Summer concert 2018 review

Review of Ashtead Choral Society’s concert:

English Music for a Summer’s Evening’,

Saturday, 16 June 2018,
at St George’s Christian Centre, Ashtead

Reviewer: Sue S. Meyer

This was conductor James Henshaw’s final appearance at the helm of Ashtead Choral
Society after five years in which he has raised the bar in glorious sound, diction,
ensemble, rhythm, dynamics and sheer enjoyment. The choir has gained in confidence
in unaccompanied singing and is improving its communication of the text to the
audience. Bravo!

Strangely, the first item was an advent piece by the 16 th century Spanish composer
Victoria, ‘O Magnum Mysterium’, a beautifully hushed hymn to the virgin birth which
suddenly segues into dance-like alleluias. Henshaw explained this transition into a
programme including a number of English madrigals, composed either side of 1600 by
the likes of Thomases Weelkes, Morley, Tomkins, and Vautor, among others.

‘Cold Winter’s Ice is Fled’ was succeeded by ‘Now is the Month of Maying’ and ‘Into
the Shady Woods’; later on we heard the ribald and rhythmic ‘Fair Phyllis I Saw
Sitting’ and ‘I Love Alas I Love Thee’ – songs where wanton young lovers go falalalala-
ing in various vegetations!

The ladies of the Barbarelles gave sprightly renditions of ‘Blue Skies’ and ‘The Cornish
Floral Dance’, banishing thoughts of other versions one may know! The only
instrumental item was a six-handed ragtime piano composition, ‘The Secret’ by Léonard
Gautier, executed with great panache by Caroline Bailey, Michelle MacDonald and Anne
Ridge. Superb!

An unadvertised highlight was James Henshaw singing the counter tenor piece by
Purcell ‘Music for a While’, excellent in tone, line and expression, accompanied by
Stephen Ridge, who gave first class support throughout the evening where needed.
There were two Vaughan-Williams solos by Alicia Newell, a sensitive, beautifully
nuanced ‘Silent Noon’, and David Robinson’s flawless rich bass ‘The Vagabond’.

The first half concluded with an avian triptych: Orlando Gibbons’ alleged lament for
the demise of the madrigal, the mournful ‘The Silver Swan’, then ‘Sweet Suffolk Owl’,
but the closing ‘The Blue Bird’ by Stanford was a real highlight, capturing a special atmospheric moment of beauty by a lake. This showed the choir at its best. Moreover
Sarah Coulam’s soprano solo over the choir was hauntingly glorious and peerless.
The second half brought us more madrigals, including two in praise of Oriana, widely
thought to be a figure representing Queen Elizabeth I ( so next time you are thinking
of booking a cruise …) – ‘As Vesta was Descending’ and ‘The Lady Oriana’.
Altos Lesley Clarke and Sarah Boyle delighted us with a beautifully polished
performance of the old folk song ‘The Oak and the Ash’.

The concert concluded with John Rutter’s arrangements for choir of eleven folk songs,
which people of a certain age will remember from their schooldays, ‘The Sprig of
Thyme’. The ladies of the choir excelled in the eponymous song, as well as ‘I know
where I’m going’ and ‘O can ye sew cushions?’ while the gentlemen showed their mettle
in ‘Down in the Sally Gardens’ and the drinking song ‘The Miller of Dee’. Old favourites
such as ‘The Bold Grenadier’, ‘The Keel Row’ and ‘Afton Water’ did not disappoint, nor
the songs in which willow trees witnessed tragic goings on.

All in all then a most satisfying event which demonstrated not only the skills of the
choir but also the breadth and depth of individual talent within it. Both James
Henshaw and Ashtead Choral can feel justly proud of their achievements. He will be
sorely missed!

‘Music for a while,
Shall all your cares beguile.’
Indeed!

Review of ‘A Night at the Opera’

Review of:

‘A Night at the Opera’

with Ashtead Choral Society at
Epsom Playhouse on Saturday, 24 March 2018.

Review by Sue S. Meyer

Congratulations to conductor James Henshaw, Chorus Master of ENO, for a fine and varied selection of pieces and masterly marshalling of his forces throughout this hugely entertaining concert before a full house!

The evening opened with the ever popular Overture to ‘The Barber of Seville’ by the youthful Outcry Ensemble, whose zestful professionalism and precision underpinned the whole event.  Bravo!

There was so much to enjoy here!  The trio of soloists were all outstanding with numbers in English, Russian, Italian, French and German; all performed with flawless diction and acting their wide-ranging roles with consummate skill and panache.

Soprano Charlotte Howes demonstrated a tremendous vocal range and control with portrayal of the full gamut of female wiles in a broad spectrum of roles!  Her Rosina’s aria from ‘The Barber of Seville’ and her Carmen were especially compelling.

Tenor Alberto Sousa excelled in Lensky’s aria from ‘Eugene Onegin’ and performed a highly flirtatious rendering of the great showstopper ‘La donna è mobile’.  The duet with baritone Mark Nathan from ‘La Bohème’ demonstrated great technique allied with a sensitivity to each other’s voices which gave the impression they had done this regularly – not the case!

Mark’s introductions were particularly witty but it was his vocal and linguistic skills which wowed the audience; a very fine Onegin aria, an engrossing Papageno’s suicide aria from ‘The Magic Flute’, and a swaggering Toreador’s Song from ‘Carmen’ with the choir!

All of them contributed magnificently to choruses sung by the choir, who were no less engaging as they sang in all the above languages apart from Russian with impressive diction.

They sang with confidence, and aplomb in the waltz scene from ‘Onegin’, the Bridal Chorus from ‘Lohengrin’, ‘Habanera’ from ‘Carmen’ and the splendid Triumphal March from ‘Aida’ with a sonorous, well blended sound.  They captured the tragic grief of the Chorus of Hebrew Slaves (‘Nabucco’) and even more so the emotional heart of the Chorus of Scottish Refugees (‘Macbeth’) with an impressive attention to dynamics.

They rose well to the enormous challenges of ‘Brindisi’ with its rapid Italian in the closing section and the strange vocabulary and rhythmic variety of ‘Rataplan’ (‘The Force of Destiny’).  Special mention must be made of a very fine Priest’s Chorus (‘The Magic Flute’) from the tenors and basses in a famously difficult piece!

Overall then, an ambitious programme delivered in wonderful sound with many a highlight!  It would have improved if more members of the choir had raised their heads from their books to portray the full emotional impact of the words they were singing!  But this is nit-picking!

Review of Dual Alliance Concert

Review of ‘The Dual Alliance’ concert by Ashtead Choral Society at St Martin’s Church, Epsom, on Saturday, 4 November, 2017
by Sue S. Meyer

Bravo to maestro James Henshaw for a most challenging concert which progressed Ashtead Choral Society in their skills singing a capella for all but the Fauré pieces and also adding short items in Russian and old French to their linguistic repertoire, as well as including pieces in Latin. The singers showed a much developed sense of collective confidence and cohesion, in addition to well controlled pitch and secure technique.

The evening comprised music in French and Russian composed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, the alliance between these nations ending with the Russian revolution of 1917.

The concert bookended parts of Fauré’s Requiem with pieces from Rachmaninov’s All-Night Vigil, four in all. The hushed tones of the Introit of the Requiem set the scene for an evening not without its musical fireworks. The Rachmaninov movements started with quiet moments building gradually into very strong fortes, particularly ‘Praise the Name of the Lord’, the penultimate number where the forte was withheld until late on then faded. Two of these pieces gave us access to the dark toned Russian ‘Allilúiya’, quite a contrast to the bright ‘Hallelujahs’ we are used to from say Handel’s ‘Messiah’. The Russian sounded largely secure, with good support from the basses.

Duruflé’s 4 Motets were sung assuredly by the choir with crystal clear voices, and special mention must be made of the ladies only song ‘Tota Pulchra Es’, which was wholly beautiful and immaculate.

The first half ended with a gorgeous rendering of Fauré’s exquisite ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ which left the audience wanting more, rather than having a break. Organist Jonathan Holmes played sensitively in the Fauré as well as shining in two solo items of Vierne’s Organ Symphony No 5, the Scherzo in the first half and a mighty Finale putting the queen of instruments persuasively through her paces.

In the second half we were treated to ‘Trois Chansons de Charles d’Orléans’ by Debussy, challenging in the old French and musically too; the first a paean to the poet’s love’s graceful beauty; the second in which ACS alto Caroline Bailey sang suavely and coquettishly while others in the choir provided complex tambourine-like rhythms; and the third a high speed lament for the villainy of winter! The choir met the challenge with aplomb!

The final three pieces from Fauré were splendidly rendered and special mention must be made of ACS bass soloist Richard Price whose heartfelt involvement with the text really had one in earnest hope for his eternal soul. The peaceful ‘In Paradisum’ brought the evening to a satisfying calming conclusion.

The wonderful acoustic of the church contributed greatly to the choir’s well blended sound with the voices in most agreeable balance. The variety of rhythms, some very complex, exploitation of dynamic range and ensemble left one indeed grateful for such a tremendous experience.

Well done to all concerned!

Summer Concert Review

Review of Ashtead Choral Society and Ashtead Jazz Club’s concert
‘Classic Jazz Favourites’ on Saturday, 17 June, 2017,
at St George’s Christian Centre, Ashtead 

by Sue S. Meyer

 

After the success of the first outing of these two forces two years ago this was an eagerly awaited event, and it did not disappoint, with a programme where virtually every item was a highlight! Congratulations to conductor James Henshaw on arranging such a superb variety of numbers, but also training the choir to ever greater heights in accuracy, feeling for the text, but above all a superb sound!

The Choral Society excelled with sprightly but tight renditions of songs such as ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’’, ‘Chatanooga Choo Choo’, and ‘I Got Rhythm’. The slower numbers ‘Moonlight Serenade’, ‘My Funny Valentine’ and ‘A Nightingale Sang In Berkeley Square’ came with a warm romantic flair with sense of style.
The gentlemen offered a sharp tongue in cheek version of the cheesy barber shop quartet favourite ‘My Evaline’ and the ladies a heartfelt ‘We’ll Meet Again’. The ladies’ ensemble The Barberelles performed a beautifully jolly ‘Music! Music! Music!’ followed by ‘Ain’t We Got Fun’, firstly as everyone knows it, then with a sly current affairs informed version which referenced for example Brexit and asking whether Theresa may or may not …!
Altos Lesley Clarke and Sarah Boyle presented a deliciously bluesy ‘Feeling Good’ and Winston Fane-Bailey gave us an unexpected set of lyrics for ‘Are You Lonesome Tonight?’ referencing the ailments and other issues affecting old age.
The audience warmed to the wry wit of a song which apparently Elvis refused to air in public!

Most of these items were underpinned by the customary brilliant piano playing of Stephen Ridge, the choir’s regular accompanist. How fortunate they are!
When the choir joined forces with the band for the opening ‘Summertime’ with its excellent instrumental interlude and the concluding ‘Autumn Leaves’ and ‘Goodnight Sweetheart’ we realised we were in very special company as both teams gave outstanding performances with wonderful blending and a glorious sound. These were the highlights of the highlights, rapturously received by a very appreciative audience.
Ashtead Jazz Club, performing for the first time with this line up of Tom Early,drums, Dan Foster, saxophone, Ben Trigg, piano, and Josè Canha, bass, played throughout their pieces with tremendous technical skill and emotional drive, whether accompanying the choir or in their own numbers including an enthralling ‘Georgia On My Mind’,a stonking ‘All The Things You Are’ and rousing ‘Joy Spring’. All showcased their individual musicianship with aplomb, but best of all was their so involving ensemble work.
An outstanding evening! Another such collaboration? Yes, please; but could the choir and band join forces more, please?