Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Stimulating summer concert ensured only good vibrations

Benson Choral Society | Dorchester Abbey | Saturday, June 15

THE Benson Choral Society under their conductor Christopher Walker put on a stimulating summer concert, attracting a large and appreciative audience into Dorchester Abbey.

The concert began with Andrew Carter’s Benedicite. This unusual work is scored for choir, a separate children’s choir and full orchestra.

Written in 1989, it was inspired by carvings of creatures in York Minster and uses the concepts of the Benedicite Hymn from the Book of Common Prayer to give a child’s view of things to be praised in this world.

These include green things, sun and moon, badgers and hedgehogs, ice and snow, whales and waters, butterflies and moths, spirits and souls, grannies and grandads, and the final blessing — all in 10 short but vividly contrasted aural pictures. Traditional harmonies are used ingeniously “with a twist” to describe the subjects of each movement.

Particularly effective was the plaintive and timeless song of the whale that was represented realistically by glissandi strings across the gentle swell of the ocean provided by the rest of the orchestra.

The piece was given immaculate treatment by the Benson Choral Society in partnership with the Elgar orchestra, led by Ron Colyer.

The lively children’s choir, directed by Judith Ward, performed their three movements enthusiastically with impeccable diction and unfailing accuracy of pitch.

Most striking was the way in which the whole ensemble pulled together to respond to each change of mood and tempo from one movement to the next. Their empathy for the work was infectious and the audience responded well.

Bass-baritone Michael Bundy then joined the orchestra and adult choir in a stirring performance of Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet.

Written at the beginning of the 20th century, this work looks back with pride and nostalgia to the era of Lord Nelson when the British Royal Navy was second to none and Britain really did rule the waves.

But there is sadness too when in the final movement, “Fare Well”, tribute is paid to the sailors who did not make it back.

Michael’s strong and rich voice did full justice to this historical tribute, carrying the words of Henry Newbolt’s emotive poems clearly to the four corners of the abbey with deceptive ease.

The concert ended with a spirited account of Borodin’s overture and “Polovtsian Dances” from his unfinished opera Prince Igor.

These excerpts are usually played purely as a demanding orchestral showpiece but it was refreshing to hear them with the rarely heard full choral participation that the composer intended.

The combined forces of choir and orchestra were ample to fill the abbey with rich sound.

But inevitably the building’s famously reverberating acoustics also tended to confound the delicate tracery of fast-moving woodwind solos as they tried to weave their way through a powerful choral, brass and percussion onslaught.

Christopher Walker kept these spirited forces under firm control to ensure that this dramatic showpiece brought the concert to a very exciting conclusion.

John Burleigh

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