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December 2019

Wetherby Choral Society gives Messiah a new twist

Concerts given by Wetherby Choral Society are always performed to a remarkably high standard. Their Conductor and Music Director, John Dunford presented the audience with a most unusual programme for their Christmas concert on Saturday (December 14, 2019).

The programme was built around Part One of Handel’s Messiah but the arias and choruses were cleverly interspersed with various Christmas carols and Advent hymns. To give an example, the Overture from Messiah was followed immediately by the hymn, O come, O come Emmanuel before the tenor recitative, Comfort Ye and aria Ev’ry valley which in turn was followed by the carol, The truth sent from above, the first and last verses of which were sung as a solo by Phil Willcox (Bass).

Mark Cunningham (Tenor) sang with superbly resonant tone. Rachel Gilmore (Mezzo-soprano), sent a warm and excellently placed vocal line to the large and appreciative audience which filled the church. But who may abide was so lyrical and smoothly sung, in contrast to Refiner’s fire, which had great attack. Phil Wilcox has a wonderful rich and resonant bass voice which he used in his arias to great effect. Thus saith the Lord was sung with great authority and the sinuous lines of The people that walk in darkness was haunting. Andrea Ryder (Soprano), no stranger to audiences at Wetherby, sang with beauty and great elegance, her voice ringing around the interior of St James’s Church, charming all who heard it.

The well-prepared Chorus sang with great character, and obviously were thoroughly enjoying themselves. In Dulci Jubilo and John Rutter’s Nativity Carol were beautifully sung. The Orchestra were quite amazing and, with trumpets and timpani augmenting the large choruses, the effect was quite spectacular.

Well done to the Conductor for devising such an attractive and enjoyable evening of seasonal music.

Adrian Selway

November 2019

Wetherby Choral Society's thrilling Handel performance

It is perhaps fair to say that Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabaeus is not as popular in concert programmes as it once was. It is an epic work, written on a grand scale, full of charming, beautifully written melodies together with dramatic solo and choral writing.

Wetherby Choral Society, under their Conductor and Musical Director John Dunford, together with Wetherby Pro Musica (Leader Eric Clark) featured this powerful work in their Autumn Concert in Wetherby Parish Church last Saturday (November 17).

The stately opening movement, followed by its companion, the tricky and brilliantly performed fugue, set the scene perfectly. The following chorus, mourning the destruction of Jerusalem, was sung incredibly well as were the accompanying recitatives, performed by Bibi Heal, Soprano, whose gentle persuasive tones proved most attractive and Rachel Gilmore, Mezzo-soprano, who proved to be an excellent addition to the soloists with her well-crafted, delightfully and musically expressive vocal lines.

The quartet of soloists was most impressive, each member having a distinct vocal character and yet blending most pleasingly when necessary. Ben Thapa, Tenor, brought a more dramatic element to the overall performance, really living the part he played. His Air, Call forth thy powers, my soul, was most impressive, growing from the very first note into a blaze of sound. Thom Meredith, Bass, sang with great warmth and sincerity, calming and explaining the situation with reassurance. Handel’s integration of the arias and choral items in Judas is quite impeccable.

The Choral Society performed with superb confidence, with excellent diction and musically sensitive phrasing. The Orchestra performed almost faultlessly with strong confident string playing and brilliant woodwind, brass and percussion.

Many thanks to John Dunford for bringing this work once more to the large and appreciative audience and providing an excellent evening of musical entertainment.

Adrian Selway

June 2019

Choral Society’s Amazing Creation

The Parish Church of St James, Wetherby was filled almost to capacity for the final concert of the 2018 – 2019 concert season given by Wetherby Choral Society under its Conductor and Musical Director, John Dunford. The programme for the evening comprised one work, The Creation by Joseph Haydn. This work is a remarkable musical description of the creation as depicted in Genesis with additional texts from Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Haydn requires a comparatively large orchestra containing much orchestral colour for this work and as usual, the Wetherby Pro Musica Orchestra were accompanying the singers. The orchestra immediately demonstrated their prowess in the opening Representation of Chaos – full of changing moods and orchestral colour, the Conductor’s handling of the texture and dynamic contrast was impeccable.

John Savournin, Bass Baritone, was unfortunately indisposed, so Tom Asher, baritone, came to sing the important roles of Raphael and Adam at very short notice. His voice, sweet and persuasive in solo and yet very effective in duets and trios made him a very good choice of soloist in this concert. Austin Gunn, Tenor, presented his vocal talents very well during the evening, sometimes in a declamatory way in his several recitatives but also showing the lyrical beauty of the tenor voice in the trios. Ildiko Allen, Soprano, sang with superb tone and consummate ease; the silvery quality, especially in the upper register, filled the church with glittering beauty. This was just a splendid group of soloists.

Wetherby Pro Musica played with great sensitivity, sometimes accompanying the soloists with whispering tone and yet with full sonorous tone in the many climatic moments. Wetherby Choral Society sang with great sincerity and brilliance, clearly demonstrating their sheer delight singing this amazing composition. John Dunford, conducting with great understanding, gave the large and appreciative audience a splendidly beautiful evening of great music.


April 2019

Monumental Bach Passion at St James Church Wetherby

St James Church was the venue for the Easter Concert given by Wetherby Choral Society together with Wetherby Pro Musica under the baton of Conductor and Musical Director, John Dunford.

The programme comprised one work, the St John Passion by J. S. Bach. First performed in 1724, this incredible composition vividly depicts the final days of the life of Jesus; his betrayal and arrest, his trial and crucifixion all set to music in such a way that the listener becomes acutely involved.

The whole scene of events narrated by the Evangelist, in this performance was brilliantly sung by Robert Johnston who sang with great clarity and a superb feeling of communication. The role of Christ was sung with an excellent sense of understanding by John Savournin, always calm and always with a sense of the peaceful acceptance of Christ to his eventual death on the cross at Calvary. Jack Holton sang the part of Pilate using his splendid baritone voice with conviction and splendid musicality. Claire Filer, mezzosoprano, filled St James’ Church with warmth and deep feeling in her arias especially so in All is fulfilled, it is finished which she sang with amazing sensitivity, accompanied beautifully by Gamba and continuo. Harry Bagnall, tenor, made a dramatic contribution as Peter in Ah, my soul, confidently dealing with the angular rhythms with confidence and assertive tone. Lottie Greenhow’s soprano voice glittered above the heads of the audience in her aria, I follow in gladness.

The Choral Society sang their hearts out with superb results and sang sometimes aggressively, as the crowd, sometimes deeply reflectively as in the chorales.

Wetherby Pro Musica played almost faultlessly showing their usual professional approach to their work. This was a profoundly moving performance brilliantly conducted by John Dunford.

HJ, April 2019

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