. The colour of sound produced in the reflective 'Ah! wretched Israel', the sheer exuberance and volume in the final verse of 'See the conquering hero, and the joyous and energetic 'Hallelujah' at the end of the work, combined with the excellent diction and good intonation of the singers to make this a memorable performance which must rank as one of the best concerts this very fine choir has sung.

Margaret Hunt
 

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NOTES ON 'OLIVET TO CALVARY' SUNG ON GOOD FRIDAY, 2008, IN BOSTON SPA METHODIST CHURCH.

Olivet to Calvary - John Henry Maunder (1858 - 1920)

John Henry Maunder studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and served as organist in several London churches, including St Matthew's, Syndenham and St Paul's, Forest Hill. Maunder started his career as a theatre composer during which time he wrote the operetta 'Daisy Dingle'. He later devoted himself exclusively to sacred music. While his oratorio 'The Martyrs' became a perennial favourite it is 'Olivet to Calvary' which has retained its popularity and appeal through the generations.

The work is a fine example of music written for the late Victorian/early Edwardian Anglican church. Considered by some to be over sentimental by modern tastes, it contains a sincerity and dedication which, despite being a definite product of its time, has carried the piece through to the modern era. Its popularity is in part due to its simplicity, needing only organ, choir, bass and tenor soloists, it is a work which can be performed by the smallest choirs.

Described as a sacred cantata, 'Olivet to Calvary' recalls the scenes which mark the last few days of Christ's life on earth.Part 1 starts with Christ's jubilant journey to Jerusalem and ends with the scene on the Mount of Olives. Part 2 begins with the Feast of Passover with Christ's commandment to his disciples to 'Love one Another' and end with the Crucifixion at Calvary. It is interspersed with congregational hymns which reflect on the scenes .

While a slight and somewhat outdated work 'Olivet to Calvary', like Stainer's more substantial 'Crucifixion', rewards sincere performance.

PHILLIP TOLLEY

British Choirs on the Net

In the 1955 edition of the Oxford Companion to Music Percy Scholes writes that Maunder's "seemingly inexhaustible cantatas, Penitence, Pardon and Peace and Olivet to Calvary long enjoyed popularity, and still aid the devotions of undemanding congregations in less sophisticated areas".

 

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Bach and Handel, 15th December 2007

'Great Christmas Music of the Baroque' proclaimed the title of the programme notes and both the music and the performance of it in St. James's Chuch, Wetherby on Saturday 15th December lived up to it. The first half of the programme consisted of most of Part 1 of Handel's 'Messiah' and ended with some items from Part 3. The second half consisted of the first and last cantatas from Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio' - the ones composed to be performed on December 25th and January 6th.

Wetherby Choral Society were in fine form making a full and rich sound throughout. The balance between the four voice-parts was always excellent and, excepting for some very slight hesitant fugue-chorus openings, they sang with considerable awareness of the music's differing styles. For unto us a Child is Born' was extremely well-contrasted and the chorales were sung in a most expressive manner. The fortissimo sections were performed with a very strong sound, especially in 'And He Shall Purify' and the final chorale.

The four soloists made a very good team. Only once did the music allow them to sing together but the final recitative showed how well they blended together. Soprano Andrea Ryder-Smith sang with a bright tone and performed the unusual compound-time version of 'Rejoice Greatly' with excellent breath control. David Keating-Roberts (counter tenor) sang with a real understanding of, and feeling for, the music and his melisma-cadenzas added much to his interpretation. Steven Newlove (tenor) demonstrated a very pleasing sense of phrase-shaping and ornamentation, singing Bach's longer recitatives particularly clearly while David Townend (bass) sang in a most articulate manner and with a wide range of expression.

Orchestra d'amici supported the singers (soloists as well as choir) very well indeed and the balance was almost perfect throughout. There was some very slight disagreement over the double-dotting in the first section of the Overture but at appropriate times certain individuals shone, especially the trumpeter, bassoonist and continuo players.

The concert was conducted by John Dunford with a great sense of the music's direction and clarity. Although his chosen tempi were appropriately fast in the Handel, some in the Bach were slightly on the slow side. Nevertheless, he made sure that the works flowed and the gaps between the movements were kept to an absolute minimum. A very rousing event with favoured music for a favoured season.

Paul Dyson, WETHERBY NEWS

 

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Duruflé - Requiem; Haydn - Maria Theresa Mass, Saturday 17 November 2007

An unusual combination of two major sacred works made for a most successful concert given by Wetherby Choral Society in St James' Parish Chuch on Saturday 17th November. Also unusual was the order of the concert in that the older music was performed after the more modern piece.

Duruflé's Requiem is a reflective work and this quality was very much to the fore in this performance. The Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra, in particular, captured this mood immediately in the work's opening passage. The choir started a little too loudly and also took some time to warm up, having a tendency to sing 'under the note' in the first movement. The two sections following were sung with a strong sense of energy and were well-articulated the Sanctus reaching a particularly effective climax. Later the choir's tuning had improved so much that the sixth movement's light-textured accompaniment held no fears whatsoever.

Mezzo-soprano soloist Melissa Lunn's performance of the Pie Jesu saw her sing in in a very expressive manner, demonstrated a clear upper register and was accompanied very sensitively by a solo cello. Similarly Terence Ayebare (baritone) sang the seventh movement with an impressively expressive range of tone quailities. Organist Adrian Selway added to the overall texture appropriately throughout the work, coaxing recognisably 'French' sounds from the Church's instrument. The work's quiet conclusion was approached thoughtfully and achieved in a most meaningful manner.

Haydn's Maria Theresa Mass made an effective contrast and the more settled diatonicism and rhythmic energy made a good antidote to the concert's first half. The choir, who were consistently strong in all four part-sections, were alert to their rôle in the differing styles, and the tempo changes, particularly that for the fugal finale to the Credo, showed considerable attention and precision. The two previously-mentioned soloists were joined by soprano Claire Stafford and David Penn (tenor) and the quartet made an effective ensemble blending well together especially in the Gloria.

The intonation of the orchestra's string section was not compromise by the chromaticisms in the Sanctus. The trumpets, having played too loudly in the Et incarnatus, and kettledrums made a telling contributed to the work's climax in the final movement, the choir having begun this with a dramatic response to the difficult high opening.

John Dunford conducted the whole concert with a real awareness of the music's sense and purpose; his direction of the choir clearly shows what can be achieved with such an experienced and committed ensemble.

Paul Dyson, WETHERBY NEWS

 

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Gala Concert, 16 June 2007

A mixture of musical styles . . . and a choir in top form . . . a range of short pieces . . . very much at home in all of the stylistic demands made on them.

Although they could have sung more pianissimo at times, they . . . sang with a real understanding of phrase-shape and with very good diction - the togetherness of word-endings being a particularly qualitative feature.

Debra Morley

The choir's programme contained a mixture of the well-known (such as Bach's Jesu Joy and Vaughan-Williams's Linden Lee) as well as a more obscure repetoire . . . with considerable precision in the many syncopations.

The choir were joined by young soprano Debra Morley . . . not only to display her wide and expressive vocal range but also some effective characterisation . . .
. . . singing the final chorus of When the Saints and brought the evening to a rousing conclusion.

John Dunford directed with a real understanding of all the varied musical styles on show and the society's accompanist, Marjorie Hodlin, who also played for Morley, performed with an effective understanding of her role as well as in a manner that displayed a high degree of musicianship.

Paul Dyson, WETHERBY NEWS  

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School Crest

Joint concert with Ashville College at Leeds Town Hall, 18 March 2007.
Puccini "Messa di Gloria", John Rutter "Feel the Spirit" and Mozart's Clarinet Concerto.

Puccini was still a teenager when he started writing his Messa di Gloria, so it was entirely fitting that the students from Ashville College should perform this exhilarating work in their concert in Leeds Town Hall on Sunday. They teamed up with Wetherby Choral Society, and the combined forces of over 250 voices created a wonderful texture of sound. They were accompanied by the Society's festival orchestra of local professionals and gifted amateurs. John Dunford marshalled these forces to great effect, achieving excellent balance and contrast, with clear control of tempi.

Nowhere was this more apparent than in the Gloria, where the clarity of the high soprano line shone through, and where the contrasts of syncopation and tonal volume were accurately mastered. Puccini's tutors had recommended him to concentrate on opera when they heard this Mass; so Campbell Russell from Opera North, with his rich operatic tenor voice, was a perfect choice for this work! Anthony Cunningham seemed less at ease with the bass solo line, though his 'Crucifixus' was arresting.

Victoria

Another teenager, Ashville's Victoria Sheehen-Dare was the soloist in Mozart's Clarinet Concerto. What a gifted performer and what an example to all aspiring musicians at the College! Throughout the work she brought a precision of tone, phrasing and articulation that was a rare joy, with soaring arpeggios and fluent running passages. I particularly enjoyed her tonal quality in the quieter sections and her sustained line in the Adagio. Throughout she maintained great composure and presence in such an awe-inspiring atmosphere - a rare talent to watch for in the future.

John Rutter's cycle of spirituals 'Feel the Spirit' provided the opportunity for the College's junior and chamber choirs to shine, alongside the main choirs. Despite its familiar tunes, this work offers some real challenges in terms of chromatics and rhythms, challenges that the combined forces rose to magnificently. The mezzo-soprano soloist, Karina Lucas, clearly relished the role, particularly with the opportunities to show off her lower register to great effect. The augmented orchestra also excelled, from the jazz ensembles in the brass to the haunting harp and cor anglais solos. Throughout, there was great vitality and excitement and this was brought to a fitting climax with the most exuberant 'When the Saints go marching in', in which all 400 performers let everything rip. It was only fitting that John Dunford should encourage the large and appreciative audience to join in in the well-deserved encore.

All in all, this was a first class concert. Whilst twelve-year-olds have the opportunity to sing such varied music alongside older and more experienced musicians, in such an imposing venue, then Britain's unique choral tradition will continue to thrive.

Mike Deeming, THE WETHERBY NEWS  

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The Armed Man & Lux Perpetua, Saturday 11 November 2006.

"MUSIC TO MOVE HEART AND SOUL

Armed Man It is hard to imagine a more moving concert than that presented on Remembrance Day by Wetherby Choral Society and Harrogate Philharmonic Orchestra. . . both [works] were most appropriate for the date and complimented each other in mood and style . . .
John Dunford directed the whole concert with a committed and deep understanding of the nature of both works . . .
The more discordant sections jarred with a real intent, and discordant 'thuds' from the outstanding percussion section led to a real sense of discomfort . . .
The choir sang throughout with precise and accurate diction, and much attention to detail, producing some lovely warm tone quality in the a capella sections. The men are to be complimented on their tight unison singing and although the sopranos struggled slightly with some of their top notes, the notoriously difficult 'battle' section, with its random notation, was full of drama and chaos before the long and thought-provoking silence that preceded the trumpeter Simon Crick's poignant Last Post."

Paul Dyson, THE WETHERBY NEWS 17 November 2006

 

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THE CREATION - Haydn - Saturday 17 June 2006

"Vivid images brought to life by fine vocal talents."
"The Wetherby Choral Society gave a stirring performance of Haydn's eternal masterpiece, The Creation . . . last Saturday. . . . The Choral Society was in fine voice with secure entries, controlled crescendos and thrilling fortes. Excellent four part balance was achieved, a tribute particularly to the tenors but all parts made a distinctive contribution. Particularly enjoyable were Achieved is the glorious work ending Part Two and the soaring climax of Sing the Lord.
Conductor John Dunford marshalled and controlled his forces with authority and sensitivity and credit is due to him for giving the enthusiastic audience a memorable rendition of this enduring score."
Graeme Scott, WETHERBY NEWS, 23 JUNE 2006

 

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Puccini and Mendelssohn - April 2006

"Puccini's gorgeous Messa di Gloria needs some good lusty voices who can cast aside inhibitions, open their chests and sing straight from the heart, all attributes that were in plentiful supply from the Wetherby singers.
Of course I have heard more technical, perfect performances from big time city choirs, but this one I found an absolute delight, the choir's enjoyment of the music so potent it would have been a stony heart that could have remained unmoved.
. . . The pure and incisive solo soprano voice of Nicola Mills, joined in a beautiful duet by Hilary Rowland, with the inspirational guiding hand of their conductor, John Dunford.
Dunford has that type of character that persuades people to do things they never dreamed possible and to perform as if their lives depended upon it."
David Denton, YORKSHIRE POST

"The audience heard and enjoyed Puccini's Messa di Gloria and Mendelssohn's symphonic Hymn of Praise, both major and challenging works. . . Our familiarity with Puccini's charactereistic style . . . led us to expect melodoc creativeness and colourful orchestration in this work and these were present in full measure. The choir was strong and confident when neccessary, but movingly lyrical in other passages. The "Gloria" in particular was exhilarating, and the crescendo "Amen" very powerful.
Mendelssohn's "Hymn of Praise" . . . gripped throughout. First soprano Nicola Mills had superb diction and clarity of tone, with a powerful voice under perfect control. . . Hilary Rowland [Chairman of the society] stepped down from the choir to join her for the delightful and all-too-short duet "I waited for the Lord". They sang together beautifully. It was as if they had sung together for years. . . Again, the choir met the challenge of the piece very well.
Conductor John Dunford is much to be congratulated for bringing these demanding works to Wetherby and presenting us with such a memorable evening."
Dennis Ashton - WETHERBY NEWS

 

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MESSIAH - Christmas 2005

"We were not disappointed with the Wetherby Choral Society's performance of Messiah! The Church was full, the audience expectant, and the soloists, choir, orchestra and conductor very much on form.
Conductor and musical director John Dunford again showed the range of his talents. . . . It was impressive to see him playing harpsicord continuo accompaniment with one hand and conducting the orchestra with the other, then coming to the rostrum to conduct the full choir!"
Dennis Ashton - WETHERBY NEWS

 

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Vivaldi and Bach - November 2005

"The different sections of the choir were in fine voice, tuneful and well blended, quietly supported by the orchestra. It was a delight to listen to the intertwining of the male and female voices gradually reaching a crescendo. . . . Loud and sustained applause indicated the pleasure that the concert had given to the audience. The choir were amply rewarded for the appreciation of their hard working preparation. John Dunford is once again to be congratulated for his excellent choice of soloists and orchestra and for his superb direction."
Tommy Jacob, WETHERBY NEWS

 

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