Here`s our latest review for Langcliffe Singers.
Handel’s Messiah performed by the Langcliffe Singers and guests, Settle Parish Church, 18/12/21
Saturday night in Settle. What shall we do? For less than a fiver we could download a world-class recording of Handel’s Messiah, pause it when Strictly comes on, pause it again for the news, and finally fast-forward to the grand finale before retiring. Or we could pay twice that to miss Strictly (the final!) and turn up at Settle Church to sit through a two-hour-long amateur performance. It’s cold and foggy to boot, we’d have to be mad. Apparently there’s no shortage of lunatics in Settle though, because around a hundred of us did just that. And to cap everything, we were each handed the score of the Hallelujah Chorus as we came in. Some mistake surely? Then the concert began, and after an organ overture, tenor Philip O’Connor began to sing. The word ‘quiet’ is perhaps an odd one to use of a singer with a rich, resonant voice, but it’s appropriate somehow. A few minutes earlier everyone had been chattering in excited anticipation, and now here he was, setting the scene with quiet authority. ‘Comfort ye my people.’ This is going to be good. Perhaps we’re not so mad after all.
I have to admit a personal bias. I sang with the Giggleswick Choral Society ten years ago when Darren Everhart – now musical director of Langcliffe Singers – was running it. Both choirs consist of amateurs whose only qualification is an ability to turn up. Which we did, because rehearsals, with Maestro Everhart, were huge fun, and we hated to miss them. Not running-about-being-silly fun, but this-is-a-superb-piece-of-music-and-we’re-going-to-make-a-fist-of-it fun. Not frivolous fun, serious fun. (‘Basses, that was a very fine B flat, very fine. One tiny point – it should have been a C.’) The man has other talents, not least the ability to attract top-quality professional soloists. What’s in it for them? It can’t be the money, they’ll only be getting a fraction of their usual fee. But M. Everhart has a well-earned reputation for bringing good music to the people, and under his direction, it’s going to be magical, a very special event, one which no-one wants to miss. So on Saturday, on loan from the Royal Opera House perhaps, or La Scala Milan, we had soprano Sarah Fox, mezzo-soprano Elinor Carter, tenor Philip O’Connor, bass-baritone Robert Gildon, and organist Shaun Turnbull. Now, putting professional singers with an amateur choir, that can’t work surely? But you have to remember that every large choir is an amateur one. You can’t pay each member of the Huddersfield Choral Society, unless perhaps you’re Elon Musk, and even he would blanche at the prospect. Amateur doesn’t mean bad, it means you’re doing it because you love it. Yes the Langcliffe Singers are amateurs, and yes they are very good.
When we came to the Hallelujah Chorus, M. Everhart brought us to our feet and we joined in. When you think about it, this is very generous. You work for months to create the best possible performance, and when you come to the grand finale, you throw any chance of perfection away, and hand things over to the mob. Volume goes up, yes, but accuracy goes down. (I’m sure someone in my pew missed a cue. Oh, was that me? Sorry.) Ultimately though, perfection isn’t the point. The joy of making music, that’s the point.
You’ll have gathered by now that I was impressed, so in keeping with my duties as critic, I should mention one or two tiny lapses. One of the basses never raised his eyes from his score, as if engrossed in a good book. Admittedly my gaze shifted to other things occasionally, but it always shifted back. I was intrigued. At some point, surely, he must get distracted by the man waving his arms about from the podium below? Alas, it was not to be. What else? Shaun Turnbull, though clearly an excellent organist, struggled valiantly with some of the technical problems of Settle Church’s organ. It is basically a fine instrument - Shaun achieved some beautiful colours from the limited sounds on offer – but it would be good to be able to offer visiting professionals a fully working organ. And that’s all I can think of. Everything else was stupendous; the choir, in all four parts, particularly the sopranos; Sarah Fox, Elinor Carter and Philip O’Connor, all in fine fettle. Best of all, Robert Gildon, a great bear of a man. In fact he’s of average build, but when he starts to sing, he doubles in size, I swear it. His voice came from somewhere well south of his toes, vibrated through his body and poured from a mouth tilted skywards, loosening fragments of plaster from the church roof, tiny flakes of which drifted down to settle unseen on the shoulders of the audience. A white Christmas.
Copyright © Paul Clark 2021
LANGCLIFFE SINGERS: ST JOHN’S CHURCH, SETTLE: 13/7/19
SUMMER BOUQUET:MUSIC FOR A SUMMER’S EVENING
A cleverly constructed programme of madrigals from 16th and 17th centuries, inter-twined with a range of appropriate readings, this was certainly a display of which to be proud. Madrigals are essentially secular songs arranged for four to six voices and vary widely in subject matter while being skilfully created to allow each voice (or group of voices) to blend or work in a way which complements the other parts. As so often is the case with artistic endeavours, the real talent lies in making something so complex to master sound so very simple – this the Langcliffe singers did with great style and compliments must go to the hard work of choir members, their conductor Nigel Waugh and accompanist Brian Heaton for their achievements in this respect, for they provided a veritable garland of summer music and in doing so managed to transport the listener back to another place and time. The journey began with a song familiar to many present who recalled “Early One Morning” from their own school days when it was a popular piece on schools’ radio broadcasts. From childhood we travelled further back to the days of “Olde England” – which probably was never as pretty as we are led to believe – with “Now is the Month of Maying”. Although madrigals are short pieces they are extremely intricate and much like the metaphysical poetry of the later 17th century which carries very convoluted ideas in a short space, the music too requires concentration and focuses on examination of human emotions and relationships in great detail. Consequently we were treated to a wonderful posy of songs about the joys and trials of being in love and the nature of love itself. These included a shimmering performance of Orlando Gibbons’ “The Swan” as well as Thomas Morley’s “I love, Alas, I love thee” which while delightful and praising his current love is rather disparaging about his former lady, a bit like a modern facebook post which praises one at the expense of another! Perhaps this bitter jibe was the thorn amongst the roses in the bouquet. The ethereal “Lullaby, my sweet little baby” by William Byrd also provided a very pure counterpoint to the overblown roses of courtly love in its examination of the birth of Christ. Interspersed amongst the songs, like greenery providing structure in a floral display, were a number of poetic readings and again the readers should be congratulated on their thoughtful delivery of what, in many cases, were both difficult and very well known pieces. It is never easy to bring new life to something which everyone believes that they know but there were very many valiant efforts to achieve this goal, not least Audrey Daley’s immaculate rendition of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 where a very practical lover points out that “his mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun” but goes on to praise her rarity and that this makes her more precious. In any bouquet it is the addition of the unexpected and the range of flowers from wild meadow blossoms to cultivated show pieces and the way they work together which creates the overall impression of beauty, and so it was fitting to end the evening with a piece as light and frothy as the gysophila so regularly found in bridal flowers, the stunning “It was a lover and his lass”. An accomplished performance to bring the evening to a sparkling close.
ARISEN: MUSIC FOR EASTER - lANGCLIFFE SINGERS
ST ALKELDA'S CHURCH : 13/4/19
There is a temptation when reviewing a choir concert to spend all the piece writing about the magnificence of the singing, the dedication of the members, the purity of the soloists and the wonderful way in which the choir's voices blend together. All of which is perfectly in order in this instance. However, what is often overlooked is the contribution of others to ensure the high standard of the final performance, which is why I want to make particular mention of four gentlemen whose efforts lifted this evening well above the norm. The first of these is seventeen year old trumpeter Ewan Hudson, whose playing added so atmospherically to the works by Handel which concluded the evening. His performance in the aria "The Trumpet Shall Sound" was particularly effective. The second is accompanist Brian Heaton, whose work is normally eclipsed in concerts when the final performance is more generally accompanied by the organ - however on this occasion the majority of the works were accompanied by Brian, as they are in the many hours of rehearsal prior to the event. It really was a joy to see him taking centre stage. The third member of the group was Paul Fisher, local organist and composer who created a work specially for the choir and then also took part in the performance. Finally, conductor and director of music, Nigel Waugh who selected the programme and whose efforts clearly inspired the choir in his choice of pieces as well as shaping their actual performance. The programme itself was cleverly constructed and thought provoking; celebrating the Easter story from the solemnity and sadness of Good Friday, through to the joyful resurrection and triumph of Easter Sunday and on to the glorious acclamation of Christ enthroned in Heaven. It was also an opportunity to encounter a range of musical periods and styles, from the Catholic Eucharistic hymns of William Byrd in Elizabethan England, through the German motets of JS Bach in 18th century Europe to the very modern work of Paul Fisher before culminating in the best known pieces of the evening, a selection of movements from Handel's Messiah. This really was an evening guaranteed to offer music for all classical music tastes and was also a brilliant showcase and celebration , yet again, of the talent on offer locally.
SETTLE COMMUNITY CAROL CONCERT
SETTLE PARISH CHURCH: 16.12.18
As a child one of my greatest pleasures was opening a selection box, a chance to enjoy all my favourite treats and maybe experience one or two also with which I was less familiar. In many ways this community concert is very similar, there are certain things which you can guarantee will be there and also there's bound to be something a bit unexpected. Featuring a range of the many musical groups and talented individuals in Settle it is always an event which offers something for every taste and features a range of styles, but the one thing which unites them all is their determination to celebrate Christmas and to share their own enthusiasm for music. This year's programme featured two organists, and began with Graham Toft's stunning interpretation of the Geoffrey Shaw's arrangement Fantasia on Adeste Fidelis, an exceptionally complex piece which allowed us to experience the organ being played at full power. This was followed by two traditional pieces by Settle Voices, their folk style being particularly suited to "The Boars Head Carol" and "Good King Wencelas". Paul Fisher provided both a change of mood and season with the organ solo "Punting on the Cam" and then performed a swift change back with a French inspired arrangement of "Adeste Fidelis", proving once more just how even the most familiar piece can reveal hidden depths in the hands of each individual composer. From French to German with Settle Amateur Operatic Society's peformance of "Stille Nacht", as featured in this year's production of "Oh What a Lovely War", this was followed by a taster for next year's production of "Sister Act" with a great rendition of the classic "I Will Follow Him". The wonderful harmonies of Langcliffe Singers predominated in their trio of songs, including two pieces by John Rutter and an exceptionally haunting arrangement of "In the Bleak Mid-winter". The first half was brought to an exquisite ending by the inimitable style of Octameron, who moved effortlessly from the atmospheric contemporary piece "The Angel's Carol" to the "Earl of Salisbury's Carol", dating from the Renaissance and through to the ever-popular Sleighride before concluding with a lively arrangement of "See Amid the Winter's Snow". The delights however were far from over as the second half of the programme featured the talents of the Swing Band, who along with their soloist Rachael, set the rafters ringing with a programme which included some very lively takes on familiar carols, perennial Christmas favourites such as White Christmas, a sparkling "Santa Baby" and a full scale glittering and rocking "Rockin' Robin" before ending on a rousing race through a medley of well known tunes - complete with audience participation - in "Christmas Festival!". Truly a feast of talent was on offer and the many performers in both sections offered up a banquet of musical pleasures.
ELIJAH: LANGCLIFFE SINGERS
GIGGLESWICK SCHOOL CHAPEL: 8/12/18
Never short on ambition, this was a confident and skilled performance of a complex work by Langcliffe Singers. Based on the Old Testament story of the prophet Elijah, Mendelssohn's oratorio is a huge and dramatic piece in every respect. The performance requires 4 central soloists, additional soloists, an orchestra and a full chorus and one very over-worked and highly skilled conductor! The oratorio is divided into two part, each reflecting a wide range of emotions and stylistically is extremely theatrical dealing with hugely dramatic episodes from the life of the prophet. The first part of the performance deals with the Elijah calling the people back to the worship of Jehovah instead of Baal, as he states that this is the cause of the drought in the land, and goes on to challenge the priests of Baal to demonstrate the power of their god. Throughout this section Elijah is confident and full of hope and the section ends with celebration as Jehovah sends rain. However the second part of the work deals with despair and persecution and finally with Elijah's recovery of faith and ends once more with triumph as he is carried to heaven. Such huge themes require considerable skill and this was particularly apparent in the stunning solos, particularly Arthur Bruce as Elijah whose performance showed not only technical strength but also real passion and conviction. The Langcliffe Singers were joined in this performance by the very talented Brayside Orchestra, who clearly were in their element playing these stirring melodies in the marvellous acoustics of Giggleswick chapel and while there were times when there was danger of the orchestra drowning out the individual voices these were very few and it is to the credit of the chorus that they were well able to match the orchestra in terms of power and volume in the closing celebratory movements. In such a theatrical piece it is hard to pick out particular sections, however it would be wrong not to highlight the wonderful sequence which made up the increasingly dramatic confrontation between Elijah and the priests of Baal. This truly was joy to hear. By way of contrast there were a number of much quieter and reflective pieces such as the section dealing with the raising of the widow's son and the haunting choral section "He, watching over Israel, slumbers not nor sleeps". This angelic chorus, fittingly beneath an angel bedecked dome, was genuinely moving, as was the inspirational solo "O rest in the Lord". The one thought however which dominated the evening and which must have been clear to all who attended was very simply a realisation of the amount of effort and dedication which had been required to stage a work of this spectacular scale, and not only to attempt to stage it but to do so with such confidence. It was an amazing experience, to recreate this Victorian masterpiece with such splendour in a small dales village says a great deal about all the participants and the inspirational work of their conductor, Nigel Waugh.
LANGCLIFFE SINGERS: GIGGLESWICK SCHOOL CHAPEL 14/4/18
MAKE A JOYFUL NOISE UNTO THE LORD
In the year that marks a 100 years since the birth of Leonard Bernstein, the Langcliffe Singers compiled a programme to celebrate American music. The concept of American choral music is still very young and to put that into context, the building of the school chapel itself - between 1897-1901 - predated all the music being performed. Therefore the concert was very much a case of that odd hybrid, "modern classical".
The evening opened with a performance of Randall Thompson's "Alleluia", and while the word alleluia is normally sung as a joyful noise of praise to the Lord this is certainly not the case in this piece. Although the only lyrics are Alleluia and a final Amen, the tone was more solemn than celebratory and there was a pervading sense of sadness throughout the piece. This did however imbue it with an ethereal beauty and impression of reflection and meditation.
This theme continued elsewhere in the programme, not least in the second part of the evening where the programme comprised Samuel Barber's "Agnus Dei" and Morten Lauridsen's "Lux Aeterna". Barber's "Agnus Dei" is deceptively simple, but immensely powerful and filled with passion and despair before resolving into a haunting final phrase of "give us peace" balanced by an almost whispered "have mercy upon us". I have often noticed at concerts that when there is a particularly moving performance there seems to be a collective sigh from the audience as the final notes fade and before the applause comes. This was one of those moments when the sigh seemed to linger before a hugely appreciative audience responded enthusiastically.
Never ones to shirk a challenge, Langcliffe Singers excelled themselves by taking on Leonard Bernstein's Chichester Psalms. This intricate piece with Hebrew text, was certainly a highlight of the evening. Based on Judaic liturgy but with a real sense of theatre it more than did what it promised in the opening line where it claims "I will rouse the dawn!" The outstanding percussion alone was enough to guarantee this, with cymbals and drums very much to the fore. There were also some very moving passages, particularly the harp accompaniment to the solo at the beginning of Psalm 23 and the lingering closing line of the same psalm.
Solos also made up part of the programme with an unusual setting of Cole Porter's "Night and Day" played upon the harp. Normally this is a passionate piece, underscored to echo the throbbing tom-toms of the lyrics but here it was transformed to something far more delicate and ephemeral. Carl Ives' "Variations on America" also provided an unusual organ solo where there were some unusual takes on a familiar tune. While some may argue that there were not sufficient variation in the variations themselves, there is no doubt that this is a challenging piece designed to test the prowess of the organist and also reflecting a somewhat irreverent take on the familiar. I am sure I was not the only one to be suddenly ambushed by a vision of Her Majesty and Duke of Edinburgh on steam galloper horses as the strains of the national anthem morphed into a fairground calliope ride.
Special congratulations to all the soloists, both instrumental and vocal for their efforts throughout and also to the conductor for his enthusiastic performance in this complex programme.
The evening concluded with the beautiful "Lux Aeterna", again a haunting, timeless piece and it was fitting that the concluding text for the evening should be the same as the two words which began it, "Alleluia, Amen" - followed, naturally, by a very deep and appreciative sigh.