Archive for March, 2016

In such fine voice

Our thanks to Keith Nixon for allowing the publication of this crit of our concert on March 19th 2016, prepared for publication in the Sunderland Echo :

“The title of Bishopwearmouth Choral Society’s concert, Smooth Classics for Spring, gave a strong hint that the audience was in for an evening of Classic FM style top ten choral hits. This was certainly true of the second half but the inclusion of a choral rarity proved to be an inspired piece of programming.

Johann Nepomuk Hummel was famous in his day as a composer and pianist. During his lifetime he was revered equally with his contemporary, Beethoven, and has well over a hundred compositions to his credit. However, history has not been so appreciative and performances of Hummel’s music are all too infrequent. Therefore, it was a surprise that conductor David Murray devoted the first half of the concert to his Mass in B flat.

Scored for small orchestra and chorus but, unusually, without soloists, the work is a challenge for any choir as it provides no opportunity to rest the vocal cords. Typically, the BCS responded to the challenge with aplomb. Throughout the piece, they sang with great sensitivity. Clear diction and expression have become expected norms from the society and this performance revealed the different colours and layers of dynamics that Hummel surely intended. The Agnus Dei was particularly moving and the whole work was beautifully accompanied by the excellent small band of orchestral players.

The second half of the concert contained a selection of well-known choral miniatures – a delight to perform and certainly to listen to. Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus set the standard with beautifully tender singing. John Rutter’s arrangement of Franck’s Panis Angelicus with organ and cello accompaniment was a delight.

Two versions of Psalm 23 were especially appreciated by the audience. Schubert’s famous composition in Stainer’s arrangement was imaginatively augmented by Murray adding parts for wind and strings. It was good to hear the full version of Howard Goodall’s The Lord Is My Shepherd away from its usual context as the theme tune to The Vicar of Dibley. Both settings were sung with reverential feeling.

It was great to have the Bishopwearmouth Young Singers at the concert. Eileen Bown must be very proud of her young performers who sang wonderfully. Their support to the main body of the choir added a great deal to the enjoyment of the evening and their rendition of three excerpts from Andrew Carter’s Benedicte was terrific.

The orchestra, ably led by Martin Hughes, came into their own with a charming performance of Mozart’s first Salzburg Symphony. This was much appreciated by the members of the choir, not least because it gave them a chance to have a well-earned rest!

The concert ended serenely with Rutter’s setting of All Things Bright and Beautiful – a lovely ending to a delightful concert. In his programme notes, David Murray states that the piece suggests that choral music in the UK is in good hands. With the Bishopwearmouth Choral Society in such fine voice, there can be no doubt that he is correct.”

Keith Nixon