Christmas Concert 2014 – Review

Christmas Poster 2014

CHRISTMAS CONCERT 2014

Saturday 20th and Sunday 21st December 2014

Review by John Evans, Henley Standard

New Conductor will be household name

PAUL Burke is not a well known name in this part of the world but I feel that he will be soon as he has stepped into the well worn shoes of Gwyn Arch as conductor of the South Chiltern Choral Society, based in Sonning Common. 

The Christmas concert series was Paul’s first opportunity to show his skills.

Gwyn has directed 49 Christmas concerts at Chiltern Edge School and the event has become synonymous with the beginning of the Christmas season in the village. So there was a high expectation from the capacity audience.

It was quite a different concert but nevertheless true to Christmas traditions with music from Benjamin Britten and a setting of the Christmas story by Alan Bullard called A Light in the Stable.

The concert started with Britten’s A Hymn to the Virgin which is set for two choirs and this was cleverly done with a quartet at the back of the hall to complement the full choir at the front.

It is the original surround sound and provided the counter melody perfectly. The quartet was composed of the two soloists for the later music together with Guy Chapman (choir member) and Ian Westlake (accompanist). It’s no mean feat to sing in tune and time at the back of a school hall when the conductor has his back to you!

The choir then sang Britten’s Ceremony of Carols which is a well known work but still retains a lot of magic in the music.

There were some very rhythmic tunes such as Wolcum Yule and Deo Gracis. Taya Smith (soprano) and Katherine Cooper (contralto) provided the processional and recessional chants that frame the piece as well as some of the solo lines in the body of the piece. They both had lovely voices and Taya particularly had a very expressive face which heightened the performance.

I always remember a conductor telling me that a smile fundamentally changes the sound of a human voice and this was very true.

In the second half Alan Bullard’s piece was sung by choir and soloists. This piece has been constructed with four well-known carols incorporated into the sequence and the audience joined in at those points, which ticked off one of the well known traditions of this concert — audience participation.

Although the story is well known and the text follows the story, the selection of music is very varied and whilst pleasant to listen to, doesn’t flow particularly well from one piece to another such as with the Britten.

It struck me that Paul has a good handle on this choir and is able to control the volume and pace very well. I see that there are some new additions to the female section and it is very good to see young singers in their ranks which must bode well for the future of the choir.

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