|Review of Ashtead Choral Society’s concert:
Saturday 1st December 2018
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.