Dartington Community Choir
Great Hall, Dartington
It’s a good job we don’t all like the same things in life.
For example, whereas some choral-music aficionados prefer a single, large work in a programme, I enjoy having at least two contrasting pieces to listen to. Logistically-speaking, a single work should be easier to mount, since only one set of orchestral players and soloists is needed. On the other hand, two or more works could easily require vastly different resources, which would then seriously impact on their inclusion, if only from the financial standpoint alone.
The key, then, is to find pieces which go well together, but which essentially can be performed with the same, or very similar soloists and orchestration. Whether it’s anything to do with the centuries-old game of ‘Simon Says’, I’m not sure, but locally two of the past-masters in terms of successful programming have been Simon Ible – formerly director of the sorely-missed Ten Tors Orchestra, and the University of Plymouth Choral Society – and Simon Capet, conductor and artistic director of Dartington Community Choir (DCC).
DCC’s previous concert was a perfect example of successful pairing, where Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass provided the ideal first-half foil for Handel’s Dixit Dominus in the second – works as different as chalk and cheese, but which combined seamlessly on the night.
Following their festive success, DCC have followed suit at their Easter Concert, this time juxtaposing two Requiems – one by Maurice Duruflé, and the other by Karl Jenkins – again almost diametrically-opposite creations, but which were still amazingly effective together.
At the helm
Whether it’s a company or organisation, orchestra or choral society – or even the current Brexit fiasco – so much depends on the person at the helm, for there to be an ultimately satisfying, and successful outcome.
DCC is enormously fortunate to have Simon Capet as its leader. Yes, there are directors who have the necessary musical knowledge and expertise, and even most of the skills to communicate this to those in their charge. But far fewer have that vital charisma, and this is where Simon has been a clear inspiration since taking over the choir, which now exudes a real air of pre-concert confidence, though never appearing the slightest bit blasé about the task ahead. Simon, for his part, outwardly appears the height of calmness on the rostrum, and this is surely the most reassuring sight any large group of performers can wish to have standing in front of them.
The choir was, as ever, in good voice, well-drilled and disciplined, yet always projecting a great feeling of spontaneity and real enthusiasm. It was a particular pleasure to see former choir chair, Matt Hulbert, assume the baritone-solo role in the Duruflé. Yes, it was definitely more cost-effective to provide this in-house, rather than hire a second soloist for what was, in reality, a relatively short contribution, but Matt stepped up, and, having had tuition from Totnes-based former opera-singer Ian Comboy, did a first-class job on the night. Welsh soprano, Charlotte Forfar was an ideal choice for the repertoire, too, where her bell-like clarity was absolutely ideal for the role.
Dartington Sinfonietta also did a superb job, and it was good to see some different personnel among the ranks, given that some of the regular players were no doubt booked for a similar choral event elsewhere. To this end, violinist Lindsay Braga deserves a special accolade for her assured lead, and there were equally some especially-telling contributions from harp, solo horn, and percussion, the latter courtesy of two members of Quartet19, who had already made a great impact when they appeared with the choir in Carmina Burana, a while back. Peter King’s superb organ playing was additionally another one of the first-half highlights.
Finally, a special commendation must go to shakuhachi exponent, Clive Bell, for the unique and wide-ranging sonorities he produced on his Japanese flute, allied to his totally atmospheric and idiomatic playing, without which some of the effectiveness of the Jenkins work would have been considerably diminished.
I make no secret of the fact that Dartington, and the Great Hall in particular, is one of my favourite concert venues, and, when the music-making is as enjoyable as this was, there can be little reason to feel the need to be elsewhere.
You can read my full review here at Seen and Heard International.
Philip R Buttall
top image: Dartington Community Choir with Clive Bell (shakuhachi) inset