Reviews

Reviews of Some Recent Concerts

 

40th Anniversary Concert 11 May 2019 

This was an evening of wonderful choral singing to celebrate 40 years of making music since the Choir’s inception in 1979. And what an evening of celebration it was!

The choir was formed under the direction of David Wells, the then choirmaster and organist at St Andrews Church. David was there in person to conduct Monteverdi’s ‘Beatus Vir’ which was performed at their inaugural concert. After David left in 1984, Colin Marston became not only St Andrews choirmaster, but the new Director of Penrith Singers – a post he held for over 30 years! Colin was also present and he conducted ‘Song for Athene’ by John Tavener, also sung at Colin’s final concert in 2015. Special mention must be made of Heather Thomlinson, the Assistant Director of music for many years, who conducted Mozart’s Ave Verum with sensitivity resulting in a beautifully flowing and well balanced performance from the choir.

Since 2015, the Singers Director of Music has been Edward Taylor, Assistant Organist at Carlisle Cathedral, who conducted the remaining items on the programme. Unfortunately, Jordan English who was to have played the organ was indisposed. His place was taken at two days’ notice by Kris Thomsett, Assistant organist at Newcastle Cathedral, who played the accompanied pieces with clarity and sensitivity. Kris was unfamiliar with a couple of items and Edward Taylor then transferred to the organ with the choir direction being assigned to another guest conductor, Jonathon Millican, current Director of Abbey Singers and the Cathedral Voluntary Choir in Carlisle.

The concert consisted of some fourteen pieces, ranging from composers of the 17th to the 20th centuries with texts in English, German, Latin, French and Russian! The performance began with Handel’s anthem for the coronation of George II. The gradual increase in intensity of the organ introduction leads to a choral explosion on the words ‘Zadok the Priest’ – a spine tingling moment at any time, but particularly so on Saturday evening and a wonderful start to this celebration of 40 years of choral singing. Monteverdi’s Beatus Vir conducted by David Wells was measured and nicely sung, just occasionally some entries were slightly less confident. There were many highlights in this concert and one was Helen Southernwood’s solos in Mendelssohn’s ‘Hear my Prayer’. A young soprano with a lovely clear tone and excellent diction – her voice suited the well-known ‘O for the wings of a dove’! Still studying at university, we wish her well in her future career. The choral and organ accompaniment was suitably prayer-full.

‘Lift up your heads’ was the second piece by Handel. From the ‘Messiah’, this chorus is vocally demanding, but the choir coped well and responded to Edward Taylor’s crisp rhythm and precise direction. Prior to the interval, the choir sang ‘The Heavens are telling’ from Joseph Haydn’s oratorio ‘The Creation’. The choir is familiar with this work and it was sung with confidence and energy. For the solo trio, Helen Southernwood was joined by choir members Charles Ritchie (tenor) and Bill Maddams (Bass).

Edward Taylor played the organ for Finzi’s ‘God is gone up with a triumphant shout’. Edward’s bold organ registration for the initial fanfare set the mood and under Jonathon’s able and enthusiastic direction the choir sang with confidence and conviction the praise of music’s patron, St Cecilia. Interestingly, the words were written by another ‘Edward Taylor’ about 300 years ago!! This piece was another highlight! The item in Russian was Rachmaninov’s Ave Maria from his Vespers, which was unaccompanied. The choir produced some lovely sustained singing and responded to Edward’s change in dynamics to create those wonderful sweeping phrases so typical of this music. Another unaccompanied piece was Tavener’s ‘Song for Athene’ written in 1983. Colin Marston directed the choir and achieved a moving performance of this magical work. All voices produced some lovely sensitive singing.

The final piece in the programme was Hubert Parry’s finest choral work, ‘Blest Pair of Sirens’. Edward Taylor played the organ and he literally pulled out ‘all the stops’ to make this a fitting end to this memorable celebration and the choir rose to the occasion, pulling out all their stops, to give a wonderfully rousing finish.

Special mention must be made of David Kendrew who introduced each of the items clearly and efficiently and kept the evening running smoothly. Also of Vic Watson, who is the only remaining founder member – congratulations! As ever, the Programme notes were very clear and informative.

Congratulations to all the choir and Edward Taylor their current Director for such a memorable concert and also to the former Directors, David Wells and Colin Marston for founding and maintaining Penrith Singers. Best Wishes for the next 40 years!! (Geoff Gray, Carlisle)    

Penrith Singers Concert Review 17.11.18

                                                 ‘Spirit of the Nation’

There was a large gathering in St Andrew’s Church, Penrith, on Saturday 17th Nov for a concert presented by the Penrith Singers to mark the centenary of the end of the First  World War, entitled ‘The Spirit of the Nation.’ How apt is the title, the music of the period being particularly evocative of the mood of the time, of the bravado of war turning to horror, and then to a hoped for peace.

A hush fell as the lights dimmed, except for those focussed on the Penrith Singers as,  unaccompanied, they  began a four part rendering of Douglas Guest’s short setting of Laurence Binyon’s familiar words ’They shall grow not old - - -We will remember them’. So the mood was set as Sheila Hadwin read Kathryn Tynan’s, ‘Joining the colours’: ‘There they go marching - - - The mothers sons - - - Foolish they go - - - singing they go - - ‘.

John Ireland’s ‘Greater Love’, composed in 1912, held us all in rapt attention, the choir now accompanied by John Kitchen on the organ, and ‘Borders Brass’ made up of 2 horns, 2 trumpets, 2 trombones, tuba and timpani, used sensitively and appropriately throughout the evening’s performance. The men of the choir began with ‘Many waters cannot quench love’, the full choir then increased the sense of urgency with a quickening of the tempo to declare ‘Love is strong as death’, but then an unaccompanied moment with ‘Greater love has no man than this - - - ‘. With  the organ and brass building to a marvellous climax, a quiet ending followed completing a memorable performance. Our two  soloists for the evening, Rachel Little (soprano) and Jonathan Millican (baritone) had small roles in this piece, but their opportunity would come later.

The atmosphere of reverence remained for George Thalben – Ball’s ‘Elegy in Bflat’, with John Kitchen on the organ. The theme brought out simply, was increasingly embellished building to a splendid full organ, the coda then closing quietly using fragments of the theme.

There was a lightening of mood with Stanford’s five ‘Songs of the Fleet’. Jonathan Millican sang the verses of ‘Sailing at Dawn’, while the choir joined in the chorus, the accompaniment of organ and brass adding to that sense of ‘we gallant sailors’! That was confirmed when the various songs that followed varied from ‘sea shanty’ swing, to the night watch in the stillness of the sea, and closing more somberly with ‘Far off they served, but now their deed is done - - - they died for thee’, beautifully arranged with organ and brass accompanying – a fine ending. Jonathan Millican had steered his ship most ably!

Gustav Holst in the peace of 1919 set the words ‘Turn back O man, forswear thy foolish  ways’ as a powerful hymn like setting over a repeated four note descending ostinato bass on organ. Horns were added as the ‘hymn’ moved on to trumpets in full cry  as the choir sang in unison, ‘Earth shall be fair, and all her folk be one’.

Hubert Parry died as the war ended, in 1918. Shortly before his death he set ‘My soul there is a country far beyond the stars’ for  unaccompanied choir. Beautifully sung and I suspect a favourite of the choir. It was followed by a short ‘Elegie’ for  organ, his final composition. And so to Elgar’s ‘The Spirit of England’, a setting of three contrasting poems of Laurence Binyon, composed  during the war. The choir began in fine style with a soaring phrase for sopranos ‘Now in thy splendour go before us Spirit of England - - - ‘, then taken up by Rachel Little, her voice crowning all. A contrast came with a reminder of the ‘Demon’s Chorus’ from ‘The Dream of Gerontius’ to illustrate the ‘Vampire of Europe’s wasted will’, before a repeated haunting phrase accompanied Rachel and the choir as they sang of ‘divinely suffering man’, but then a repeat of that splendid opening  could not be resisted!

Singing of the women in their ‘watch of solitude - - through their night of fears - - ‘ Rachel’s purity of voice conveyed the sense of foreboding as that haunting phrase returned. But then a slow, persistent marching rhythm accompanied the choir as ‘England  mourns for her dead across the sea’. Then quicker, a rattling side drum ‘They fought, they were terrible’, but the slow rhythm returned sounding tired now ‘As the stars - -  in our darkness, to the end, they remain’.

So Malcolm Boyd read Siegfried Sassoon’s poem, ‘Everyone suddenly burst out singing - - and horror drifted away’, and then the organ and brass in Vaughan Williams arrangement, played in fanfare as the audience stood and everyone burst out singing ‘All people that on earth do dwell, sing to the Lord’! A glorious finale!

With thanks to the choir with their committed singing throughout, our two soloists, ‘Borders Brass’, and how fortunate to have an organist of the high calibre of John Kitchen! But special thanks are reserved for Penrith Singers’ resident conductor, Edward Taylor, in his sheer professionalism, making the whole of the evenings performance possible. His direction shone through, in what was a fitting and memorable musical offering.

L K T

Penrith Singers Performance of “The Creation” by Franz Joseph Haydn

St Andrew’s Church, Penrith on Saturday 12th May 2018

 

Now in their 39th Season, Penrith Singers gave a performance of Haydn’s oratorio ‘The Creation’ which is only the fourth time in their history that they have sung this work. On this occasion the Choir was conducted by their current Music Director, Edward Taylor, assisted by a trio of excellent soloists and accompanied by Ian Hare at the Organ and an interesting addition of three instrumentalists, flute, clarinet and ‘cello.

The oratorio is a musical dramatisation of the Biblical story of creation and ‘In the beginning’ the drama was set by the Bass Soloist, and when confirmed for us by the choir’s sudden fortissimo ‘and there was LIGHT’, we knew that we were in for an evening of fine music making and a memorable performance.

The soloists of Soprano, Tenor and Bass are assigned names, presumably those of God’s angels overseeing the creation. The Soprano and Bass later become Adam and Eve.

Paul Im Thurn sang the Bass roles of Raphael and Adam eloquently throughout the evening with a convincing interpretation of the text. Describing the creeping worm’s ‘sinuous trace’ was a highlight. The Tenor Soloist was Joseph Doody singing Uriel. He has a wonderfully clear ringing tone and he sang with clarity and conviction. Jessica Leary as Gabriel and Eve has excellent communication skills to accompany a lovely effortless (seemingly) soprano quality, an award winning combination as reflected by her CV. Their ensemble trios were well balanced and beautifully sung.

Under Edward Taylor’s precise direction, the Choir performed with confidence and attention to detail, also with effective dynamics which gave meaning and quality to the singing. Just occasionally, over exuberance resulted in a slightly ‘pushed’ tone, but this was minimal. They obviously knew the work well and enjoyed singing it and this was much appreciated by the pleasingly large audience in St Andrews.

It is a privilege to hear an accomplished organist derive such ‘colours’ and tonal variation from such a powerful instrument. Ian Hare treated us to a masterclass with the quality of his playing and choice of registration. Similarly, the instrumental playing was very effective throughout, but especially in the Soprano aria ‘On Mighty Pens’ where the flute mimics the cooing dove, just one of many lovely moments.

Here’s a puzzle. Haydn wrote for three soloists, but in the final chorus, ‘Sing the Lord, ye voices all’ he introduces a Contralto for just a few bars to sing a solo quartet? This was performed by Valerie Fox who discretely stepped out of the choir to join the line of soloists. The enjoyment of the evening was enhanced by Colin Marston’s informative programme notes.

This was a most enjoyable performance of ‘Haydn’s Creation’, one to be remembered both by listeners familiar with the work and those new to this oratorio.

 

Geoff Gray

Carlisle

 

Review of Penrith Singers December Concert 

Saturday, 2nd December 2017

The Penrith Singers were in sparkling form for their pre-Christmas concert in St. Andrew’s Church last Saturday evening.

Their inspirational director (Edward Taylor), excellent organist (Ian Hare), fine soloists (Emily Milburn, Michael Deakin and Jonathan Millican) led the choir in a very fine performance of the first part of Handel’s ever popular Messiah. One of the most frequently performed choral works, especially in the run-up to Christmas, it takes some effort and an exceptional combination of performers to produce an overall effect which is fresh and exciting. However, the Penrith Singers rose to that challenge and delighted the large audience with their responsive and expressive singing throughout this performance.

From the opening Sinfonia which, musically, sets the scene, Ian Hare’s playing was exemplary, making use of the wide range of tone colours available on the recently rebuilt organ, with just the right blend of sounds to support both the soloists and the choir.

From the opening of the first recitative and in subsequent arias, Jonathan Millican’s superb musicianship was evident, with spot-on intonation and the words clearly projected right to the rear of the nave. Similarly, Michael and Emily sang clearly and expressively throughout their recitatives and arias.

The choir’s singing was accurate, with good attack on each entry and excellent contrasts between the quieter sections such as ‘O thou who tellest good tidings’ and the louder ones such as ‘Glory to God in the highest’.

After the interval, the choir were joined by Gabriel Reid (Oboe) and Jackie Wright (clarinet) for a memorable performance of John Rutter’s ‘Psalmfest’, a wonderful collection of nine extracts from, mostly well-known, psalms. The contrasts in moods and musical expression, from the quietly contemplative to the loudly declamatory, both within and between the psalm settings, makes this a fine set of choral pieces. Particularly memorable were Psalm 23 (‘The Lord is my shepherd’) with its exquisite blend of quiet organ accompaniment, oboe solo, soprano and baritone solos and gently flowing choral lines; also ‘The Lord is my light’ with clarinet and vocal solos and its alternation of quietly mysterious sections compared with the livelier and more declamatory interludes. Several other psalms used syncopated and irregular rhythms, with bright organ registrations and confident choral singing to proclaim ‘O be joyful in the Lord’, ‘O clap your hands’ and, finally, ‘O praise the Lord of heaven’, which brought the concert to fitting climax.

Review of Penrith Singers Spring Concert 

Saturday, 27 May 2017


 

The audience gathered at St Andrew’s Church, Penrith, on Saturday 27th May, for a performance of J S Bach’s St John Passion, given by the Penrith Singers under their musical director, Edward Taylor. With an orchestra made up of local musicians, leader Susan Johnson, the choir began in fine style with a forceful: ‘Hail, Lord and Master - - thou - - came to save mankind from - - sin and shame.’ This, the basis of the Passion story which would unfold, as told by St John.

Coming to the concert, now some 6 weeks after Easter, maybe there was a sense that our mood has changed, that this story of the suffering Christ which preceded the Easter celebration wasn’t relevant now. But how wrong one can be! For look towards Manchester, and yes, this story is always relevant! So the choir sang this opening chorus to set the scene, confident in Bach’s rhythm and counterpoint.

The story is told by the Evangelist in recitative. Clearly, the choir had remembered Stephen Anthony Brown as the Evangelist at its previous performance of the work in 2004 and engaged him again for the part. They would not be disappointed. He expressed the narrative with thought and care throughout, with his tenor voice bringing a clarity of diction, so necessary if the listener is to be fully engaged in the drama.

As the story unfolds there is a need for small parts to be taken by members of the choir. Helen Thornley, Andrew Barbier and Charles Ritchie ably fulfilled these roles. The part of Jesus was considerable and well and confidently sung by Bill Maddams from the bass section.

Bach gives the soprano soloist two wonderful areas in which to excel, as indeed, Emma Peaurt did, as always, having been invited to perform with Penrith Singers several times in the past. It was also good to see the return of Joseph Bolger, counter-tenor. He, too, was given two arias by the composer. But key to these arias are the obbligato instruments adding interest and colour to the music. With the counter-tenor 2 oboes and bassoon and with the soprano 2 flutes and bassoon. And all underpinned, as throughout the piece, by low strings with leader, Sally Robbins (‘cello) and John Cooper Green on chamber organ.

There was also a welcome return for bass soloist, Paul Im Thurn. His arias are somewhat different. Singing of the ‘sharp thorns’ on the head of Jesus he was accompanied on solo violin with pizzicato on lower strings, a strange sound. A combination of strings also accompanied him in the rapidly flowing, ‘ Haste - - to Golgotha’ with the choir’s precise, ‘O where? O where’ constantly interrupting. And again, as he sang to his ‘Lord and Master’, the choir were quietly singing the chorale, ‘Jesu, thou who tasted death, live forever’.

Indeed, chorales sung by the choir feature throughout. They were reduced in numbers to some 50 singers, partly through sickness but also on account of the timing, it being a bank holiday weekend. Nevertheless they excelled in the four part harmony of the chorales, the men’s voices, just 8 tenors and 9 basses coming through nicely. The chorales apart, the choir’s role needed to be confrontational, and it was! Often in short contrapuntal passages, as when Jesus asks, ‘Whom seek ye?’, and the response with venom in their voices, ‘ Jesus of Nazareth!’ And later, ‘Crucify! Crucify!’ And when challenged by Pilate the response was quite brilliant, ‘ We have no King but Caesar!’ And how they enjoyed the rhythmic pulse of ‘Let us now divide - -‘, referring to the seamless robe of Jesus. A couple of faltering entries couldn’t mar this performance. Clearly, the choir, under Edward Taylor had worked hard and succeeded in preparing this music as a dramatic telling of the passion, the smaller forces probably more in keeping with the works origin at St Thomas’s Church, Leipzig in 1724. So the Penrith Singers brought their performance to a comforting close, singing the chorale,

‘ O Jesus, when I come to die,

Let angels bear my soul on high.’

L K T

 

PENRITH SINGERS’ May CONCERT

Sunday, 15 May 2016

FRENCH CONNECTION

 

St. Andrew’s Church resounded to the stirring sounds of Penrith Singers conducted by Edward Taylor on Sunday evening, accompanied by no less than three organists!

In an ambitious programme of music, mostly by French organist-composers of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, entitled “French Connection”, the choir tackled a series of compositions ranging from the triumphant to the lyrical and back again.

The concert opened with Louis Vierne’s ‘Messe Solennelle’ with its dramatic organ introduction followed by a quiet choir entry, building to a huge climax using the considerable tonal resources of both the recently restored pipe organ at the front of the church and an imported electronic organ at the back. The exuberant ‘Gloria’ was sung with great energy, although there were one or two rather indeterminate entries particularly from the rear of the choir and there were a few minor problems of intonation. However, the melodic and rhythmic beauty of the Sanctus and Benedictus exhibited some fine choral singing and the work came to a beautifully calm ending with the Agnus Dei.

The opening movement of Charles-Marie Widor’s celebrated 5th Symphony was played as a duet by Edward Taylor on the pipe organ and Jordan English on the digital one in an arrangement by Edward. The resulting stereo effect was quite remarkable – very well balanced, with magical antiphony and contrasts between the noble themes at the beginning and conclusion and the contrasted syncopated sections in the middle played on sparkling flute stops.

Maurice Durufle’s four unaccompanied motets provided a contrast to the fireworks of the previous piece. The opening motet, ‘Ubi Caritas’ was neatly phrased and clearly articulated by the choir, while ‘Tota pulchra es’ presented a gentle dance-like quality, to be followed by the louder and lively ‘Tu es Petra’ and the ‘Tantum ergo” which was notable for its gentle dissonance and smoothly flowing character.

The first half concluded with Widor’s Easter motet ‘Surrexit a mortuis’ with its rousing fanfares on the organ trumpets played by John Green and Jordan English and its striking harmonies and quieter middle section.

The second half opened with David Briggs’ ‘Messe pour Notre-Dame, written in 2002 and with the composer in the audience. Written in a more modern idiom, it contained many intriguing cross-rhythms, rich and dissonant harmonies and complex choral textures. The work presented significant note-finding challenges for the choir, which were largely successful, although there were passages when more vocal volume was needed to balance the two organs which provided colourful accompaniments from either end of the building.

By complete contrast, William Walton’s ‘Crown Imperial March’, written for the 1937 Coronation provided interesting challenges of a different kind in this arrangement for three organs by Edward Taylor – a kind of triophony! Huge climaxes, blazing reeds and mixtures alternating with the softer sounds of diapasons worked very successfully and the whole was quite a “Tour de force”. Congratulations to Edward, Jordan and John for a fine performance.

A serene few moments of calm followed with Gabriel Faure’s beautifully rendered ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’ before the concert ended with David Willcocks’ “Sing” – a choral song of praise set to the famous Toccata from Widor’s 5th Organ Symphony, which sent the audience out on a high note. All credit to those taking part in a very memorable  concert.concert.


Sunday, December 6th, 2015

A large and appreciative audience assembled in St. Andrew’s Church, Penrith on Sunday evening, 6th December, despite the traumatic flooding which had affected almost every part of the county during the previous 48 hours. The choir and orchestra were somewhat depleted, with several members unable to reach Penrith. The event opened with a prayer for those afflicted by the floods, led by the Rev. David Sargent.

The concert, subtitled ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ with reference to the title of one of the items sung in the second part of the programme, was a delightful mixture of familiar and less familiar seasonal choral music. Edward Taylor, conducting his first concert with the choir, marshalled his forces, including the choir of about 60 singers, with organ and small orchestra of strings and wind instruments, plus piano and percussion extremely effectively, with some adjustments made for those who were unavoidably absent.

The first part of the programme was a performance of John Rutter’s ‘Magnificat’, Mary’s song, with additional words from a 15th Century English poem ‘Of a rose’, the Sanctus from the Mass and Sancta Maria, a prayer to Mary. The contrasting words of the seven sections of this work were brought to life by using different combinations of choir, orchestra, piano (substituting for the harp) and organ (double bass substitution) together with the soprano soloist, Sarah McAllister. Generally the balance was excellent, although at times the comparatively limited number of tenors and basses at the back of the chancel, who were standing (or occasionally sitting for some accompanying items) behind the ladies were less audible and could have done with singing on a platform in order to project their sound more clearly. Having said that, the particular highlight for me was the sixth section, ‘Esurientes’ (translated as ‘he has filled the hungry with good things’) in which Sarah sang with extraordinary beauty and delicacy, while the seated choir accompanied the soloist with luxuriant harmonies, with a delicious oboe solo plus piano and organ underpinnings all producing a wonderful musical effect.

The second half consisted of eleven contrasted pieces, including the unaccompanied ‘Benedicamus Domino’ by Peter Warlock, ‘O Magnum Mysterium’ (Morten Lauridsen), ‘The Shepherd’s Carol’ (Bob Chilcott) and ‘Hey, now, now, now’ (Hywel Davies), all of which were sung with clear diction and accurate tuning.

The recently restored organ was well displayed in Garth Edmundson’s Toccata based on the German Christmas chorale ‘Von Himmel Hoch’, with its torrents of notes played on the manuals, while the theme thunders out intermittently on the pedals, all brought to a splendid climax by Jordan English.

The remaining items, including ‘In the bleak midwinter’ (Harold Darke), ‘Shepherd’s Pipe Carol’ (John Rutter), Magnificat in G (Charles Stanford), ‘Torches’ (John Joubert), Mary’s Magnificat (Andrew Carter) and ‘Ding, dong, merrily on high’ (arranged by Mack Wilberg) were sung accurately and fluently, the quieter ones with appropriate delicacy and the energetic ones with plenty of rhythmic drive. Of particular note was Jonathan Millican’s multi-talented performances as soloist, pianist, percussionist and page-turner!

Overall, this was a wonderfully uplifting concert to lighten the damp, dark days of December and a great credit to all who took part.

-- Mike Town

 

BYRD - MASS FOR FOUR VOICES

TAVENER - SONG FOR ATHENE

TIPPETT - FIVE SPIRITUALS

               (from "A Child of Our Time")

PUCCINI - MESSA DI GLORIA


Sunday, June 28th, 2015

To begin at the beginning. The Penrith Singers was founded in 1979 by David Wells, a small chamber choir, then of some 30 singers. Colin Marston took over the choir in 1984, and now 31 years later, at this Summer Concert, held in St. Andrew’s Church, he would take his final bow. He has nurtured the choir over those years, covering a large repertoire of works and composers.  At times the membership has approached 90. Clearly, it has been a friendly, happy and loyal group, who have enjoyed singing under their conductor.

And so to this final concert, full of variety, demonstrated in the contrast between the first and last pieces, both settings of the mass, but nearly three centuries apart in their composition. From the opening Kyrie Eleison of the Mass for Four Voices by William Byrd, each part in the choir was clearly heard in the contrapuntal structure, which continued throughout the unaccompanied work. Notable were the long flowing phrases given to the sopranos in the Gloria, which they sang with ease, and with the altos in the opening of the final Agnus Dei.

Rachel Little (soprano) has performed with the choir many times, so it was fitting that she should take part. Singing two songs by Roger Quilter, the tune of Ye banks and braes would be known by all, and the second, the short and sparkling Love’s Philosophy. Between these came Vaughan Williams’ Silent Noon, a more reflective piece showing off Rachel’s purity of voice. Ian Tate was her accompanist and would later accompany the choir. Such an accomplished pianist for which the choir was so grateful. Due to unforeseen circumstances he had barely a week’s notice to prepare, yet his accompanying was impeccable.

John Tavener, who died just last year, composed Song for Athene on the tragic death of a close friend. Familiar since it was sung at Princess Diana’s funeral, the lower men’s voices hold a pedal note throughout, the higher men’s voices singing a repeated “alleluia” between short verses sung by the rest of the choir, and building to a climax before falling away, back to the fading pedal note. Well sung, powerful and effective.
Michael Tippett’s Five Negro Spirituals are taken from his A Child of Our Time, written in response to Nazi persecution of the Jews. In this unaccompanied arrangement, while the tunes are familiar, complex rhythms are often involved in the part singing. For these the choir was joined by Rachel Little, Adam Magee (tenor), Paul im Thurn (bass) and, from the choir, Margaret Nelson (alto). The soprano voice soared over the choir in Steal Away, the tenor taking the verses in Nobody Knows, the bass similarly in Go down, Moses, and all voices joining in the closing Deep River.

The final piece in the evening’s programme was Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, an early work, so called as the Gloria takes the major role, and in this performance it came last. Accompanied by Ian Tate at the piano, one sensed that the choir were not quite as comfortable with the setting of the Mass in this operatic style. Et incarnatus est was sensitively sung by Adam Magee and choir. In the more sombre Crucifixus Paul im Thurn sang with his dark bass, the full choir then taking the Credo on to Et Resurrexit.

The Agnus Dei  involved  tenor and bass in solo and duet with choir singing what seemed a rather trivial tune for such weighty material, Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world. But then the opening theme of the Gloria drove the music on as it recurred. The centrepiece was Gratais agimus tibi, sung by tenor soloist with the final section moving apace in fugue.

So congratulations to soloists, accompanist and choir, and on this evening in particular, to conductor Colin Marston. After words of appreciation from Rachel Carruthers, Chair of the Choir Committee, a worthy standing ovation followed a final farewell, with the choir singing Mozart’s Ave Verum Corpus.

-- L.K.Tomlinson

 

HANDEL - MESSIAH

Sunday, November 28th, 2014

Singing or listening to Messiah is a popular way to start Advent so it was full house at St Andrew’s church on Advent Sunday with chairs at the back of the church and even a few rows of audience upstairs in the gallery. The choir, soloists, orchestra and conductor assembled and the opening sinfonia began at a lively pace. The Old Testament prophecies were declaimed and the story was under way.

It was good to welcome back soloists Richard Pollock (tenor) and Joe Bolger (countertenor) who were heard in Messiah with this choir in 2010. They were joined by Paul im Thurn (bass) and Susan Jordan (soprano) who are frequent soloists in Cumbria. All contributed in different ways to communicating the drama. Susan Jordan brought the clarity and sweetness of her sound in the nativity narrative and the confident faith of “I know that my Redeemer liveth”. The beauty of Joe Bolger’s tone was demonstrated in the simplicity of the recitative “Behold, a virgin shall conceive” and in some well-realised ornaments. Richard Pollock’s role was often declamatory, telling the next part of the story, but the pathos of the recitative “Thy rebuke hath broken his heart” was a highlight. Paul im Thurn displayed authority and drama in his arias particularly in the phrase “The Lord shall arise upon thee” and in the aria “Why do the nations rage?”

The choir was in fine form with some muscular singing in the fugues and well-sustained overlapping entries in Handel’s more complex choruses. The dynamic contrasts were well-controlled in “Behold the Lamb of God” and the repeated questions of “Lift up your heads” were urgent and insistent. The orchestra led by Susan Johnson with Ian Hare at the chamber organ provided a full rounded sound to support the choir and soloists. There was a splendid moment of theatre towards the end of the first part when the trumpets, who had not been required thus far, suddenly appeared at the side of the orchestra to accompany the angels singing “Glory to God” and then stole away as the angelic sound faded away into heaven.

Colin Marston conducted the combined forces in his penultimate concert with the choir after 30 years. The music of Messiah is so familiar that it can lose its impact. On Sunday the rhythms were tight and the tempi vigorous and although the music was comfortingly familiar, it was not complacent but well understood and full of powerful drama.

-- Janet Hornby

 

HAYDN - MARIA THERESA MASS
MOZART - REQUIEM

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

Written only eight years apart Haydn’s “Maria Theresa Mass” (1799) and Mozart’s “Requiem Mass” (1791) proved to be an inspired choice of works for the Penrith Singers Concert in St.Andrew’s Church last Sunday evening.  Chorus, soloists and orchestra were on superb form and gave an outstanding concert under the baton of Colin Marston, the conductor. Written between his two great oratorios “Creation” and “Seasons”, the “Maria Theresa Mass” is not as well known as some of his other masses, such as “The Nelson” and “Mass in the time of War”, but the convincing performance on Sunday evening would lead many to want to hear the work again.

Like so much of Haydn’s writing, the work is full of innovative ideas which maintain the listener’s interest even in the “Credo” section which is quite often, in the hands of other composers, a very dull part of the mass.  The choir was well up to the all the musical contrasts of dynamics and texture and throughout the evening there was an ideal balance between orchestra and choir.

The excellent quartet of soloists, who blended so well together, were heard sometimes in dialogue with the choir, sometimes as a group and sometimes as soloists. The soprano Emma Peaurt has a voice of great power and she allowed herself to soar above the chorus and fill the church with a glorious sound. The richness of Audrey McKirdy’s mezzo-soprano was ideally suited to these works and the tenor Richard Pollock seemed to sing Haydn and Mozart’s difficult high vocal line with effortless ease. We all wait for that dramatic moment in the “Requiem” when the trombone and bass start the “Tuba Mirum”. Adam Marsden’s wonderfully mellifluous bass voice and Graham Harris’s confident trombone solo would make this a high point for many in the audience. Indeed for me there were many high points in this concert; a most beautiful “Benedictus” in the Haydn Mass, the dramatic opening of the “Agnus Dei” which is quite unexpected, an exciting and dramatic “Dies Irae” in the “Requiem” and an equally forceful and rhythmic “Rex Tremendae”.  The chorus is to be commended on their incisive and rhythmic singing, the clarity of their diction and vocal lines and the warmth of tone in many sections. All this was supported an equally impressive orchestra under the leadership of Susan Johnson.

Colin Marston is to be congratulated on his control of all these forces and for bringing a memorable concert to Penrith.

-- John Cooper Green

 

BRITTEN - A CEREMONY OF CAROLS
POULENC - GLORIA
RUTTER - REQUIEM

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

On Sunday evening, with a large audience gathered in St Andrew’s Church, the concert given by the Penrith Singers began as a group of sopranos processed down the aisle singing, “Hodie Christus natus est”.  So began the choir’s performance of “A Ceremony of Carols”, composed in 1942 by Benjamin Britten, appropriate, both for the Christmas season, and this year being the centenary of his birth. Written for treble voices and harp, this evening’s performance was given by the ladies of the choir with AnnaKate Pearson accompanying on the harp. Many of the carols are taken from old English sources and set in contrasting styles. So we began with a rhythmical setting of “Wolcum Yole”, then “There is no rose of such virtu” was softly harmonised with repeated bass octaves on harp, building to a climax with “Gloria in Excelsis Deo”. The choir brought the carol beautifully to a long unison pianissimo ending.

Soprano soloist, Rachel Little, sang her first solo describing the weeping Christ Child being lulled to sleep with her singing. The variety of carols continued with the ballad-like, “I sing of a maiden”, and then the choir entering fully into the bright, fast moving “This little Babe”. Repeated figuration in the harp accompaniment was a feature of several of the carols and no more so than in the harp “Interlude”. The audience was spellbound as AnnaKate Pearson played the lovely and gentle piece with such sensitivity. Soprano, Stephanie Chadwick joined Rachel Little, blending beautifully in the “Spring Carol”, the work then ending with the dramatic “Deo Gratias” followed quietly as it began with “Hodie Christus natus est”.

The men joined the ladies in the “Gloria” by Poulenc. Written in 1959 it is an idiosyncratic work, written tongue in cheek one may say! This performance was accompanied by Ian Hare on the organ. It begins in fine style with a strident theme on the organ and then the men, first basses, then tenors, taking their opportunity to lead in “Gloria in excelsis Deo”. The choir certainly achieved the light bouncing rhythm of “Laudamus te”, and then the fast and loud “Domine fili unigenite”. In much of the piece, Poulenc sets the soprano voice supported by the choir. So in the “Domine Jesu”, Rachel Little sang with immaculate phrasing of line, as she did throughout the evening. Clearly, Poulenc is wanting to celebrate such beauty and purity of voice as so often he allows the soprano to soar above the four part chorus as, for example, she sings “Qui tollis peccata mundi“. A feature of the piece is the extreme in dynamic range, notable in the closing soft ending of “Qui sedes ad dexteram patris”.

John Rutter well known through his popular settings of choral anthems, wrote the “Requiem” in 1985. For this, Ian Hare was joined by AnnaKate Pearson, Suzanne de Lozey, flute; Susan Austen, oboe; Alex McQuiston, cello; Anthea Bremner, glockenspiel and Anthony Payne, timpani.The instruments are used sparingly and often in an obbligato role. The sopranos excelled in the broad, lilting tune in the opening “Requiem aeternam”, and then the cello accompanied the reflective choral singing in “Out of the deep”. Rachel Little sang the “Pie Jesu”, another flowing melody beautifully sung. In the Sanctus the glockenspiel came into its own, with its bell-like accompaniment. The mood changed for the “Agnus Dei” with its steady funereal drum beat, the flute leading to the closing words sung solemnly “I am the resurrection and the life”. “The Lord is my shepherd” was a highlight, with its plaintive sounding oboe obbligato, and lightly scored for chorus. Finally the “Lux aeterna” closed the performance with the choir once more singing softly, the sound dying away.

With such a varied programme involving differing instrumental combinations accompanying the choir throughout the evening, Colin Marston, the choir’s conductor, proved his skill at bringing to us such a celebration of 20th century choral music, always so well supported by Ian Hare, the organist.

-- L.K. Tomlinson

 

ROSSINI - PETITE MESSE SOLENNELLE

Sunday, May 12th, 2013

There was a sense of expectancy as the audience gathered for the Penrith Singers Spring Concert on Sunday (12th May). The Rossini Mass can be such a delight, the more so on a cold and wet evening such as this. The choir of some 80 voices began in confident mood with all four parts sure and strong in Charles Wood’s anthem ‘O Thou the central orb of  righteous love’.

How good it is to have such excellent programme notes. There, I learnt that the mother of John Ireland, the composer of our second anthem, was the daughter of Dr. Nicholson of Penrith, after whom Nicholson Lane was named - a little gem of information. The anthem ‘Greater love hath no man’ is a setting of words taken from St John’s gospel and St Peter’s first letter. Within the piece, a short passage for Soprano and Tenor soloists was sung with clarity by choir members, Stephanie Chadwick and Alistair Harper. This led to the central section and climax of the work, with  choir in full voice singing, ‘Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation,’ the piece then closing in quiet reflection. In both anthems Ian Hare’s organ accompaniment supported the choir with every variation of mood and dynamics.

And so to the Rossini ‘Petite Messe Solennelle’ - the small solemn mass. Well, it is small in that it was originally scored for piano and harmonium and not full orchestral accompaniment. And it is solemn, being the operatic composer’s only composition of the mass. But then in length it is not ‘small’ being of some 75 minutes duration, and in style, hardly solemn as it is so tuneful and joyous. The piano accompaniment is on an orchestral scale and requires a pianist of the calibre of David Jones to provide the necessary support for choir and soloists, while the harmonium, played by Ian Hare, filled out the harmonies at appropriate points in the score. So it was in the opening  ‘Kyrie’.

With the opening of the ‘Gloria’ the choir was joined by all four soloists, who throughout the work would be singing sometimes in ensemble and sometimes individually. In the ‘Gloria’ there is a section for mezzo-soprano, tenor and bass which revealed straight away how their voices were so well balanced as they conveyed their delight in Rossini’s tunefulness. Soprano, Rachel Little, and mezzo-soprano, Audrey McKirdy sang blended perfectly in ‘Qui tollis peccata mundi’. There were solo arias for tenor, Adam Magee, and bass, Adam Marsden, during the ‘Gloria’ and each so competently sung in Rossini’s operatic style. The chorus clearly enjoyed ‘Cum Sancto Spiritu’ as it begins with full vigour before turning into a fugue which danced with joy bringing out all parts but highlighting the strength and yet lightness of the soprano voices. In the ‘Credo’ there were times when David Jones’ piano accompaniment was all but orchestral in scale and power. But then in contrast, Rachel Little sang so sensitively the flowing melody of the ‘Crucifixus‘.

Ian Hare, at the harmonium, used well the one opportunity the instrument had to shine, in a solo which changed the mood for the unaccompanied choir to follow so beautifully with the ‘Sanctus.’ But then in the full glorious cry of the ‘Hosanna’ one could picture the cheering crowds as Jesus rode into Jerusalem. Finally Audrey McKirdy joined the chorus in the quietly pleading ‘Agnus Dei’, and sang with such a warm, full, and rounded quality to her voice, perfectly complementing the full choir.

Colin Marston, the choir’s conductor for 29 years is to be congratulated. He has been a faithful and inspirational leader taking the choir through a whole range of music.  The members, I know, enjoy it thoroughly. So how grateful we, the audience, were to leave St Andrews after listening to such joyous music with smiles on our faces, a spring in our step, and our hearts uplifted!

-- L.K. Tomlinson

 

HANDEL - JUDAS MACCABAEUS

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

At this time of discussion about Scottish independence it was perhaps brave of the Penrith Singers to choose to perform Handel’s Oratorio “Judas Maccabaeus”, which celebrates the defeat of the Scots at the Battle of Culloden in 1746. The excellent programme notes also told me that chandeliers in the church were given to the people of Penrith for their help in defeating the Jacobites. The parallel of the conquering hero of this story, “Judas Maccabaeus”, with the Duke of Cumberland proved very popular with English Society. Though not as well-known as “Messiah” this work is full of familiar pieces such as “Arm, arm ye brave”, “Sound an alarm”, “See the conquering hero comes” (frequently sung as the hymn Thine be the glory) and “O lovely peace”.

Colin Marston mustered together a superb group of soloists, an excellent orchestra and his own assured chorus “The Penrith Singers” for a performance of “Judas Maccabaeus” in St. Andrew’s Penrith last Sunday evening. The young team of soloists were without doubt outstanding, all of them had strong voices and we could perhaps have benefitted from a little more orchestra in their arias. Emma Peaurt (soprano) showed herself to be versatile, contrasting power with lightness and a real feeling for the drama. Lucinda Stuart-Grant (mezzo-soprano) has a beautiful voice, full of warmth and her lower notes were particularly good. These two voices blended well together and their duets were beautifully done. Richard Pollock (Tenor) took the part of “Judas Maccabaeus” to which he brought real gravitas:  he has an excellent technique and “Sound an alarm” was particularly fine. Finally the baritone soloist – Adam Marsden - who has a very rich and powerful voice was magnificent in his role. His performance of “Arm, arm ye brave” was one to remember.

The orchestra under the leadership of Sue Johnson played extremely well. Special mention must be made of Tina Macrae on ‘cello who supported the singers so well in the recitatives and played so magically in the aria “O liberty, thou choicest treasure”. Also I must mention the excellent obbligato trumpet playing of Stella Fitzgerald in the tenor aria “With honour let desert be crowned”. Although most of the movements are for strings alone the addition of the woodwind, brass and timpani in certain movements gave a wonderful contrast of tonal colour.

The choir were on good form, at their best probably in the chorus “Sing unto God”. The whole ensemble was under pinned by a solid bass line, the soprano line was clear and the altos gave a warmth and richness to the choir. Handel’s tenor lines are always too high and sometimes the tenors struggled with those top notes but otherwise the sound was good. Words were always clear and those difficult long lines were mostly well executed.

If I had any criticisms of the performance I would say that some of the rhythms needed to be more precise, a little more contrast in dynamics would have helped and I felt sometimes the drama lacked pace as we moved from one piece to the next. However, the whole performance was extremely enjoyable with some real high points and great credit to all concerned, particularly Colin Marston who directed the players and singers and trained the choir.

-- John Cooper Green

 

MENDELSSOHN - Elijah

Sunday, May 13th, 2012

A large audience battled through the wind and rain last Sunday to be rewarded with a dramatic performance of Mendelssohn’s monumental oratorio “Elijah” sung by the Penrith Singers in St. Andrew’s Church Penrith.  Drawing largely on the account of Elijah in the book of Kings the text of Mendelssohn’s Oratorio is full of the over sentimentality and drama so loved by the Victorian age. 

The composer’s use of the chorus as representing the people, or the Priests of Baal or simply as narrators of the story means that there is considerable variety from the straight forward four part (He that shall endure), the eight part (For he shall give his angels charge), the almost cori spezzatti (Baal, we cry) the lovely three part ladies voices (Lift thine eyes) to the vocal solos with choral interpolations (The Lord hath exalted these). In all of these the Penrith Singers demonstrated their expertise as a chorus of a very high standard. Vocal entries were precise, the parts could be heard clearly, phrasing was musical, tuning in the main was good and the range of dynamics was excellent with some lovely quite reflective moments contrasting with some spine tingling full chorus work. All this could not happen without the clear leadership of an excellent conductor. Colin Marston’s skilful direction showed him in complete control of the performance and the success of the concert was very much down to him.

The soloists were excellent and it was a joy to hear them sing as a solo quartet in “O come every one that thirsteth”. In particular Oliver Dunn (Bass) is a young man whose career we should watch with interest. He has a rich sonorous voice and he was perfect for the role of “Elijah”. The audience, I am sure, will long remember his declaimed introduction to the work coming just before the overture and his beautiful singing of “Lord God of Abraham”.  Rachel Little (soprano) sang with only a few hours’ notice but this could not have been discerned from her performance. This is a role she is obviously familiar with and her radiant voice shone out and her dramatic interpretations did much to add to the enjoyment of this performance. Audrey McKirdy (mezzo soprano) also replaced another soloist at very short notice and she came down from Glasgow arriving only a couple of hours or so before the performance. Once again here was a soloist who was very familiar with the part and her lovely warm voice, particularly in the lower register, was a joy to listen to. The Tenor soloist was Richard Pollock, a great favourite with the Penrith audience, who made a very welcome return. His clear diction and thorough command of this style of music was very apparent.

Any choral work originally written to be performed by a full symphony orchestra will miss the instrumental colours and sound when accompanied on an organ and especially one of fairly moderate size. But Ian Hare’s flawless accompaniment on the organ for over two hours  was exemplary with not a note out of place and adapting to the many speed changes he supported the choir and soloists with consummate mastery.

This was yet another excellent concert by the Penrith Singers under the direction of Colin Marston clearly demonstrating that they are one of this county’s finest choruses. Those who were fortunate enough to attend will long remember this very fine performance.
                                                                                                                                               

-- John Cooper Green

 

J.S. BACH - Magnificat
TAVENER - Christmas Proclamation
HAYDN - Mass In Time Of War

December 4th, 2011

Another December with frost and snow, so it was time for the winter concert of the Penrith Singers.  The church was comfortably filled, the choir looked seasonally decorative in the ladies’ red scarves, and the soprano and the mezzo-soprano both wore red dresses, so we were prepared for a festive and heart-warming event!

The Magnificat in D sets Mary’s words from St Luke’s Gospel.  It is perhaps one of the most vibrant choral works by J S Bach and so terse that one movement seems to plunge headlong into the next.  The three trumpets were thrillingly magnificent from the very first bar while the choir sang a jubilant fugue.  The soprano, Susan Jordan, responded in reflective mood, accompanied by the rich sound of the oboe.  The Omnes generationes sounded as if a multitude was singing, with one choir entry following rapidly on another.  The next aria was sung by the baritone, Benjamin Weaver, a welcome return from Messiah last year.  Mezzo-soprano Lucinda Stuart-Grant and tenor Adam Magee sang beautifully matched and tuned phrases in Et misericordia. The trumpets were bright as the choir tossed around Bach’s descriptive music for the scattering of the proud.  Flutes moved together perfectly alongside the mezzo-soprano.  The upper voices of the choir wove glorious lines around each other while the oboes played the original Magnificat tune and led us into the Gloria and the reprise of the opening music.

Then followed a striking work, A Christmas Proclamation (God is with us), by the contemporary composer, Sir John Tavener which uses a text from the Orthodox Great Compline for Christmas Eve in his unique fusion of eastern and western music.  The choir started quietly with widely-spaced chords, sopranos high and basses singing at the bottom of their range like Russian basses.  A huge crescendo marked the words to the uttermost end of the earth.  The tenor declaimed the next section, intoning in ‘Byzantine style’, filling the church with the prophecy from Isaiah of the child to be born.  The choir returned with the organ, played by Ian Hare, reinforcing the massive sound to announce that Christ is born! 

In the second half of the concert, the Penrith Singers sang Missa in Tempore Belli, a fine work of Haydn’s maturity.  The Kyrie and Gloria were characteristically upbeat.  The choir and the orchestra, ably led by Susan Johnson, revelled in Haydn’s tunefulness and harmonic inventiveness.   Qui tollis was sung affectingly by Benjamin Weaver with an accompanying lyrical cello solo and carefully shaped dynamics for the interjections by the choir.  In the Credo each choral part was given a different line of text; and conductor Colin Marston controlled the intensely quiet sepultus est which then exploded into Et resurrexit.  The Agnus Dei had the most warlike sounds with anguished choir, martial trumpets and ominous kettledrums but finally settled into a lyrical Pacem for soloists and choir with the entreaty for peace: a suitable sentiment for the season of goodwill.

 

-- Janet Hornby

J.S. BACH - St. Matthew Passion

April 17th, 2011

On a glorious spring evening with nature so full of new life, new life in the risen Christ would be celebrated later, for first comes the suffering, the ‘Passion of Christ.’ So it was that on this Palm Sunday evening a large expectant audience came together to witness the ‘Passion’ played out in St Andrew’s Church, Penrith, through the music of J S Bach setting the words according to St Matthew.

Colin Marston, conducting the Penrith Singers, some 84 strong and arranged in double choir with orchestra and soloists, paced the piece so well throughout. In itself a considerable achievement as we move constantly from chorus to recitative to aria, as the drama unfolds. The opening chorus sets the scene: ‘Look on Him. For love of us he himself his cross is bearing.’

So much depends on the Evangelist who narrates the drama throughout in recitative. Richard Pollock (tenor) sang with a clarity so necessary so that the listener was drawn into the story and he used his voice effectively to express particular critical moments in the narrative - of Peter denying Christ, ‘And he went out and wept bitterly;’ of the last moments on the cross, ‘Jesus, when he had cried again with a loud voice, yielded up the ghost.’

The role of Jesus was sung admirably by Paul im Thurn, with his constant interplay in recitative with the Evangelist.

The chorus frequently joins in the drama, usually in short passages and the choir entered into the spirit of it such as in the crowd scene with Pilate, ‘Let him be crucified,’ ‘His blood be on us and on our children,’ and in mocking him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews.’ But then, as pauses for reflection, they clearly enjoyed singing the harmonies of the chorales.

Also as pauses for thoughtful reflection are the arias for the four soloists. The first of these ‘Grief for sin rends the guilty heart within’, was sung by alto, Marion Ramsay, nicely accompanied with flutes, cello and organ continuo. It would have been good to have heard more of tenor, Adam Magee, who just had the one opportunity to sing, a recitative followed by the aria ‘I would beside my Lord be watching,’ interspersed with chorus and accompanied by oboe, cello and organ continuo. How I enjoyed Oliver Dunn (bass) in ‘Give O give me back my Lord’ with his sure full voice. He also fulfilled the role of Pilate. For me, commenting on the story at the close of the Last Supper scene, the aria, ‘I wish my heart to offer thee,’ with oboe, bassoon, cello and continuo is exquisite and was sung beautifully, and with conviction, by Rachel Little (soprano).

For the evening to be a success in its spirituality as well as its musicality, all must be engaged fully in the performance. Indeed, holding the whole together so competently along with conductor, Colin Marston, was Ian Hare, organ continuo. But all played their part in making this a meaningful beginning to Holy Week, not least those individual members of the choir who sang minor roles: Phoebe Power, Stephanie Chadwick, Heather Tomlinson, Alistair Harper, Charles Ritchie and Michael Turnbull.

 

-- L.K. Tomlinson

HANDEL - Messiah

December 5th, 2010

There is a well-established custom of marking the approach of Christmas with a performance of Messiah by George Frederick Handel.  Messiah must be the best-loved oratorio in the repertoire.  However the inclement weather on Sunday meant that only the hardiest souls braved treacherous icy conditions to attend the Penrith Singers’ concert.  Happily, there are hundreds of such intrepid souls in Penrith, and the choir inspires such a following that extra chairs had to be put out at the back of St Andrew’s church.  There was a warm atmosphere of expectation and in such weather the audience had every right to expect a treat.

Colin Marston, Musical Director of the Penrith Singers, conducted the concert.  The orchestra, led by Susan Johnson, with Ian Hare playing continuo organ, provided strong support for choir and soloists.  After the overture, the tenor started soothingly with Comfort Ye but soon he was into the arresting message that the Messiah was on his way.  Richard Pollock, whom we heard two years ago in Christmas Oratorio, sang with dramatic intensity, notably in Thy rebuke hath broken his heart where he communicated urgently the pathos in the bare lines of the recitative.  We look forward to hearing him as the Evangelist in the St Matthew Passion in April.

It was good to hear Joe Bolger on home ground.  His counter-tenor sound is developing well with a wide range and real power at the top.  He sang Behold, a virgin shall conceive with telling simplicity; and later conveyed the malice of the smiters.  The ornaments in his arias were strikingly elegant and appropriate.  As the oratorio moves through the portrayal of the suffering servant towards triumph and confidence, the counter-tenor gives way to the soprano, but there was a glorious collaboration between them in He shall feed his flock where the tone colours were well-matched and the handover from one voice to the other was seamless.

Benjamin Weaver, baritone, has a flexible voice with clear diction.  He sang of darkness and light, and finally and very effectively of mystery, change and triumph.  The final aria with the trumpet was a thrilling combination.

Handel keeps the soprano under wraps until halfway through Part I.  She has all the best lines: the most exciting moments are hers and it is she who recounts the drama of the birth of Jesus and the appearance of the angels to the shepherds.  Emma Peaurt, another welcome return at this time of year, made the most of these moments with her bright clear voice.  Later she sang How beautiful are the feet and I know that my redeemer liveth with great clarity and conviction.

The choir were off to a rhythmic start in And the glory of the Lord.  For unto us a child is born showed contrasting dynamics between the dancing counterpoint and the blocks of sound.  Part 2 was expressively sung from the low difficult start for the altos in Behold the Lamb of God through the well-rounded sound of Surely .. to the questioning “Who is this King of glory?”  Then we were into Part 3 and the final fugues rolled on, bringing the evening to a satisfying conclusion.

It was a treat and we went home warmed by the magnificent music of Messiah.

 

-- Janet Hornby

England's Golden Ages

May 9th, 2010

England’s Golden Ages was the title of Penrith Singers’ Spring Concert held in St. Andrew’s Church. The first “Golden Age” was represented by two pieces. First, Gibbons’ Hosanna to the Son of David, a setting for unaccompanied six-part choir, sung with a bright, lively, clear sound. A brilliant start!

Second came Purcell’s Ode come, ye sons of Art, away.  So our organist, Ian Hare, was introduced to us through his most assured playing prior to the opening chorus. Another bright and joyous piece in which all soloists took part. Rachel Little (soprano) and Lucinda Stuart-Grant (mezzo-soprano) sang nicely together in “Sound the trumpet” and both the tenor, Richard Pollock, and bass, Benjamin Weaver, sang with great conviction.

Richard Pollock’s solo of the blinded Samson (“Total Eclipse” from Handel’s Samson) was followed by a piece by Benjamin Britten, bringing us forward some two centuries to the second “Golden Age” of English music, with a setting of words by Thomas Hardy, “The Choirmaster’s Burial”. Sensitively sung, both songs were accompanied by Rachel Carruthers on the piano, whose accompaniment was a delight to listen to.

Herbert Howells’ Requiem, for unaccompanied double choir and soloists followed; a challenging piece, and described as “a work of rapt, hushed intensity”. So this performance proved to be.

A feast of music by Vaughan Williams followed. A highlight of his Mass in G minor was the lovely soprano line in the Sanctus, moving into the more contrapuntal Hosanna, and the final climax dying away to a quiet close on “Grant us thy peace”.

Three songs by Vaughan Williams and Howells were beautifully sung by Rachel Little and the concert closed with Toward the Unknown Region. After a quiet, mysterious opening, the choir “Burst Forth” into a glorious ending. The choir and all who took part certainly excelled.

 

-- L.K. Tomlinson

HAYDN - Nelson Mass
MOZART - Requiem

December 6th, 2009

St. Andrew's Church, Penrith was packed on Sunday evening for the Penrith Singers' concert conducted by their Musical Director, Colin Marston. The large audience was looking forward to hearing one of the most popular works in the choral repertoire: the Requiem Mass by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The work was paired with the Nelson Mass by Joseph Haydn. The audience was expecting a treat.

The concert started with the Haydn Mass, which is joyful and dramatic right from the opening trumpet flourish. The choir sang with commitment, shaping the sinuous phrases of the Kyrie. Emma Peaurt's bright, confident tone shone through the Gloria, which the c-- LKThoir finished with a splendid energetic fugue. The beautiful phrases of "et incarnatus est" were shaped splendidly by the choir and "et sepultus est" was tellingly expressive. In the Benedictus the trio of mezzo-soprano (Marion Ramsay), tenor (Peter Kelly) and bass (John Bispham) formed a pleasing ensemble.

The Mozart Requiem followed with a sombre atmosphere starting from low woodwind notes. The orchestra led by Susan Johnson with Ian Hare at the organ provided a reliable foundation and helped to maintain the atmosphere of deep-felt emotion. The tenors and basses sang spikily of the punishment for the wicked while the sopranos and altos floated a serene prayer of supplication.

All too soon we reached the impassioned cries of the Agnus Dei. The Lux Aeterna drew the threads together into the final moments of calm confidence. Enthusiastic applause filled the church: expectations had been fulfilled!

-- Janet Hornby

From Byrd to Britten

May 10th, 2009

After days of wet and windy weather, the clouds parted, the wind was gone, and the sun shone, as the audience gathered in St Andrews Church to listen to a heart-warming concert of, largely, English music given by the Penrith Singers.

The evening began with a performance of Byrd’s “Mass for Four Voices”. The four parts of the unaccompanied choir were so clear and secure, while there was an opportunity for eight choir members to sing as a chamber choir during parts of the Gloria.

As we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the birth of Mendelssohn, and as his music is such a part of our English musical heritage, it was fitting to hear, first, a performance of one of his preludes and fugues and then the much loved “Hear My Prayer”. The sound of the organ filled the Church as the fugue was carried forward in its rhythmic intensity. The audience could not fail to respond to such a consummate performance given by Ian Hare, who then continued in his accompanying role, as “Hear My Prayer” followed. Not to be sung this evening by boy soprano and choristers, to which we are so accustomed, but by soprano Emma Peaurt, and the mixed voices of Penrith Singers. And how well they brought out the anguished cry of the psalmist: “The wicked oppress me, ah where shall I fly?”, and then there was power and yet sensitivity in Emma’s rendering of, “O for the wings, for the wings of a dove”.

The first part of the concert closed with another much loved piece, “Serenade to Music” by Vaughan Williams. Composed originally, for 16 famous singers of the day, in this evening’s performance Emma Peaurt was joined by tenor, Simon Martindale, and choir members Phoebe Power, Jenny Stewart, Helen Thornley, Helen Graham and Margaret Nelson. In a setting of words from “The Merchant of Venice”, the soprano mirrored the sentiment of “How sweet the moonlight sleeps upon this bank,” while the choir responded in solos and together in “touches of sweet harmony”.

Part 2 began on a more sombre note as Purcell’s “Funeral Music for the death of Queen Mary” sounded on the organ as though cornets and trumpets were accompanying the steady walk of the funeral procession of 1695. The choir then sang settings of funeral sentences accompanied so quietly and closing with hymn like sonority.

As Emma sang two songs, “A Last Year’s Rose” and “Love’s philosophy” by Roger Quilter, one realised how intimately both voice and piano must blend to create a complete performance. So thanks go to Rachel Carruthers for her equally vital role as pianist.

The five Spirituals from Tippett’s “a Child of our Time” were sung by the unaccompanied choir with soprano and tenor soloists, conveying so well all their variety of moods.

The evening’s performance closed with Britten’s setting of the “Jubilate”, and what better way to end than in joyful fashion. The light, jolly organ accompaniment almost has the last word, reminding us of Ian Hare’s indispensable contribution to the evening. It was good also to have Emma Peaurt singing again in Penrith. The success of the evening was due to the dedicated work of conductor, Colin Marston. Speaking to a choir member, they said how much they had enjoyed rehearsing and performing this music. Yes, and how much we, the audience, appreciated their performance.

-- L.K. Tomlinson

J.S.BACH - Christmas Oratorio

December 7th, 2008

In this country we associate Handel’s Messiah with Christmas but in Europe, and particularly in Germany, Bach’s Christmas Oratorio is more usually sung. A substantial audience in St Andrew’s church was looking forward to Christmas with a difference! However Christmas Oratorio was written to be sung at six separate services from Christmas Day 1734 to Epiphany 1735 rather than in one session in concert, so the first question when performing it is to decide which of the six parts to sing. The Penrith Singers under the direction of Colin Marston solved this problem admirably by choosing the first three cantatas of the Oratorio plus the sixth: the four cantatas included two stirring ones with trumpets and timpani and two more reflective pastoral ones while retaining the flow of the Nativity narrative from St Luke and St Matthew.

The performance on Sunday started with a flourish of trumpets and rhythmic energetic singing from the Penrith Singers, with the sopranos matching the bright sound of the trumpets on the high notes. The ladies’ red scarves added to the festive feeling! The tenor, Richard Pollock, as the Evangelist began the story with the familiar words from St Luke’s Gospel, clearly projected and propelling the story onwards. Mezzo-soprano Kathryn Rudge, only twenty-two-years-old, sang the first aria with well-controlled ornaments and coloratura; and then the baritone Mario Solimene followed with a velvety legato. The birth of Jesus was described and we moved into the shepherds’ tale with the pastoral Sinfonia. As the glory of the Lord shone around the shepherds, the choir sang, "Break forth, O beauteous heavenly light" with fervour and intensity. Then the soprano Emma Peaurt stood for the first time in the role of the angel, arresting in her delivery of the news, striking in her red dress. Later she sang a duet with the bass in which their two lines were perfectly matched and phrased.

Highlights from the Penrith Singers were the heavenly host singing "Glory to God" in an exuberant chorus with every line and entry well-marked. This contrasted with the calm word-painting of the section "And peace on earth". There was beauty too in the dynamics of the chorale "Thee with tender care I’ll cherish"; and in the clarity of the descending bass line in "Beside thy cradle here I stand". The final chorale was rousing with the legato chorus lines floating through the complex orchestral writing and the performance rounded off with a reprise of the first chorus.

The orchestra led by Susan Johnson tackled Bach’s complex writing competently and with energy. Ian Hare provided strong support on the organ continuo. Thank you to the Penrith Singers and Colin Marston for such an enjoyable opportunity to prepare for the message of Christmas.


-- Janet Hornby

KARL JENKINS - The Armed Man
JOHN RUTTER - Gloria
JOHN TAVENER - Song For Athene


May 11th, 2008

St. Andrew's Church was filled with the sound of music, both instrumental and vocal at the Penrith Singer's concert. The large audience enjoyed a varied programme of John Rutter, John Tavener and Karl Jenkins. The evening began with John Rutter's Gloria, a challenging work with plenty of rousing rhythms and changes of time, which were sung with enthusiasm.

This was followed by John Tavener's unaccompanied Song for Athene, which was performed confidently, the haunting melodies echoing around the building with great effect.

It was a treat to hear Karl Jenkin's The Armed Man. This emotive work covers so many styles and the choir rose to the challenge. In particular the Sanctus was sung with feeling and a good range of dynamics. The instrumental players complemented the choir well, the timps making both audience and choir members jump at times, even if the amazing percussion section overwhelmed the singing on a couple of occasions.

It was encouraging to see members of the choir singing the solo parts and credit must go to Colin Marston for bringing it all together.

The appreciative comments from members of the audience reflected the success of the evening.


-- Jackie Wright

HANDEL - Samson


December 2nd, 2007

The Penrith Singers' concert on Sunday evening, held in St. Andrew's Church, was devoted to the music of Handel. Not the seasonal sounds of "Messiah", but of the work he composed immediately after, the oratorio "Samson". At the time, in 1743, it proved to be the more popular, maybe because of its operatic character. The piece dramatises Samson's final days - a blinded captive of the Philistines - who is to destroy their temple, burying himself and his enemies in the ruins.

Composed for five soloists, choir and orchestra, as the story unfolds Handel develops each character through recitative and aria, the choir playing the role of Israelites and Philistines.The opening chorus, with a maginicent trumpet obligato, began with the choir singing at a lively tempo. As throughout the evening they were at their best, all four parts strong and clear and sopranos bright sounding. In the more contrapuntal choruses, entries of parts were sure, and we really sensed their pleading to Israel's God in "Hear, Jacob's God" and "With thunder armed great God arise."

However, the soloists would play the major role. We were introduced to Samson, Richard Pollock (tenor), from the beginning. How sensitively he sang. Each note, each phrase, was telling, from his first recitative, "This day a solemn feast to Dagon held". His aria as the blind Samson sings, "Total eclipse! no sun, no moon", was wonderful.

Philip Smith (baritone) sang the part of Manoah, Samson's father, with a very sure, full and rounded tone. His singing of "How willing my paternal love, the weight to share" was admirable, and "O lastly over-strong against thyself" quite moving. Michael Parle sang to great effect with his resounding bass befitting Harapha, the giant of Gath, as he taunts the blind Samson, "Honour and arms scorn such a foe".

What a glorious soprano voice is that of Emma Peaurt, a warm tone as in "My faith and truth, O Samson prove", but also powerful and clear, as when she sang the familiar "Let the bright Seraphim", again with the superb trumpet obligato of Stella Fitzgerald.

The orchestra (leader Susan Johnson) was up to the task, allowing the conductor, Colin Marston, to bring the most out of the whole performance, and that was so necessary for a work of such dramatic power. Blessed with such soloists, a chorus at its best, a competent orchestra ably supported throughout by Ian Hare (harpsichord), the audience were clearly involved and attentive, helped by the programme providing the words of all the pieces. The final resounding applause, and the stamping of feet, was an instinctive response by all of us who were present, as to the excellence of the evening's performance.


-- Lawrence Tomlinson

HAYDN - The Creation

December 3rd, 2006

(extract)

This performance, under Penrith Singers' conductor Colin Marston, with orchestra led by Susan Johnson and soloists from the RNCM in Manchester - Emma Peaurt (soprano), Alexander Wall (tenor) and Mark Rowlandson (bass), was as fresh and exciting as the first performance must have been to that Viennese audience.

Despite the wet and windy weather, there was a good audience, with the church almost full. The Penrith area should be proud to be able to raise a choir and orchestra of this standard from a population of its size.


-- Nicholas Howard

PUCCINI - Messa di Gloria

May 2006

(extract)

The majority of this work is for chorus and it was apparent that the choir enjoyed the operatic nature of some of the movements, a glimpse of Puccini's works to come. There were some delightful, lyrical and beautifully-shaped phrases from the sopranos and sections for soprano and alto voices were particularly memorable. Having said that, the full choral sound was thrilling throughout but particularly so in the Qui tollis section.


-- Helen Snowball (Cumberland and Westmorland Herald)

HANDEL - The King Shall Rejoice
MOZART - Coronation Mass
HAYDN - Harmoniemesse


December 2003

(extract)

This was a memorable concert in which soloists and choir were admirably supported by the supremely competent orchestra under the leadership of Susan Johnson.  The woodwind and brass excelled themselves.  All credit to Colin Marston and Penrith Singers.


-- R.H. Bartle (Cumberland and Westmorland Herald)

BRAHMS - Requiem

December 2002

(extract)

Brahms's Requiem is a deeply felt work occasioned by the death of the composer's mother and some contemporaries believed, was the act of mourning for the untimely death of his great friend Robert Schumann a decade before.  It is a magnificent piece of music and to perform it with such success is a tribute to Colin Marston, the conductor and the choir itself, to say nothing of the fine orchestral accompaniment.


-- R.H. Bartle (Cumberland and Westmorland Herald)

ELGAR - The Dream Of Gerontius

May 2000

(extract)

Their [the choir's] performance was powerful and committed and sung with well rehearsed accuracy, from the soft chant-like passage Noe, from the waters in a saving home, to the punctuated fortissimo of In the name of angels and archangels, from the tightly disciplined and ferocious Demon's Chorus to the magnificence of Praise to the holiest in the height.


-- L.K. Tomlinson

 

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