Wednesday, 23 August 2017

New music director makes her mark with charm and panache

New music director makes her mark with charm and panache

PANGBOURNE Choral Society, with expert help from four young soloists and Southern Sinfonia, presented an innovative and varied programme of “Sacred Music” to introduce their new conductor, Ellie Calver.

She swept in with a beaming smile on her face and established her credentials in an instant.

Before the first piece had finished Ellie Calver had taken over with authority, charm, sensitivity and panache.

Her choral conducting style is enthusiastic with no baton, plenty of body language and a beautiful array of arm and hand movements that are reminiscent of Balinese dancing.

Delightful to watch and certainly very effective for achieving the desired effect from the performers.

The programme began in the Renaissance period with the anthem Hear the Voice and Prayer by Thomas Tallis.

Clear diction is the welcome hallmark of the Pangbourne Choral Society. This was apparent from the first note and sustained impeccably throughout the evening.

The motet O Quam Gloriosum by the Spanish composer Tomás Luis de Victoria followed, demonstrating not only the choir’s command of the Latin language but also their even balance between the voices — no small feat when taking into account that, like most choirs, their tenor line is woefully under-represented.

Two offerings by Henry Purcell, O God, thou art my God and Hear My Prayer, O Lord, suffered at the hands of the orchestra.

In the first one, two violins appeared to have made their entry one piece too soon and were none too subtle about covering up their mistake, which was distracting.

In the second, the string accompaniment was played sans vibrato. This was consistent with the string-playing practices of Purcell’s time but did not blend satisfactorily with the choir line, to the apparent discomfort of some of the singers.

The orchestra subsequently redeemed itself with a very perky performance of Mozart’s Divertimento in D, K236.

The second half of the concert began with Mozart’s delightful Missa Brevis in D, K194, scored for the unusual combination of organ, string orchestra and three trombones. This was a musical treat, due in no small part to the sensitive contribution of the trombones. Their sound was mellifluous and their clear melodic line was firm but never overplayed.

The four vocal soloists, Vanessa Bowers, Daniel Collins, Ronan Busfield and Jonathan Stirland made up a balanced and effective quartet.

Three unaccompanied pieces by Anton Bruckner, Locus Iste, Virga Jesse and Os Justi, brought the programme to a most satisfying end.

These Romantic pieces are awesome to hear but place heavy demands on the performers, which is probably why we don’t often hear them in live amateur performances.

The harmonies are complex and the vocal range extensive for each voice part. The choir, with the soloists singing alongside them, produced a gloriously rich sound, perfect intonation and, as always, clear diction.

It can be safely stated that, with their new conductor now installed, the future of the Pangbourne Choral Society is in very good hands.

John Burleigh

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