University of Plymouth Choral Society concerts always tend to have something special about them, and none more than the Christmas event. However, this year’s event just seemed to have some extra charisma.
To Messiah, or not – that’s the annual dilemma for choirs as Christmas approaches.
Variety is the spice of life, they say, and when this applies to programme planning, it can be particularly telling.
Truro’s Three Spires Singers have this off to a fine art. If a vocal work is long enough to stand on its own, then fine. But when it’s not, conductor Christopher Gray doesn’t just pad things out with a few vocal stocking-fillers, but comes up with something more inventive, that makes optimum use of his available singers and players.
This special programme – a musical celebration of the Queen’s 90th Birthday earlier this year – got off to a great start with an electrifying performance of Walton’s Crown Imperial March, which must surely have tugged at the heart-strings of even the most hardened antiroyalist.
Having got the party-mood in full swing, it then seemed a shame that the next couple of pieces did little or nothing to maintain this. Clearly these two works for strings only, were intended to give the brass section a vital breather, but there are, perhaps, some other options out there.
But bring on Ralph Vaughan Williams, and everything is back on track again, in the captivating form of his mini-concerto for violin and orchestra – The Lark Ascending. From the first to last note, this was an outstanding performance from New Zealand-born Benjamin Baker, despatched with such simple, heartfelt emotion, over a finely-contoured and immensely warm accompaniment from the orchestra.
From then on, the celebrations kicked off again with great aplomb, starting with Walton’s Charge and Battle from his Henry V Suite – wisely slotted in before the interval – to ensure everyone was back in real high spirits for Holst’s Jupiter, and finally Elgar’s glorious Enigma Variations. Here, conductor Anne Kimber could not have asked for more from her loyal subjects, led by Dawn Ashby, resulting in one of the orchestra’s most inspired performances to date.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Even ‘Wild Women’ aren’t immune from the seasonal bugs doing the rounds at the moment, and which always hit singers hardest.
Ten Tors Orchestra has just had a makeover, only to rise again under the banner of Peninsula Arts Sinfonietta, although admittedly any outward signs seem more political, than musical.
This stimulating bit-by-bit reassembly of the string-quartet medium, opened with a confident and expressive performance of the Sarabande and Double from Bach’s First Partita for solo violin, by quartet-leader Pierre-Emmanuel Largeron.