If I might be permitted to borrow a slogan currently doing the rounds in a TV add, I would simply like to say: ‘This is not just a choir, this is Dartington Community Choir’ (DCC).
For two years the magnificent Great Hall on the Dartington Estate has been devoid of any large-scale musical performances because, like the rest of us when Covid began its onslaught on a global scale, life as we knew it was shut down, affecting each and every one of us, both in our homes, and in the myriad of activities we took part in outside.
DCC indeed lives up to its name since you can always sense a unique community spirit in their presence. Although choir numbers are slightly down overall, it’s only to be expected, however effective virtual rehearsals via Zoom might be. Some of us might still not feel as confident in returning to such a social activity as choral singing, and are perhaps considering re-joining later. Others, sadly might well have succumbed to the virus, or have lost someone precious, and this will also impact on numbers.
Choir numbers have naturally been affected by the events over the last two years, but the spirited Dartington Songsters have simply put all that behind them, in order to be back where they belong at the earliest opportunity, and still managed to turn in a performance in no way inferior to the best of what had been heard before – in fact, far from it.
Covid is still imposing further restrictions, and so, instead of being able to have the usual interval, the evening’s work – some 85 minutes or so – was literally given in one sitting. This was great news as far as the work was concerned, by avoiding a mid-way break in continuity, and the subsequent need to re-engage the audience after the interval, even if this might have posed something of a physical problem to some.
Given that this return to the Great Hall happened to coincide with Remembrance Sunday, the choir decided to dedicate their performance to the memory of all those lost friends and relations they had lost since they were last together, as well, of course, as those who had given their lives in the two World Wars, and later campaigns.
In terms of programme planning, there would have been a fair number of works that could have fit the bill emotionally and, of course, logistically. But the eventual choice for the evening proved such a simple solution, and one that would also tick every single box.
Even in the twenty-first century, Dvořák’s best-known, and most-often-performed sacred work is his setting of the ‘Stabat Mater’. It is full of lovely tunes, but none of them hackneyed to the degree that some can become, with over-exposure. It has a pastoral, rural ambience, which ideally suits it to a performance set in the midst of some lovely Devon countryside. But at its heart, it relays those sentiments that we all can relate to, without all the somewhat impersonal pomp and show that more pretentious works sometimes thrive on.
The fact that two years of life simply seemed to have simply disappeared last night is, in one sense, worrying, but there was also a real feeling of optimism that pervaded every bar of the music, and which was mirrored by the sheer enthusiasm, and total dedication of all those fortunate enough to be under the spell of Simon Capet’s truly inspirational direction.
Best of all though, there are already two concerts advertised for 2022, featuring a double offering of Bach and Handel next April, and then a really exciting offering in November, when the DCC presents two back-to-back performances of Dvořák’s ‘The Spectre’s Bride’ – God, and Covid willing, of course.
You can read my full review here at Seen and Heard International.
Philip R Buttall
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