Wednesday, 10 August 2022

Added concert proves a people-pleaser at St Mary’s

WITH audience numbers swelling annually, Henley Choral Society this year added an afternoon family carol concert.

WITH audience numbers swelling annually, Henley Choral Society this year added an afternoon family carol concert.

With the church two-thirds full and then at full capacity, they will be as delighted — as were the audiences — with the performances of HCS and their two youth choirs, conducted by Benjamin Goodson.

Two charities benefited from collections: Action for Children and The Stroke Association.

The combined programmes comprised songs from each youth choir and HCS and a solo by organ accompanist Richard Pinel — a polished, witty rendition of Good King Wenceslas (Elliott), interwoven with Tchaikovsky themes. Baritone Henry Neill and pianist Anita d’Attellis added further professional gloss to the proceedings.

HCS’s opening Fantasia on Christmas Carols (Vaughan Williams) was a single movement of English folk carols, including quotations from other carols. A pristine organ introduction ushered in the baritone, whose rich timbre carried to all corners of the church, while the following chorus was direct and positive. Particularly interesting was the arrangement of On Christmas Night.

Throughout, the ensemble was concise and well balanced, the bar set high by the exceptional quality of the sopranos.

Jesus Christ the Apple Tree (Poston), its discreet underparts supporting the soprano lead, was touching. Herbert Howells’ A Spotless Rose stood out, particularly with its novel close harmony and the use of fifths that brought out a distinctively resonant bass line. The Three Kings (Cornelius) was delightful, Neill’s strong solo baritone powerful enough to let the choral counter-material through at an audible level.

A Babe is Born (Mathias) was dramatic and technically challenging for organ and choir, yet its difficult harmonies were no obvious deterrent. Finally, Jingle Bells by Pierpoint/arr. Willcocks was refreshingly different, losing none of its original character.

The Senior Youth Choir, just eight in number and singing in mainly two parts, provided a compelling contrast to the forces ranged behind them. Their courage, being so few and so exposed, is to be applauded.

In Lo, how a rose e’er blooming (14th century German) and I Wonder as I Wander (Amer. Trad/arr. Palmer) their overall sound was beautiful and their discipline good; they coped well with some difficult harmonic passages. Rutter’s Angels Carol was beautifully sung.

Earlier, the Junior Youth Choir, a sea of red amongst the black of the adult choir and almost as numerous, were a force to be reckoned with.

Caribbean Carol was confident and clearly articulated. Christmas in Falaise Square, by our own Alfie Hay, was an absolute delight — the children’s diction bringing the witty words to life. Finally, A Festive Christmas Celebration (arr. Snyder) reintroduced tradition with a pot-pourri of favourites.

The choir has come on remarkably, displaying precision, disciplined ensemble and a willingness to project. Benjamin Goodson is to be congratulated.

HCS’s ambitious next event is Elgar’s The Dream of Gerontius at Reading Concert Hall on Saturday, March 5 — an uplifting prospect for performers and audience alike. It will be preceded by a Come and Sing on Saturday, January 23. For details of this, concerts and membership, see

Review: Trevor Howell

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