Performances of ‘Messiah’ are many and varied, and have changed quite markedly over the past decades. Increased tempi can give the impression of greater fluency, but occasionally the performance will lose some of the richer colour in the word-setting, which is one of the hallmarks of a deeply felt ‘Messiah’ performance.
The Southampton Choral Society, although smaller in number than in many former concerts, gave at times an inspired performance. Some choruses are very difficult to sing well, but the secure discipline, commitment and enthusiasm shown by the Choir was great to see, and hear; moulded by the clear and positive direction of their new Music Director, Benjamin Costello.
The Oxford Baroque Ensemble consisted of highly experienced musicians. The sound quality of a baroque group is very much different, and it certainly influenced in a positive way, albeit perhaps indirectly, the contribution of the Choir and the Soloists. Excellent balance and refined Baroque playing techniques, gave a welcome clarity – and for many listeners a new, more intimate sound. The addition of the chamber organ rather than a harpsichord was an added delight. Its understated but vital harmonic support was ideal for the ambience of the Dobson Theatre.
The four soloists, Soprano Sarah Dacey: Mezzo-Soprano Angharad Lyddon: Tenor Oliver Johnston and Baritone Timothy Nelson were perfectly balanced in voice and experience. They conveyed the essential drama and emotion of the work perfectly. It wasn’t just ‘another ‘Messiah’, but almost as if they , and the audience, were hearing the whole beauty of the work for the first time. Their proximity to the audience made their interpretative impact even more positive and intimate.
Ben Costello only took over the Choir last September, but his long experience as a conductor and professional musician was never to be doubted. His control of the Choir and orchestra never got in the way of the overall performance; discreet, but nicely judged.
The Dobson Arts Centre offers a comfortable venue and the acoustics, rather than being very dry, did help the projection of the sound. Hearing all the sung words in the soli and choruses was probably a new experience for most of us in the audience!
In the writer’s opinion this was one of the best performances of ‘Messiah’ from the Choir for many a long year. This can only augur well for the future.
RNIB -Supporting people with sight loss
I joined Southampton Choral Society in January 2015. At first it was rather daunting, but following a chat with our musical director, Peter Gambie, I soon felt very much at home. In April we were to perform The Campra and Faure’s Requiem. My first reaction was “How am I going to get all the words transcribed into Braille?” This however, was soon rectified by Rosaleen Wilkinson, the choir membership secretary, who said “Don’t worry I can type what you need”. Now, if they don’t have the score, Rosaleen types the words which are then sent to Heather at the RNIB library for transcribing into Braille.
We are an auditioned choir of approximately 120 singers. Other works we have performance include Verdi and Mozart Requiems, Dream of Gerontious by Elgar, Works by Haydn and most recently Rossini. It is fantastic to be part of such a friendly choir.
I don’t receive any preferential treatment because of my disability for which I’m pleased. I had to undergo an audition the same as everyone else. Being part of a choir involves commitment as we have to attend rehearsals in preparation for concerts.
A number of years ago, I was at college in another part of the country. I attended an audition and was told that although I had a nice voice I could not be in the choir. When one of the tutors tackled the secretary she said: “We can’t have a blind person in the choir. She may come in at the wrong place. John Rutter is conducting our next concert so it would not look good to a professional conductor.” I’m sure John wouldn’t have cared who was singing in the concert as long as they knew the work, but I felt very downcast at the time. I’m so glad to have overcome this by trying again.
I enjoy singing very much and feel so privileged to belong to this large choir. Our conductor has been a great support to my needs and his understanding I value very much. He wanted me to write something in order to attract others who are visually impaired who may feel this is something they can be involved in too. I don’t read music but we have practice CDS or use Midi files which are very helpful.
This has been a fantastic experience for me and one I’m so glad to be part of. I wanted to share my story as other visually impaired people out there may wish to join a choir but are not sure where to start! Yes, it can be off-putting especially if you’ve had a bad experience. I’m sharing this to let everyone know that all choir committees and conductors are not the same. Most, I’m pleased to say, they look beyond the disability!
So anyone out there who’s thinking of joining a choir or anything else for that matter, Go for it! There’s nothing to lose. I’m glad to have taken the plunge!
Lastly and most importantly, I’m not writing this for my own glory. I want to thank the people in the choir who have helped to make it possible for me to take an active part. Firstly, to Peter Gambie, our conductor, for giving me this opportunity, secondly to Rosaleen Wilkinson, the membership secretary, for her invaluable work in laboriously typing large works. I could not have done it without her and finally, to Heather at RNIB Library for her support in assisting me in getting material transcribed into braille. Thank you all most sincerely from the bottom of my heart.
“A quote from Peter Gambie the Southampton Choral Society Director: “One of my core beliefs is that music should be open to everyone. Dorothy has a lovely voice which fits in with the choir, she’s also very musical. The fact that she’s blind is not important in terms of her belonging to our choir. Now that she’s moved house, she’s added an extra layer of complexity to her membership because she has to do a 50-mile round trip. I admire her commitment and her ability to overcome a host of practical issues, such as getting Braille copies of the music we’re singing.””
We just wanted to say a massive THANK YOU to Southampton Choral Society for being part of the Proms on Sunday! (29/1/2017) . It was such an incredible day and we were so privileged to have you as part of the evening. We truly appreciate the extra time spent on rehearsal and the learning of new material. We hope you all enjoyed it as much as we did!
The feedback so far has been overwhelming positive.
Here’s the link to the Daily Echo review and photos – this is in the paper today:
Last night (Saturday 19th November), I attended a magnificent concert given by the choirs of Southampton Choral Society and The Portsmouth Choral Union. They were joined together to perform Giuseppe Verdi’s Requiem Mass. This is considered one of Verdi’s finest compositions and is deeply religious, but highly operatic in style. It requires double choir, four soloists and orchestra, and each has an equal part to play in the performance.
The Requiem opens quietly and rather mysteriously and the choirs achieved a beautiful warm sound, without their musical scores at this point and thus they had a focused intensity which held the audience.
The soloists were excellent. Claire Seaton Soprano, Diana Moore Mezzo-soprano, John Hudson Tenor and Michael Bundy Bass-baritone who had stepped in at short notice when the intended bass was indisposed. However, I found the Tenor to have a rather “shrill” sound in his higher range, and I have to say the two Sopranos stole the show for me, Diana Moore being my favourite with her poise, volume (I could hear her every note from the rear of the hall) and intensely warm tone.
The orchestra made a lovely sound and accompanied the singers very well, perhaps being a bit over enthusiastic with their volume in places!
David Gostick, Musical Director and Conductor for the evening, held the performance together efficiently and was gentle in his conducting movements as befits an essentially religious work.
The evening ended with the Soprano leading the choirs in quiet un-accompanied singing and this was spectacular. Diction here was particularly good.
All in all, a powerful, accurate performance done with warmth and enthusiasm, and anyone who wasn’t there missed a real treat.
At our rehearsal on April 18th Sue Savage presented our Young Musician Award 2016. This went to Ellie Row, who is a Taunton’s College student. Ellie played the 3rd movement of Ravel’s Sonatine for us, to tumultuous applause.
Ellie is nineteen, having had to repeat a year in Sixth Form College due to prolonged absences through illness. She is taking A level Maths, Physics and Music. Although she hopes to study Music at University she does not want a career as a professional performer because she gets too nervous, and feels that composition would be a better option.
Ellie later sent this email to the choir:
“I’d like to thank you and Southampton Choral Society very much for giving me the opportunity to perform to you on Monday, and for the lovely award that I had presented to me.
I have been playing the piano since I was about 6 years old, but I had never really learnt to play properly until about 5 years ago, which was when came I under the tutelage of my current piano teacher, Rachel Harper.
This was because I was diagnosed with Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis when I was 3 years old, therefore throughout my childhood; I was never really well enough to learn with a teacher regularly. What music I did play, I had mainly taught myself, and I enjoyed sight-reading a whole range of genres from baroque and classical, to jazz and musicals.
Since being taught by Rachel, my piano skills have increased dramatically, and I now intend to take the ABRSM Piano Diploma in July.
As I was often ill, I missed school a lot, and the piano was one way of coping with my illness. I also learnt to play the violin in Junior School, and I currently have lessons with Emma Clark. I intend to take my grade 8 in violin this summer.
As well as playing the violin and piano, I also sing, and have lessons with Elin Davis at my college, Richard Taunton’s Sixth Form. I took my singing grade 8 last year.
I hope to go on to study music at either the University of Nottingham or the University of Southampton, and I have received offers from both. At the moment, I am the co-principal player of Southampton Youth Orchestra, and sadly this is my last year with them before I go off to university. I hope to return to them in the future to help out, and to perhaps play a concerto!
I’d like to thank you all again very much, and I hope that you have an enjoyable and successful concert at the end of this month!”
Earlier this year the Society presented the Alban Rees-Jones Cup to the Southampton Competitive Music Festival in memory of our friend and accompanist who died in 2015. On Sunday March 6th the Impressionist Piano Class was held, for players 16 years and under. The winner of the class, Patrick Winter, was awarded the Cup. It had been hoped that Alban’s niece would come to present the cup, but as she was unable to do so, our Chair, Sue Savage, made the presentation. We also gave a monetary award, (£200) for the most promising young pianist who would benefit from some financial assistance towards their studies. Sue Savage presented this to Isobel Hill at the Winners’ Concert at Thornden on Friday March 18th. Isobel had won the Romantic Class for pianists aged 14 and under.
The Executive Committee also approved the award of our Young Musician prize 2016 to Ellie Row, a student at Taunton’s College. This was presented to her at the rehearsal on April 18th when Ellie also performed for us.
Southampton Choral Society are committed to supporting young musicians in the city and in addition to inviting them to perform alongside the choir whenever they can, they also offer two awards. Their Young Musician award is a monetary award given every year or two to a suitable nominated candidate in order to help their musical studies.
There is also a trophy and a separate monetary award presented to a young person in the piano section at the annual Southampton Festival of Music and Drama. This is in memory of Alban Rees-Jones who was a much admired accompanist for the Choral Society and who sadly died at the beginning of 2015.
‘It was just wonderful.’
‘The best performance of Gerontius I have ever heard’
These were just a few comments overheard at the end of a perfect performance. …. When Diana Moore hit the top A in the final Alleluia in Elgar’s famous music drama, it resounded around the Cathedral with a power of emotion that stunned the entire audience. It was as if the great God himself was smiling down upon us on that otherwise wet and windy Saturday evening. But this was just a moment from the performance of a lifetime. Tenor, James Oxley proved the perfect Gerontius to Diana’s Angel and he sang it all from memory. Both singers acted their roles with commitment and understanding of the drama. This did not detract from Quentin Hayes role of Priest and Angel of the Agony, sung from the perfect position of the pulpit. His authoritative operatic baritone sailed to every corner of our great cathedral. A perfect trio!
Guest conductor Brian Kay was delighted with the performance. He praised all the performers and the Chorus Master for both the Southampton Choral Society, and the Renaissance Choir – who sang the semi-chorus. (Peter Gambie is Musical Director of both choirs.)
The Southern Pro Musica provided the orchestral force of distinction. They showed a total understanding of Elgar’s complex orchestration that is so often absent in internationally renowned orchestras. A big thank you needs to be said to their Musical Director, Jonathan Willcocks, for his background work with the orchestra.
I even heard one of the Choral Society’s longer-term members commenting about a previous performance in 1966, with a very young Janet Baker as the Angel:
‘Well, it was equally as good as that performance … No! I think it was even better!
Well-done, Southampton Choral Society for organising such a truly wonderful performance and an evening to remember for many years to come.