Summer 2008

Society offers a musical education

Sunday 6 July 2008

They were brave folk who ventured onto the grounds of Reading University’s Great Hall on Sunday with a picnic table, for it was the annual ‘summer’ concert of the South Chiltern Choral Society. If they didn’t think much of the picnic and the weather, they did have something to look forward to later on.

The concert which followed was a curious mix with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana preceded by a selection of Gilbert & Sullivan songs. Curious, as they are completely different styles. And the G&S was sung in the first half which meant that the choir had to hold back, ready for the onslaught to come. But it was worth it!

Carmina Burana is usually performed with a full orchestra but this accompaniment by Carl Orff himself was for two pianos and percussion — The Ben Hartley Ensemble. This excellent group provided an earthy, almost primeval sound which was absolutely right for the piece.  Katherine Price and Miles Horner were good choices as soloists, even though it is primarily a choral piece. The soprano solos were sensitively sung and the baritone solos were really attacking.

I had been slightly disappointed with the choir in the G&S but now I see that they were waiting for the main event and here they held back no more. They started the O Fortuna with a big impact that lasted through the whole piece.  The choir numbered about 80 which is a large ensemble and when they attacked a chord you really felt the impact. The sound, accompanied by the percussion, was, I believe the impact that Carl Orff intended.  The men’s chorus weren’t able to repeat this in their solo sections but as a whole choir it was terrific.  There are a number of more sensitive passages in places but the most memorable part was in the climaxes, especially at the end with O Fortuna which rounded off an unusual and compelling performance.

It’s always interesting to come to the South Chiltern concerts to see what their musical director, Gwyn Arch, has thought up. The style is always different and in a sense, it’s always a bit of a musical education. This time was no exception and I thoroughly enjoyed this very rounded performance which showed off the Great Hall’s acoustics to their best. It was built for concerts like this and the terrific burst of applause at the end of the evening was a fitting testimony to the enjoyment of the audience.

John Evans

Back to past concerts.

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