Summer Concert 2015 – Review


Review by John Evans – Published by the Henley Standard

South Chiltern Choral Society – All American 4th July

Last Saturday turned out to be a perfect day for rowing, picnics and music. The South Chiltern Choral Society provided two of these at a new venue for them – Queen Anne’s School in Caversham. The flavour was of course all American with Bernstein, Copland and Gershwin featuring prominently as well as a selection of spirituals and jazz standards. Perfect for a warm summer’s evening.

Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms were written for the cathedral choir in 1965 and is a frequently performed piece, albeit very taxing for choirs. There is also a stipulation by Leonard Bernstein, that the solo part is only sung by a countertenor or boy soprano, suggesting that it was the voice of David from the 23rd Psalm. In this case the solo part was sung by Victoria Alexander who had a lovely voice, more than fitting for this part. So destroy that myth!

The music is full of energy followed by some contemplative passages which are quickly interrupted. The final movement is much calmer and reflects earlier themes. It’s a wonderful piece and a joy to listen to. I think that the choir did very well, starting with a good attack and thereafter provided variation in tone and pace.

This was followed by three traditional spirituals, arranged by Gwyn Arch, former conductor of the choir. It was good to see him in the audience, now recovering from an illness. This kind of music is bread and butter to this choir and they managed very well, providing a lighter note to the Bernstein.

In the second half, they performed a selection of Old American Songs arranged by Aaron Copland. You can hear some themes from his longer works such as Appalachian Spring and I was waiting to hear the last one Ching-a ring Chaw, reminiscent of the minstrel tradition. This is quite tricky and the choir were able to complete it well.

There was a musical interlude provided by Ian Westley, the choir’s accompanist, performing two Preludes by George Gershwin. This was an accomplished performance which introduced the last element of the concert which was arrangements, again by Gwyn Arch, of some jazz standards.

I sometimes have difficulties with singers moving out of their comfort zone and trying other types of music. Very often you hear opera singers moving into ballads and somehow it doesn’t seem right. Whilst the South Chiltern sang these songs very competently they just didn’t have the right amount of “lazy” singing style that we normally associate with jazz. Full marks for trying though!

So, American music for a summer’s evening. Enjoyable but perhaps, given that it was the 4th of July, I expected a bit more razzamatazz! Quite a short programme as well. But good fun. Musical Director Paul Burke seems to have got a good handle on this choir now and they seem to be at ease with him. So we now look forward to their Christmas offering.

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