The Sheldon Singers’ spring offering, ‘This Sceptred Isle’, gave the appreciative audience at St Paul’s Church on Saturday, 27 April an eclectic mix of pieces from composers both traditional and contemporary. Huge choral anthems, such as ‘Zadok the Priest’ and gentler items, including Purcell’s ‘Bid the Virtues’ for soprano solo and oboe, sat alongside each other in the first half of the programme. As Director of Music Julie De’Ath Lancaster pointed out in her introduction, “it’s not often that you hear Mahler and Strauss in the same programme, followed after the interval by a relatively new work by the composer Bob Chilcott, a former member of the King’s Singers”. But what a musical feast we had!
The first half began with the magnificent anthem ‘O thou the Central Orb’ by Charles Wood and the choir were immediately up and running, showing a great cohesion of sound in the dramatic first bars which contrasted wonderfully with the sensitive singing in the quieter passages, all accompanied on the organ by the talented Andrew Carter. The audience was then introduced to the delightful soprano soloist, Katie Bond, a Honiton born girl who has now crossed the border to live in darkest Somerset. As soon as she started singing we knew we were in for a treat – beautiful diction and a pure, clear tone which had the ability to be both uplifting and haunting at the same time. Mahler’s rather melancholic ‘Liebst Du um Schönheit’ particularly suited her voice and was one of the highlights of the concert. Katie surely has a great singing future ahead of her.
Mention must be made of the superb instrumentalists that Julie had gathered together for the evening. In particular, Lynn Carter’s expertise in handling the tricky oboe part that features so prominently in Bach’s ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ and Nicola New’s technical ability that was to the fore in the ‘Nocturno’ for horn and piano by Franz Strauss.
The second half of the programme was taken up by Bob Chilcott’s ‘Requiem’ which was first performed in the UK in 2010 and so was possibly not familiar to most of the audience. However this is an accessible piece of music beginning gently with the Introit and Kyrie which gradually builds through the more dramatic ‘Offertorio’ to the lively ‘Sanctus’ chorus. The disciplined singing of the choir built the mood with their great attention to dynamics and the tenor soloist Glyn Jones ably engaged the audience with his contributions, particularly in the ‘Agnus Dei’. Katie Bond was supported well by the chorus in her mellifluous rendition of ‘Pie Jesu’ and perhaps the highlight of the work for me was the movement ‘Thou knowest Lord’. The blend of voices was so effective in this moving piece that it stirred the soul. The ‘Lux Aeterna’ brought the Requiem to an uplifting conclusion and perhaps on this occasion it was only fitting that the soprano soloist had the final notes.
The Sheldon Singers performed with somewhat reduced numbers this evening, but showed that hard work and commitment always pay off as this was a self-assured and accomplished concert. The dedicated Julie De’Ath Lancaster should be congratulated for her inspired leadership which has nursed this choir from its infancy to the force it is today.
29 April 2013
On the evening of Remembrance Sunday St Paul’s Church Honiton was the venue for a concert of specially relevant music - two Requiems, performed by two local choirs. Both these Requiems, whilst owing a great deal to the traditional form, are very different to what we usually hear, and indeed different from each other.
Honiton’s The Sheldon Singers performed Howard Goodall’s Eternal Light, composed in 2008. Goodall wrote this piece in contrast to the familiar religious Requiem, which is a series of prayers for the soul of the departed. This work is intended instead to offer comfort to the living, and consists of English poetry interwoven with the usual Latin words of the Mass. The Sheldon Singers, under their conductor Julie De’Ath Lancaster, sang beautifully. Their clear sound complemented the sympathetic organ playing of Alex Davies and their accurate diction ensured that those in the audience were able to appreciate the poetry, some of which was very familiar, such as “In Flanders Fields”, and some less so – the opening section was a poem called “Close Now Thine Eyes”, sung with great sweetness and clarity by soprano Moira MacKay, accompanied by the choir. For this audience member, the highlight was Goodall’s new setting for the old familiar “Lead, Kindly Light” – a beautiful melody, full of satisfying harmonies and very sensitively sung by the whole choir. The final movement is a moving recapitulation of earlier themes, ending with the traditional prayer for everlasting peace and perpetual light, with the voices of the soloists, Glyn Jones, Cor Wijngaard and Moira MacKay, weaving above and around the sound of the choir and organ.
After the interval, Wellington’s Collegium Singers sang Peter Leech’s For the Fallen, under the direction of the composer. This piece was written as a tribute to 40 Commando and the work they have done in Afghanistan, and in memory of the Royal Marines who died there. This work, which was performed unaccompanied, also uses many of the traditional words of the Mass as well as poetry. The Collegium Singers gave a polished performance which enabled the audience to fully engage with this unfamiliar and very atmospheric work. The audience is asked to join in the fifth movement – the old hymn “Abide With Me”, with the choir and, at this point, the organ providing more of the wonderful harmonies which this work contains, and including a particularly lovely part for soprano soloist Fiona Moon.
These two choirs succeeded in giving the audience a musically satisfying evening which formed a fitting and dignified end to a day when Honiton joined the rest of the country in remembering the fallen, and those who mourn them.