Saturday, 3 December 2011

Laurence Blyth conducts Wellington Choral Society Purcell's 'Dido & Aeneas' Saturday 26 November

Music Director of Wellington Choral Society
Laurence Blyth
Laurence and the Wellington Choral Society
Laurence Blyth, Lay Vicar of the Cathedral Choir, and soon to be Events Coordinator for the Cathedral, is also closely involved in Choral music in Devon - and Somerset. Laurence is a counter-tenor singer and directs three choral societies - Exeter, Exmouth and Wellington. (See Exmouth 5 Feb, singing counter-tenor at Powderham 25 Feb, Exeter 11 May)

Earlier this year, in February, Laurence was joined by Counterpoint Choir soprano Josie Walledge for a performance or Pergolesi's 'Stabat Mater' at Powderham Castle (full account in 'Classical Journey' report 1 March). Josie was at the Church of St John the Baptist in Wellington this Saturday to sing the soprano solo in Purcell's 'Dido and Aeneas', with the Wellington Choral Society, directed by - Laurence Blyth.

A devastating portrayal of Queen Dido of Carthage
Soprano Josie Walledge
('Cellist - Hilary Boxer)
Josie's 'Lament' at the loss of her beloved King Aeneas of Troy (tricked into a fatal sea voyage to Italy by the evil spirits) was very skilled and unbearably tragic. A very magical aria, but one requiring a lot of work in preparation.

Dido's sister Belinda - Soprano Marian Hull
Soprano Marian Hull and mezzo-soprano Charlotte Pangraz supported Josie as Dido's handmaidens, advising and consoling. In contrast, mezzo-soprano Juliet Curnow as the Sorceress was deviously spiteful and cruel. With Marian and Charlotte doubling as witches they sang of their delight in suffering and detestation of happiness. The choir's accompanying demonic laughter was very reminiscent of Elgar's 'Dream of Gerontius' (7 May) and very haunting.

The 'Second Handmaiden'
Mezzo-Soprano Charlotte Pangraz
The fake message from the gods, ordering Aeneas to embark for Italy, was delivered by an 'imp' pretending to be Mercury the messenger of the gods. The mystery voice came from offstage, but was unmistakeable - Juliet Curnow.

A terrifying sorceress - and deceiving spirit
Mezzo-Soprano Juliet Curnow
And who was Aeneas? Counterpoint baritone (and now director of his own choir 'Antiphon') Matthew Cann. Matthew sang the part very credibly, but subtly. He is just an obedient subject of the gods, doing what he imagined to be their will. The tension is provided by the women and their scheming - even Queen Dido adds to her own misery by pretending not to care whether Aeneas sails to Italy or not.

Grossly outnumbered - Baritone Matthew Cann is Aeneas
Laurence and Matthew share the applause as bouquets are distributed
A very successful piece of story-telling. The Choir worked perfectly with the soloists. They in turn were very ably accompanied by a small string ensemble. Julie Hill of Devon Baroque was leader with Sophie Brewer (Flautist for Peter Milmer's 'Requiem' 8 Oct) played second violin. 'Cello was provided by Hilary Boxer and her recent 'Tasty Music' protégé Alice Bell (see 'Classical Journey' 15 Nov).

The choir, however, were the main attraction. Under the capable music direction of Laurence Blyth, they have built a beautiful sound. After the Purcell opera the choir performed Eric Whitacre's 'Seal Lullaby', a beautiful selection of 'Songs and Sonnets from Shakespeare' by George Shearing, and finally MOrten Lauridsen's 'Sure on this Shining Night'. All utterly delightful.

Laurence acknowledges the
Wellington Choral Society Choir
This site rarely covers musical events beyond the borders of Devon, but Somerset is not that far away. Great music in Wellington or Taunton is quite accessible from East Devon and well worth the effort to go and see. The audience at Wellington were totally thrilled by the whole evening's performance.

The Church of St John the Baptist in Wellington will be the venue for another great choral concert later this month. The Collegium Singers are a very capable Somerset renaissance choir directed by Peter Leech. They have performed at Exeter Cathedral in the past (and let's hope they will again). On Friday 16th December they are giving a concert called 'O Magnum Mysterium' - renaissance music for Advent and Christmas, and a celebration of the life of sixteenth century Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria (d. 20 Aug 1611).

The Wellington Choral Society's next concert will be somewhat further from Exeter. On Saturday 10th December they will be at Wells Cathedral for 'Sing for Somerset', a carol service in collaboration with 'Somerset Voices' and the Mid Somerset Orchestra.  Wellington Choral Society are also preparing for a spectacular concert - Bach's St John Passion - to be performed at the Church of St John the Baptist in Wellington on Saturday 24th March 2012.

This weekend mezzo-soprano Juliet Curnow will join bass Julian Rippon, Tenor Thomas Hobbs and soprano Raphaela Papadakis to sing Bach's 'Christmas Oratorio' St David's Church Exeter at 7.30pm tonight (Saturday 3rd December). Tickets £15 (students £7.50), box office - Exeter Phoenix, 01392 667080)

Also tonight Matthew Cann will stage the inaugural concert of his new choir 'Antiphon' at Buckfast Abbey (7.30pm Sat 3rd December). He will be joined by members of Counterpoint Choir and an intriguing selection of soloists from around the country.

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