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From The Yorkshire Post's round-up of performances of Handel's Messiah for Christmas 2017:

My own favourite is the Wetherby Choral Society and Wetherby Pro Musica, who, inspired by their conductor, John Dunford, have that homespun feeling that takes you deep inside the score.     (David Denton)

March 2021

The Yorkshire Post published an interview with John Dunford, our Music Director. You can read it here....

Recent concert reviews

June 2022

Puccini and Rutter Concert Excites Wetherby Audience

It was most gratifying to see the large audience almost filling Wetherby Parish Church for the Summer Concert given by Wetherby Choral Society and the Wetherby Pro Musica Orchestra under the direction of John Dunford last Saturday evening.

The evening began with the Conductor paying tribute to two long-standing members who are retiring this year: Marjorie Hodlin, accompanist to the Society, and Adrian Selway, organ and harpsichord continuo.

The concert opened with a performance of Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, a well-known and well-loved choral work written for chorus with orchestra and tenor and baritone soloists. Mark Leigh Cunningham, tenor, sang with glorious dramatic effect in true Italianate style. By contrast, Jonty Ward, baritone, sang with a mellow and soothingly effective style.

The chorus always sang with confidence and displayed an intimate knowledge of this work, while the orchestra provided accompaniment of very high quality with exciting brass interjections.

Following the interval, the second work performed was a choral setting of the Magnificat by John Rutter. This sweet but challenging work received an excellent performance considerably enhanced by the beautiful voice of soprano soloist, Andrea Ryder which caressed the hearts of the audience with a lovely sensitive rendering of both Et misericordia and Esurientes.

This was a fine evening of music provided for us all by John Dunford and the Wetherby Choral Society, orchestra and soloists. Many thanks to you all.


March 2022

A right royal performance for Her Majesty's Platinum Jubilee

There can be no greater demonstration of the understanding Handel has for drama than the introduction to the most well-known of his Coronation Anthems than the effect of the choir's entry in Zadok the Priest. This anthem, sung at every Coronation since 1727, lifted the roof off St James Church and gave notice of an evening of joyous music and celebration.

Having an accompaniment simply of strings, without oboes, trumpets and timpani, Let thy hand be strengthened supplies a contrast to the other three anthems. The central movement, at a gentle pace, was expressively sung by the choir and sensitively accompanied by the orchestra.

Wetherby Pro Music, an ad-hoc group of local musicians, had a number of late replacements but they were on fine form, no more evident than in the Telemann Concerto Grosso which features the concertino group of three trumpets and timpani. The trumpet playing of Rebecca Todd, Richard Sowden and Geoff Cloke, so often a joy to hear at Wetherby concerts, sparkled throughout with strings and oboes adding a balanced and blended ripieno group.

The final two anthems brought back the full orchestral accompaniment and introduced the quartet of soloists with short sections at the beginning of each movement in the final anthem. It was in Mozart's Coronation Mass that where the soloists had a more significant role. Andrea Ryder, soprano, sang the Agnus Dei with great dignity and calm displaying her sense of phrasing and breath control in long legato sections. Charlotte Tetley's warmth as the mezzo soprano and Alistair Donoghue's light baritone voice were ideal for the largely quartet singing required and Austin Gunn's lyrical and strong tenor voice completed the quartet.

But the bulk of the performance was for the choir, who were on their feet for almost the entire concert. Singing with great confidence, powerful and rhythmic, energetic and joyful and deserving of the long applause at the end. Most gratifying for everyone was that the concert could go ahead, seemingly unaffected the rise in Covid cases nationally and performed to a capacity audience. The whole joyful expression of Coronation Music this evening represents another step on the road back to some sense of normality and in this kind of form Wetherby Choral Society’s next concert on June 25th should not be missed.


December 2021

Messiah performance lifts the spirits

Following their recent outstandingly successful return to concert singing in November, Wetherby Choral Society gave its traditional performance of Handel’s Messiah under their conductor John Dunford accompanied by Wetherby Pro Musica.

The crisp confidence of the orchestral playing from the first notes set in motion a palpable sense of joy expressed through Handel’s great music which filled every corner of St James Church. The string ensemble was at times vigorous and energetic, while capable of great beauty in the more reflective passages. Though used sparingly in the score the trumpets and timpani add much in the latter parts. Rebecca Todd’s confident playing in ‘The trumpet shall sound’ was a significant highlight.

The dark and impressively operatic performance of local bass D'Arcy Bleiker thrilled in Why do the nations yet the calmer mood of For behold, darkness shall cover the earth showed great control of the musical phrase. Stephen Newlove, tenor, sang with clarity and beauty throughout, the four recitatives in Part Two being most notable. Rachel Gilmore, alto, was on great form. Her "refiner's fire" was full of drama yet her performance of He was despised, sung with great depth of understanding, showed her rich tones at their most expressive. A newcomer to Wetherby Choral Society was the soprano Jane Burnell, a Master's student at the Royal Northern College of Music. Her singing effortless, pure of tone, vivacious and colourful, drew the audience in from her first note to her last. The coloratura singing of Rejoice greatly was magnificent, the simplicity of How beautiful are the feet and the depth of understanding of the text was excellent. The choir were committed and attentive in their vital chorus work. The exclamations of "Wonderful" and "Counsellor" in For unto us a child is born were fulsome, the baying crowd animated in e trusted in God, and the dynamic singing in Worthy is the lamb with a rise to the final bars of the Amen chorus a reminder of all that has been missed through the last 18 months.

For a town the size of Wetherby to be producing choral concerts of this quality is an achievement of which they and the town should be rightly proud.
Long may it continue!

John Dunford

November 2021

A triumphant comeback for Wetherby choir

A capacity audience at St James Church welcomed the return of the Wetherby Choral Society under the direction of the Musical Director of 28 years, John Dunford.

The concert started with Haydn's Nelson Mass, probably his most well-known setting. Haydn's style always exudes joy and this is no exception.

Sarah Power, soprano, has the bulk of the solo work and shone, the florid passages such as the opening Kyrie being precise and seemingly effortless and the more lyrical and expressive solos, the Et incarnatus for example, showing her control and musicianship of the highest order.

Completing the quartet of soloists were Karina Lucas whose rich mezzo-soprano was to shine later in the evening, the tenor Stephen Newlove singing with clarity and style and Phil Wilcox whose sonorous bass-baritone was used to great effect in the Qui tollis movement.

John Rutter, one of our most well-loved contemporary composers, has always been a favourite for choirs and audiences with his tuneful and very singable style of writing.

Feel the Spirit is a setting of seven spirituals in a light jazz style. The orchestration is quite superb and the Wetherby Pro Musica, led by Eric Clark, while having played the Haydn with precision, really came into their own with panache and energy added to their playing, with some outstanding solos, particularly the cor anglais, clarinet, harp and horn, all ably supported by a strong team of percussionists.

The mezzo-soprano Karina Lucas has a significant role all except the final spiritual. She created a chill as she sang the unaccompanied sola at the start of Sometimes I feel like a motherless child and followed this with the much lighter Ev'ry time I feel the spirit showing her versatility.

The choir, not yet back to pre-Covid numbers, though not seeming to make any significant difference, sang as though they had not suffered from a two-year lay-off. Expressive and controlled in the quieter passages, full-voiced and powerful in the louder sections, they were clearly enjoying themselves enormously. They not only rose to the occasion with their final number, a brilliant setting of When the saints go marching in sung in thrilling manner but were rewarded by the smiling, toe-tapping capacity audience almost before the final note had stopped!

Wetherby Choral Society's next concert is Handel's Messiah, in St James Church, Wetherby, on Saturday, December 18 at 7.30pm.

John Dunford

Earlier concert reviews...

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