Thursday, 18 August 2022

False start yields to flying finish

WITH memories of Bach’s St John’s Passion in the spring still vivid, an uncharacteristically false start

WITH memories of Bach’s St John’s Passion in the spring still vivid, an uncharacteristically false start to Henley Choral Society’s ‘Midsummer Music’ at St Mary’s Church was unnerving.

A heavy flash shower, clearly a bad omen, prefaced an insecure rendition of five of Brahms’s Liebeslieder and a rather overpowering four-handed accompaniment from pianists Anita d’Attellis and David Smith.

If these failed to engage a perplexed audience, the second set, just before the interval, was infinitely more appealing, thanks mainly to Brahms’s more accessible writing.

Meanwhile, the duo of d’Attellis and Smith in Mendelssohn’s Andante and Allegro brillante op 92 for four hands was a model of coordination, and their facility with extreme complexity gave them the latitude to fully express themselves.

Smith’s second half solo rendition of Percy Grainger’s Colonial Song and Shepherd’s Hey was magnificent — both robust and highly sensitive.

Henley’s Senior Youth Choir, still nascent and lacking numbers, showed unerring accuracy and tight ensemble under Ben Goodson’s reassuring baton as they journeyed through I’m Born Again (arranged by Simon Werner), Bridge Over Troubled Water (Paul Simon), where the diction was good and the high register well negotiated, and When I Hear Music (Michael G Martin), where credit goes to the two leading sopranos.

The piano accompaniment again felt a touch heavy.

Early lapses were forgotten in HCS’s rock solid account of Michael Tippett’s arrangements of Five Spirituals from A Child of Our Time and George Shearing’s setting of William Shakespeare’s Songs and Sonnets.

Tippett’s Steal Away was powerful, featuring well-executed solos by choir members, especially Claudia Klaver. The choir created a fine performance of Nobody Knows, full of contrasts, while Go Down, Moses was fabulous, involving confident solos by Stephen Nichol and energised by some immense crescendos.

The youth choir joined in on Deep River, taking the high soprano line against a rich, sonorous bass.

Shearing succeeded brilliantly in marrying Shakespeare with showtime. All seven arrangements were beautifully shaped and harmonised in that distinctive Broadway style — no better exemplified than on It was a Lover and his Lass.

But for me the highlight of the evening was his gorgeous alternative to Schubert’s Who is Sylvia. Technically unchallenging, perhaps, but fashioned by Goodson into the most musical performance.

Next up is the Christmas concert on Saturday, December 12 — see uk for full details. For membership enquiries, call 01491 572969 or come to d@two one Monday at 7.30pm.

Review: Trevor Howell

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