Wednesday, 30 November 2016

Paul Stock Conducts Clyst Valley Choral Society's "Concert of British Music" Soprano Janet Macdonald St Margaret's Church Topsham Holy Trinity Church Exmouth Saturday/Sunday 19/20 November 2016

Clyst Valley Choral Society
Musical Director: Paul Stock
(Photography: Nicky Perry)

In their now-familiar concert schedule, the Clyst Valley gave two concerts on the weekend of 26th November. The first was at St Margaret's Church in Topsham on Saturday evening, followed by a repeat performance at Holy Trinity Church in Exmouth the following night.

Their "Concert of British Music" began with a delightful sinfonia by Paul Stock's baroque ensemble. George Frideric Handel's "Arrival of the Queen of Sheba" from his oratorio setting of Moses Mendes' "Solomon". The oratorio was composed while Handel was working for the the Duke of Bedfordshire in Dublin. This very British, and very international, opening set the scene perfectly for an evening of beautiful music. Mandy Fishleigh and Marcus Carson stood out particularly with their sweet flute duets punctuating each orchestra phrase.

The task of leading the orchestra is shared between Sally Bull and Chris Gould. Chris also doubles as trumpetter for the more triumphant pieces. His clarion sound was immediately employed in another, earlier, work by Handel - from the oratorio "Samson". With Mark Perry playing the organ (without orchestra), and Chris Gould adding a ringing trumpet line, Janet Macdonald sang the rousing "Let the bright Seraphim in burning row, their loud uplifted Angle-trumpets blow." The combined sound filled the church with spectacular baroque beauty.

After a brief hiatus, Mark Perry reappeared at the foot of the organ-loft stairs and resumed playing at the grand piano. In stark contrast to the two opening numbers, the choir and orchestra now performed a series of songs from John Rutter's gentle suite "The Sprig of Thyme". These light-hearted folk-songs were lovingly performed, with the themes passing lightly between the different sections of the choir, and the different instruments.

During the Tyneside coal-shippers' ballad "The Keel Row", the deep and serious sound of Ben Lund-Conlon's bass trombone started to appear. Ben is a young man of extraordinary talent, not only a talented percussionist but also a very moving brass player as well.

The orchestra changed the mood again with a return to the music of Handel. The famous "Water Music" suite is from an earlier period of his life when, only a year after relocating to England at the invitation of Queen Anne, she was succeeded by Handel's former patron Georg Ludwig, Elector of the Duchy of Brunswick and Lüneburg - who became King George I of Great Britain.

Handel re-established himself in the new King's favour with this regal entertainment for the procession of the King's flotilla down the Thames. In 2012 the same music accompanied King George's six-times great-granddaughter Queen Elizabeth II on her own Diamond Jubilee procession down the Thames.

The carrying power of this light nautical composition was provided by the bass sound of Ben Lund-Conlon's trombone and Sue Stock's 'cello. Interspersed between the airy string sections where Rebecca Jackson and Nicola Smith provided 2nd violin and viola respectively, Mandy Fishleigh and Marcus Carson were joined by clarinettist Philip Bonser in delightful cameos for woodwind - but still with the deeper sound of Ben's trombone.

In a very neat transition, the orchestra and choir moved on to a setting of Psalm 122 by Thomas Attwood, "I was glad when they said unto me, We will go into the house of the Lord". This music was composed for the Coronation of King George's great-great grandson George IV.  The opening sinfonia was immediately recognisable, as the theme of  'God Save the King' - picked up beautifully by Phil Bonser on clarinet.

This music was much more grandiose than the Water Music, and Ben Lund-Conlon moved to tympani, with Chris taking up his trumpet for a very regal performance.

After the interval the coronation theme, with drums and trumpet, continued with Ralph Vaughan Williams' setting of Psalm 100, "All People that on Earth do Dwell", composed for the Coronation of Elizabeth II.

Throughout both hymns, it was noticeable that there were only two tenor singers, hugely outnumbered by the basses. Paul Stock explained that in fact none of the choir's tenors had been able to attend. The tenor line was being sung by two of the regular basses, Philip and Keith. A remarkable achievement. To give them some respite, the next piece was Samuel Wesley's hymn "Blessed be the God and Father" composed for Easter Evensong at Hereford Cathedral in 1834 - when there had also been a complete absence of tenor singers - and sopranos.

The only single lines are for basses, where all the men were able to sing in unison, and for trebles - sung as a high solo by the Clyst Valley soprano soloist Janet Macdonald. Ben Lund-Conlon's kettle-drums provided a driving rhythm and rousing finale to this very appropriate choral piece.

Mark Perry, who had been playing solidly on the piano throughout the choral pieces, now had a chance to demonstrate his keyboard skills in a solo exposition for organ. His choice, the Crown Imperial March composed for the Coronation of George VI in 1937 by William Walton, was originally an orchestral piece but is equally moving as an organ arrangement. Mark played mostly in the upper register keeping the sound airy and light. Even the regal march was light on the bass. A lovely interlude - regal, but gentle.

The gentle feel of the concert continued with the remainder of John Rutter's choral suite "The Sprig of Thyme". Janet Macdonald sang one more soprano solo in "The Cuckoo", and the suite ended with the timeless poetry of Robert Burns, "Sweet Afton" evoking the rolling country of his beloved home county of Ayreshire.

Paul Stock conducts the Clyst Valley Choral Society
'Cello: Sue Stock, Viola: Nicola Smith,
2nd Violin: Rebecca Jackson,
Trumpet: Chris Gould,
1st Violin: Sally Bull,
Flutes: Mandy Fishleigh & Marcus Carson

Soprano Soloist: Janet Macdonald
Tympani & Bass Trombone: Ben Lund-Conlon
Organ & Piano: Mark Perry
The orchestra and choir closed the concert as they opened it, with the tumultuous sound of a magnificent  Handel oratorio. This time it was the mighty "Messiah". Ben was forced to undertake major retuning of his tympani for the spectacular "Hallelujah" chorus. His efforts proved well worth it when he and Chris burst in with drums and trumpet. Despite the lack of tenor voices, the sopranos and altos gave an impressive performance - with thunderous accompaniment from the basses.

Paul Stock was impassioned at the rostrum, drawing the most out of all the performers right up to the climactic closing words.

This was a magnificent two nights of music, and there will be more in April next year when Paul Stock will conduct the choir and orchestra in more British classics. John Rutter's music will feature again, when the choir sing his suite of spirituals, "Feel the Spirit". This time, Kate Lees will be singing the soprano solos. There will also be baritone solos in Charles Villiers Stanford's 1904 setting of John Newbolt's nautical poems "Songs of the Sea".

Many thanks to Musical Director Paul Stock, Soprano Soloist Janet Macdonald, Orchestra Leader Sally Bull and all the members of the orchestra and choir, who work so hard to provide such a wealth of beautiful music for listeners in Devon. Rehearsals continue at St Mary's Church in Clyst St Mary every Thursday evening from 7.30 to 9.15pm. New members are always welcome - to sing in any voice.

Clyst Valley Choral Society
Clyst Valley Choral Society
Musical Director: Paul Stock

St Margaret's Church Topsham
Saturday 29 April 7.30pm
Holy Trinity Church Exmouth
Sunday 30 April 7.30pm
Musical Director: Paul Stock
Orchestra Leader: Sally Bull
Soprano Soloist: Kate Lees
Charles Villiers Stanford: "Songs of the Sea"
John Rutter: "Feel the Spirit"
Tickets: £10 (advance £8)
Advance Booking: 01392 271858
Topsham Bookshop: 01392 877895
Clyst Valley Choral Society Website

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