Wednesday, 06 July 2022

Choir’s garland of song was a perfect summer treat at church

Henley Choral Society | Christ Church Centre | Saturday, June 30

THE heat was definitely on in more ways than one last Saturday evening when Henley Choral Society gave their annual summer concert at Christ Church.

“A Garland of Song” proved to be the perfect programme to enjoy music-making at its best on a midsummer’s evening.

The choir’s music director Peter Asprey was a fine conductor throughout, drawing out the full musicality of these fine singers.

With the exception of the first item, the repertoire consisted of British and American secular music and explored the relationship between these two choral traditions.

Thus we heard traditional folk songs from each culture, Victorian part-songs, jazz-infused numbers and Seventies chart music, to name just a few.

British composer Bob Chilcott, one of the most widely performed composers and arrangers of choral music in the world, composed his Little Jazz Mass, a four-movement setting of the Latin Missa Brevis, in 2004.

Blending traditional choral textures with jazz harmony it incorporates some tricky rhythms and syncopation — these became more convincing as the music progressed and by the Agnus Dei the singers were warmed up, voices soaring on the higher notes and really beginning to enjoy themselves.

American composer Eric Whitacre’s Sleep provided an appropriately restful interlude. The sound was unified, with everyone breathing absolutely as one and the simple phrases were well-shaped and enhanced with much dynamic contrast.

Gershwin’s I Got Plenty o’ Nuttin’ was very engaging, with some lovely harmonies and infectious toe-tapping rhythms. Following this was another Gershwin favourite, Love Walked In, performed by the choir’s very accomplished accompanist David Smith.

Next were two traditional “fun” numbers — Copeland’s Ching-a-Ring-Chaw and Rutter’s arrangement of Sourwood Mountain. Both were delivered with great articulacy and sparkle.

To round off the first half we heard an arrangement of Simon and Garfunkel’s swan song Bridge Over Troubled Water — always an audience favourite.

Here the singing was full-bodied and impressively strong. All singers were again totally at one with each other and long lines were sustained right through to culminate in a huge crescendo at the very end.

An extended interval gave everyone a welcome break to enjoy long cool drinks and fresh air on the outside patio — a delightful feature of summer concerts.

The second half opened with Rutter’s Black Sheep, a piece very much in keeping with the Welsh folk song tradition. The melodic lines were sweetly sung and the words were clearly enunciated.

Before the next two choral pieces, arrangements of Bobby Shaftoe and Greensleeves, there was an opportunity for audience participation as charismatic conductor Peter Asprey directed everyone together in a three-part round version of Lil’ Liza Jane — great fun!

David Smith’s performance of Percy Grainger’s In Dahomey demonstrated his brilliant technique and full command of the keyboard, stunning the audience and bringing rapturous applause.

After a selection of 19th century part-songs, the last one expanding into an incredible 10 parts, the concert came to a fitting conclusion with Sullivan’s The Long Day Closes.

The plaintive harmonies were delivered with a beautiful tone and brought about a heartfelt and touching end to a splendid evening.

Maureen Idowu

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