Summer Concert 2016 – Review

Published in the Henley Standard

Review by Paul Whitehead

Music and Poetry – South Chiltern Choral Society in fine voice.

The concert at Queen Anne’s School in Caversham given by the South Chiltern Choral Society on 9th July was entitled “Music and Poetry” and this captured the mood of a delightfully different choral event. There were no poetry readings but the music was inspired by poetry and other texts.

After the traditional picnic in rather cool and blustery weather the main hall in the School was nearly full. The choir was in good voice for a collection of well-known Shakespeare texts set to music by the jazz pianist George Shearing. They were taken at a lively pace by Thomas Graff on the piano who also gave an exuberant performance of “Handel in the Strand” by Grainger. The first half of the concert was completed by an incisive rendition of Bob Chilcott’s setting of Orlando Gibbons’ “Songs and Cries of London Town” for choir and two players at one piano.

After the interval, some lively madrigals and a challenging organ solo based on the chimes of Big Ben, played by Julian Littlewood, led on to the most original and exciting piece in the concert. – The Didcot Haiku. This was composed by the SCCS conductor, Paul Burke and is a setting of James Potter’s haiku. With a strictly limited number of sound-units per line, the ancient Japanese poetic form of haiku is used to reflect varied thoughts of the author on his regular commute through Didcot Parkway station. These texts are arranged to cover a day from the dawn chorus, through the breathtaking “30 second transfer” hustle of the rush hour to the final movement as light fades bringing the piece full circle. Paul Burke’s music cleverly followed and emphasised the poetry in an uncompromisingly modern setting, with changes in key, time signature and mood, which was immediately accessible. The choir pulled out all the stops in their excellent performance of this fascinating piece which will surely be more widely featured.

Overall, throughout the concert, the choir showed great confidence, attacking the pieces with precision and sharpness. They responded well to Paul Burke’s focused and expressive guidance and left the appreciative audience wanting more.

Paul Whitehead

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