Saturday, 21 May 2016

East Devon Choral Society Fauré Requiem Ralph Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music Hubert Parry Blest Pair of Sirens Tiverton Baptist Church Saturday 7 May 2016

Conductor: Andrew Daldorph

East Devon Choral Society
Orchestra & Choir
On Saturday 7 May, an audience wended its way to Tiverton Baptist Church from all parts of the town. The regular car park was being used for the town market and parking was at a premium.

What awaited them was well worth the effort. A mighty choir lined the stage, the organ loft, and both galleries of the church. The members of the East Devon Choral Society were also joined by a sumptuous orchestra of Devon instrumentalists.

Harp: Liz Grier
French Horn
Paul Painter

Particularly prominent was the ‘harpe noire’ of Liz Grier (one half of harp duo “Harpe Noire” with Emma Graham.

Behind here were French horns (Paul Painter & Colin Stiff), trumpets (Brian Moore & John Hammonds), trombones (Glyn Bowen, Claire Hardy by Andy Fawbert) and bassoons (Michael Merryweather & Noemi Palko), not to mention the kettle drums of Ali Board.

Michael Merryweather
Noemi Palko
(Timpani - Ali Board)

Orchestra Leader
Fiona McLean Buechel
Orchestra Leader
Fiona McLean Buechel

The orchestra was led by Fiona McLean Buechel with an impressive line-up of first violins - Clare Smith (leader of the EMG Symphony Orchestra in Exeter), Julie Hill (regular violinist with Devon Baroque, and many of her own ensembles), plus Tina Bennet who started the evening with the violas.

Also playing viola in the first half was second violinist Exeter ‘Nonclassical’ & ‘Gypsy Jazz’ star, Rebecca Willson. The other seconds, Lyndsay Miller & Pippa Cotterill, were under Sandra Sutton.
First Violin: Clare Smith
Viola: David Newland
The complement of violas was made up by Tina Gladwin & principal viola David Newland.

Hilary Boxer headed up a ’cello trio with Jane Greenwood & Tirke Linneman, with Michael Allnatt providing a sonorous undercurrent on his double bass.

Jane Greenwood & Hilary Boxer
(Viola: Rebecca Willson)
Hilary and Jane are well known for concerts of duets for ‘Tasty Music’ and Kenarts ‘Classical Café’ in Cullompton. (Hilary is based in Kentisbeare, and her husband (bassoonist) Alan Boxer directs the Classical Café.) Hilary is also one third of the Beare Trio with Andrew Daldorph and Chris Gradwell.
Jane GreenwoodHilary Boxer
Tirke Linneman  
Steve Smith &
Chris Gradwell

The woodwind section was equally spectacular. Chris Gradwell played clarinet with Steve Smith, while Tina Guthrie and Candice Regan played flutes (including some delightful piccolo playing by Candice in the second half).

Tina Guthrie &
Candice Regan
TrumpetBrian Moore)

Candice Regan

The church organ was not in perfect fettle for orchestral work, so the resident EDCS organist, Colin Pettet, was provided with a chamber organ by the Rector of Holy Cross Crediton, Nigel Guthrie.

Nigel Guthrie
provided the chamber organ
Chamber Organ
Colin Pettet
Colin is a very experienced musician. He was Assistant Musical Director of ‘Les Miserables’ in the West End for twenty five years, during which time he worked with many other players - including several of the performers in the EDCS orchestra.

In addition to the impressive orchestra and choir, and their inspirational Director of Music, Andrew Daldorph, two other people were needed to make the evening complete.

Eleanor Partridge
Eleanor Partridge returned from Royal Holloway, where she is a music undergraduate, to be our soprano soloist for the evening. Back in 2011, when Ellie was still at school, she was soprano soloist for the EDCS performance of Haydn’s “St Nicholas Mass”, and was also soloist in their 2013 performance of Handel’s “Messiah”. The second soloist was the extremely experienced and talented opera baritone Nicholas Merryweather.

Nicholas Merryweather

Nicholas tours regularly with the English Touring Opera, which always makes a detour to bring opera to the Northcott Theatre on Exeter University Campus. He was also baritone soloist for the unforgettable performance of Rossini’s “Petite Messe Solennelle”, back in May 2012.

Nicholas is originally from Devon and was at school at Torquay Grammar School. It is always a great pleasure when he returns home to entertain us Devonians - who are very appreciative.

Fauré Requiem

Gabriel Fauré’s “Requiem in D minor” is a sombre and brooding orchestration of the Catholic Mass for the Dead. The opening words, “Requiem Aeternam” were beautifully formed by the choir, perfectly conflating hope and trepidation. The orchestra, who had joined the choir for rehearsals only shortly before the performance, were perfectly integrated with the singers by Andrew Daldoph’s inspired direction. (In rehearsal, the accompaniment would have been provided by Andrew himself, or a volunteer, on the piano.)

Nicholas Merryweather
With due ceremony, Nicholas Merryweather mounted the soloists’ rostrum to sing, “Hostias et preces tibi, Domine, laudis offerimus” (O Lord we offer you sacrifices and prayers) in the Offertory.
What a commanding figure Nicholas is. His delivery is perfect and (owing to his extensive modern opera experience) every emotion lovingly expressed. He did not upstage the choir, however, and the sweet voices of the sopranos led us on into a moving Sanctus.

Eleanor Partridge
Then came the big moment. Eleanor Partridge took Nicholas Merryweather’s place to sing the iconic “Pie Jesu Domine, dona eis requeim” (Sweet Lord Jesus, give them peace). After a tantalising pause, a single chord played by Colin Pettet on the organ was Ellie’s cue to enchant us all with her delightful prayer of supplication - gently accompanied by the strings, and Liz Grier’s delicate harp playing.
It was a joy to hear Ellie sing again here in Devon, and the setting was perfect.

Liz Grier

The choir, matching the eloquence of their soloists, and exhorted by Andrew’s conducting, injected the maximum amount of emotion into the “Agnus Dei” (Lamb of God), before being joined by Nicholas again for the “Libera Me” (Deliver Me). This shocking description of the last judgement (which replaces the usual “Dies Irae” - Day of Wrath) requires immense force and feeling, which both soloist and choir were able to provide in abundance. The subtle addition of French horns by Paul Painter & Collin Stiff helped greatly with this process.

The final funeral prayer (not part of the official mass) is “In Paradisum deducant te Angeli” (May the Angels lead you into heaven) was the lightest and most seductive part of the whole mass. Soprano voices, and Liz’s harp, carried the audience on angels wings to a place of final rest. It was a lovely and extremely moving ending.

Vaughan Williams “Serenade to Music

Solo: “Serenade to Music”
Fiona McLean Buechel

After a break, the orchestra came to fore again in a very special performance of Ralph Vaughan Williams Serenade to Music. The orchestra leader, Fiona McLean Buechel, stood for an impressive solo performance

Andrew Maries

Her impeccable playing was lovingly wrapped in the combined sound of voices, harp glissandi, and her own fabulous orchestra, including oboist Andrew Maries, who arrived during the interval - especially to take part.

The enchanting hymn to Diana fell naturally enough to soprano Ellie Partridge and, just as naturally, Nicholas Merryweather took the part of Erebus. Like an ephemeral dream, the words and music swirled and eddied, punctuated by masterly clarion calls from the trumpets of  Brian Moore & John Hammonds. Ellies tender last notes had the audience in raptures.

Gabriel Fauré: “Le Secret
Ralph Vaughan Williams: “Silent Noon
Ralph Vaughan Williams:
“Five Mystical Songs”
III “Love Bade Me Welcome” IV “The Call

Baritone & Soprano
Nicholas Merryweather Eleanor Partridge

With two such talented soloists available, it was only proper that we should all enjoy some more of their exquisite singing. The choir and orchestra took a break and joined the audience in listening to Ellie and Nicholas perform two pieces each.

Eleanor Partridge
In keeping with the themes of the evening, Ellie sang the last of Gabriel Fauré’s “Trois Chansons” (Opus 23), “Le Secret”, and Ralph Vaughan Williams’ “Silent Noon”. This overload of romance took us from an embarrassed lover, wanting her secret to ‘evaporate like a teardrop’, to a full-blooded love sonnet by Dante Gabriel Rosetti, intended for male voice, but lovingly arranged for soprano. In both, Ellie enthralled the audience with her soft tones and loving interpretation.

Nicholas Merryweather

Nicholas chose two sacred seventeenth century poems by Reverend George Herbert, set to music by Ralph Vaughan Williams as “Five Mystical Songs”. This set of five pieces lend immense power to Herbert's words. “Love Bade Me Welcome” and “The Call” expound deeply held love. Whether love of the Christian God, or romantic love, is left for the listener to decide. In either sense, Nicholas fully realised the potential of the music, fixing the audience with his engaging gaze while declaiming in his deeply impressive voice.

Hubert Parry “Blest Pair of Sirens

An extravagant finale
“Blest Pair of Sirens”
Last, and by no means least, was another seventeenth century poem (“At a Solemn Musick” by John Milton) this time set to music by Hubert Parry, as “Blest Pair of Sirens” (the opening words of Milton's ode). As the choir's sign-off, this work was appropriately triumphal and packed an impressive punch.

From fiendish fanfare to heavenly harmony, the words and music were overwhelmingly and deeply moving. Short, but all-consumingly sweet, this delicious concoction of sensations was the perfect coda to a spectacular and extremely enjoyable evening of music.

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