Summer Concert 2014 – Review

Summer Poster 2014


Saturday 5th July 2014

Review by John Evans, Henley Standard

Review: Emotions ran high at MD’s swansong

ALMOST half a century of music making — that’s a grand accolade for anyone. But to the South Chiltern Choral Society and its loyal audience it’s so much more. The packed concert hall on Saturday was testament to the fabulous concerts that have been created over the years, and that’s down to one man — Gwyn Arch.

I’ve had the privilege of reviewing these concerts for more than 20 years and one salient fact is present in every one: originality. In every concert there is something novel and interesting, something to take away and muse over. And in an area bursting with choirs, that’s pretty special.

The programme was created around a single work, Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo, supplemented by lots of the favourites over the years. The choir was joined by the Reading Male Voice Choir, another of Gwyn’s creations. No large orchestra — just a piano, bass and drums which allowed full focus on the singing.

It’s fair to say that there was a lot of pumped-up emotion in the hall and that applause would ring out for just about anything. But Gwyn, in his early eighties, still has the ability to control choirs and bring out the best in them. While the music we heard wasn’t technically difficult, it was sung very well, with good balance between the sections echoing around the great acoustics of the concert hall.

The Male Voice Choir sang very well with some traditional items and some gospel and blues numbers. I was eagerly awaiting the moment when Gwyn would take to the piano so that we could hear his easy style of improvised jazz playing and that came in When the Love Come Trickalin’ Down: not dominating the singing but enhancing it.

South Chiltern started the evening with a great burst of energy with some Gershwin and Porter songs — Swanee and Anything Goes — singing in a relaxed style which disguised the fact that such a large choir needs a skilled conductor to create that effect. But that is the essence of Gwyn: everything is relaxed and the singing is sublime.

Both choirs sang an unannounced song which was a special version of Thank you for the Music as a special tribute to Gwyn.

The evening finished with one of his (and my) favourites — Choose Something like a Star by Randall Thompson. This beautiful song requires a choir to be fully committed to the music particularly because of the everlasting phrases. Breathing is especially important. Perhaps because this would be the last time they would sing with Gwyn, they gave their all.

The image that stays with me is at the end of Captain Noah which received rapturous applause. Gwyn jumped off the dais as if he was in his early twenties. A big thank you to Gwyn for bringing us such great music with such joie de vivre and enthusiasm.

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