Monday, 18 December 2017

Joyfully uplifting arias filled the church with bright sound

Joyfully uplifting arias filled the church with bright sound

THIS concert by the Aliquando Chamber Choir and West Forest Sinfonia was given in aid of a Henley-based charity, Headway Thames Valley, that specialises in supporting people with acquired brain injuries, writes John Burleigh.

In the interval, the charity’s work was ably described and endorsed by its patron, Mark Burton.

The programme was a varied and entertaining selection of 12 well-chosen extracts from the choral repertoire, plus the more extensive Lux Aeterna by the American composer Morten Lauridsen.

The 30-piece choir quickly established itself as being a highly competent and well-balanced ensemble that, unusually in this day and age, includes a generous complement of good tenors.

In the first half of the programme their renditions of O Radiant Dawn by James MacMillan and Glow by Eric Whitacre would have won top prizes in any choral competition.

Perfect intonation, beautiful phrasing and the consistent ability to enunciate the words clearly but gently in the pianissimo passages were outstanding attributes that most choirs would envy. The one disappointment in the whole programme was Morten Laurisden’s Lux Aeterna. On first hearing, this substantial work setting five liturgical texts to music was thematically monotonous and harmonically rather traditional, with the odd isolated discord thrown in every few minutes to no obvious purpose.

It sounded beautiful to begin with but palled after continuing in the same vein for nearly 30 minutes. Nevertheless, the whole work was sung and played with conviction and with impeccable attention to clear enunciation of the Latin text.

In the interval the audience, who had turned out on a miserably wet and windy night to support this most worthy cause, were well sustained by two temporary wine bars and generous amounts of delicious sweetmeats brought round on trays by the choir members and event organisers.

The second half of the programme was comprised of famous and impeccably performed extracts from oratorios by Handel and Mendelssohn, together with Rinestad’s setting of Psalm 121 — “I will lift up mine eyes.”

Probably the best received performances of the evening were the two arias, Eternal Source of Light Divine and Let the Bright Seraphim, both sung with crystal clarity by the soprano Meryl Davies and brilliantly partnered by Kevin Ransom playing the exacting solo trumpet parts.

Their joyful contributions, perfectly matched, lifted the spirits and filled the church with bright sound.

The West Forest Sinfonia, which has made a lasting reputation for itself as being the orchestra of choice for many choral societies throughout the South of England, matched the chamber choir by fielding a band of single wind and brass soloists, plus a modest string ensemble. It supported the choir sensitively and expertly, adding touches of colour tastefully throughout the concert.

Aliquando’s next concert at St Mary’s on Saturday, May 13, 2017 is billed as “Music from across the pond”. It should be well worth attending, whatever the weather.

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