Review of ‘Transatlantic Melodies’, Sat 15th June
By Sue S Meyer
Under the energetic baton of Andrew Storey Ashtead Choral Society pulled out all the stops for this technically tricky but exciting programme with a wide variety of texts, sung to a complex network of interwoven melodies, thrillingly underpinned by the dazzling bravura of their star pianist Stephen Ridge.
The hallmark of this ensemble is a ravishing sound, with much credit to all four voice sections. Andrew Storey’s warm and witty rapport with the audience, drawing us into music, which for many was unfamiliar, was most welcome. He also explained that the dissonances we heard in certain numbers were deliberate, not the result of under-rehearsal!
The first half began and closed with the two sets of Aaron Copland’s Old American Songs, comprising a combination of hymns with romantic, maritime and comic pieces; highlights being the famous ‘Simple Gifts’ (melody aka ‘Lord of the Dance’), the hilarious ‘I Bought Me a Cat’ and the uproarious twinkle in the eye tongue-twister ‘Ching-a-Ring Chaw’.
In between Stephen Ridge deftly played deliciously complex arrangements of Gershwin’s ‘Embraceable You’ and ‘Someone to Watch Over Me’ – priceless!
After the break the choir entertained us with George Shearing’s rhythmic
arrangements of five pieces utilising texts by William Shakespeare under the title ‘Music To Hear’. For this listener the up-tempo sonnet ‘Shall Compare Thee To a Summer’s Day’ and the most overtly jazzy, an extract from ‘Much Ado About Nothing’ entitled ‘Sigh No More, Ladies, Sigh No More’ stood out as exemplary.
This was followed by Andrew Storey, this time as a pianist, sensitively playing the gorgeous Peter Maxwell Davies piece ‘Farewell to Stromness’, which sounds deceptively simple, yet evolves into an achingly emotional complexity.
The evening concluded with Bob Chilcott’s ‘A Little Jazz Mass’ from 2004, which opens with a positive, foot-tapping ‘Kyrie’; curious, as it is asking for mercy! The ‘Gloria’ is mainly upbeat with wonderful melodies and staccato rhythms. After the brief up-tempo ‘Benedictus’ there was a stark contrast in the appropriately slow start to the ‘Agnus Dei’, with warm harmonies, building up to a thrilling climax ending a fine display of the full dynamic range from hushed to full-throttle! Well done to all concerned!