Review of ACS Summer Concert

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!

Haydn’s Creation – 6th April 2019

Review of Ashtead Choral Society’s performance of The Creation by Joseph Haydn

Saturday 6th April 2019 at St Martin’s Church, Epsom

Reviewer: Sue S Meyer

Listening to this music one must remember that the events being celebrated are by definition happening for the first time ever, so a sense of awe with the occasional shock goes with the territory!

The concert began with the orchestra portraying the initial chaos, followed by the archangel Raphael announcing the void and the chorus whispering the mystery of the Spirit moving on the dark waters, culminating in the shock of light, with Ashtead Choral at full throttle.

After this the well-known sequence of events unfolded with consummate skill from all concerned:

Andrew Storey conducted with verve and aplomb, marshalling his huge forces with great dexterity.

Lucinda Cox, soprano, (Gabriel and Eve) sang with such beauty of tone and range, fully exploiting the generous acoustic of the church and always demanding the attention of the rapt audience.

Lizzy Humphries, alto, made a brief but beautiful contribution.

Mark Chaundy, tenor, sang the role of Raphael with supreme clarity in diction and vocal range and colour.

James Oldfield, bass, sang with both strength and warmth as Uriel and Adam.

It was such a great pleasure to be able to hear every word so clearly enunciated by them all.

The playing of Kent Sinfonia was a sheer delight as they filled the church with a full-on, well-blended sound with many opportunities for the individual instrumentalists to shine in Haydn’s masterpiece.  Whether playing in their own right or underpinning the soloists and choir they were consistently superb.

Ashtead Choral Society clearly relished the challenges of this piece and were well drilled in its demands, not least the sections which demanded high energy and stamina, particularly in the closing numbers of each half, which expressed passionate praise for the Creator, both being thrilling highlights.  They dealt well with the intricate interweaving of text and notes at each turn in all sections.

For me, one of the memorable highlights was Lucinda Cox singing of the creation of various birds with the wind section of Kent Sinfonia having immense fun interpreting their sounds.

The whole event was a joy from beginning to end and a fitting reward in itself for all the hard work put in by all concerned.

Celebrate! Concert on 1st December 2018

Review of Ashtead Choral Society’s concert:

Celebrate!

Saturday 1st December 2018
at St Martin’s Church,  Epsom

Reviewer: Sue S Meyer

This was Ashtead Choral Society’s first concert under their new Musical Director, Andrew Storey, who is firstly to be congratulated on putting together a programme of immense variety and with so many highlights, including four outstanding soloists.

The evening commenced with a tour de force performance by Martyn Noble of Bach’s Fantasia for Organ in G, BWV 572, taking full advantage of the church’s wonderful acoustics with a virtuosic panoply of brilliance.  Eight minutes of sheer bliss!

The choir followed with Leonard Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (1965), sung wholly in Hebrew, accompanied on the organ, and harp (Oliver Wass) and percussion (Matthew Turner).  The first movement including Psalm 108, verse 2, and the whole of Psalm 100, was delivered with great energy and commitment by choir and instrumentalists alike.  ‘A joyful noise unto the Lord’ indeed!

The second movement started with a gorgeous setting of The Lord is my Shepherd with counter-tenor Roderick Morris intoning this most famous of psalms with enchanting sensitivity, underpinned later by the ladies of the choir, but this is suddenly brought to a halt by the gentlemen singing ‘Why do the nations rage?’ from the second psalm, a display of Hebrew speed singing with albeit restrained ferocity before the reprise of Morris’s fine solo.

The third movement is a far more calm and peaceful affair of affecting beauty with the text of Psalm 131 and culminating in the first verse of Psalm 133, ‘Behold how good, and how pleasant it is, for brethren to dwell together in unity’.  Everyone involved can be justly proud of this fine performance of a very difficult piece, as was demonstrated in the rapturous applause which followed.

Then Morris and Wass treated us to excellent renditions of Britten’s arrangements of The Ash Grove and The Salley Gardens which pleased the audience enormously.

Noble accompanied the choir at the piano for Karl Jenkins’ A Celebration of Christmas, a suite of six songs including two original pieces written by Jenkins’ wife, Lullay and Sleep, Child of Winter.  It included a version of In Dulci Jubilo with pulsating rhythms reminiscent of Bernstein’s America, a Silent Night with warm harmonies, a rousing Go, Tell it on the Mountain.  The most memorable was the closing Son of Maria to the tune of a well known Catalan folk tune.  Storey brought out the best of the choir in these emotionally charged pieces.

The concert was held in support of the charity Combat Stress. A representative detailed the work done since 1919 to help veterans deal with mental health issues, a very poignant reminder of those whose lives can be devastated in an instant.

After the interval Oliver Wass performed Prokofiev’s Prelude in C and Manuel de Falla’s Spanish Dance no. 1 on the harp.  No one would suspect that Prokofiev had written such mellifluous melodies!  Everyone was delighted with such an exceptional display of skill and depth of mesmerising musicianship.

Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, with harp accompaniment, closed the concert in fine style with the choral society pulling out all the stops in every section, but special praise must go to the sopranos for their leading contributions.  The framing procession and recession were based on Gregorian chant and like the rest of the piece, beautifully sung.  Highlights were the jollity of Wolcom Yole! And As Dew in Aprille, the forceful This Little Babe and Deo Gracias.  Soloist Roderick Morris returned for a soulful That Yongë Childe with Oliver Wass sensitively underpinning him, while later playing the harp interlude to great effect.

All in all a splendid evening of superb entertainment, thought provoking words, and a well arranged start to Advent!  Well done to all concerned, above all Andrew Storey.

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!