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Review 18 May 2013

50th Anniversary Concert

18 May 2013 at the Castle School

Once again Thornbury Choral Society produced a magnificent evening’s entertainment. Never shy to try new works their 50th Anniversary Concert on  16th May was packed with musical gems. The first item was Handel’s well-known and well-loved anthem, “Zadok the Priest”, written for the Coronation of King George II and sung at every Coronation since. This fairly motored along with the exuberant choir ably accompanied by Robin Baggs on chamber organ. Many choral societies up and down the country will be performing this work as the 60th anniversary of the coronation is celebrated and follow it with other Coronation related works. Thornbury Choral Society is in a different league! Continuing the religious theme the next work was Janacek’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer, “Otcenas”, sung in Czech. It is written for the unusual combination of harp, organ, tenor soloist and choir. Not written for liturgical use, the piece is in several sections designed to be sung to paintings by Kresz-Mecina. Gareth Treseder, the tenor soloist, sang beautifully against the frequently modulating choral parts. Not an easy work to sing or hear and with its stark closing section the choir produced just the right atmosphere of reverence and awe.

“Rejoice in the Lamb” composed by Britten for another 50th anniversary in 1943 is based on a long, rambling poem by the C18th poet, Christopher Smart. It is in several sections: how animals praise the Lord, the blessings of flowers, Smart’s personal tribulations and the mystical nature of four letters of the alphabet - an eclectic mix! The choir set the scene enthusiastically calling men and beasts to pay homage and coped well with the rhythmic complexities of the first quick section. Dynamic contrasts were excellent and the four soloists put across the character of the diverse movements. Stephanie Spragg (soprano) gave an amusing rendition of Jeoffry the cat., Gareth Treseder (tenor) and Meilir Jones (bass) all added considerable pleasure to this delightful piece as did the harpist, Kathryn Rees Peak. The choir finished with a brilliant final quick section with all the bizarre musical instrument rhymes before a beautiful serene section and the final Hallelujah.

Steven Kings has been the conductor of Thornbury Choral Society since 2005. He is also an accomplished composer. He was asked to write a piece for the 50th anniversary by TCS and “Care-Charming Spells” opened the second half of the concert. It is a setting of three poems by Herrick, Sassoon and Tessimond which celebrate music. The choir is joined by organ, harp and percussion. Catherine Ring was a study in concentration as she deftly played triangle, bass drum, side drum and cymbals. The choir executed the soothing, meditative and reflective qualities of the music finishing on a  complex eight note chord followed by a beautiful interplay between harp and organ. Steven Kings must have been delighted with this the first performance of his piece.

There was a lovely instrumental interlude before the final Chichester Psalms. Robin Baggs (organ) and Kathryn Rees Peak (harp) played a delightful duet by a lesser known impressionist composer, Grandjany, harking back to an earlier time. “Aria in a Classic Style” was just that. Idiomatic writing for both harp and organ produced a light, elegant sound and gave both soloists the opportunity to shine.

Having shown their prowess by singing in Czech, the choir and soloists sang in Hebrew for the final piece, Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms”. Originally written with an orchestral accompaniment, Bernstein prepared this alternative version for organ, harp  and percussion. The counter tenor solos are not easy but Simon Clulow, despite looking nervous, hit the correct notes for his difficult entries. The choir coped well with the sudden changes in mood and the asymmetrical rhythms and created a wonderful sense of joy and awe which brought the concert to a close.

This was a challenging programme and Thornbury Choral Society should be proud of their achievements in this their 50th Anniversary Year. Do come and support them: they deserve a much bigger audience.

Gill Holmes