Solway Singers and Carlisle Cantate Children's Choir
St Cuthbert's Church Saturday 14th May
Not one, but two choirs, directed by Ed Taylor, and accompanied by four of Cumbria's finest musicians provided a wonderfully varied feast of British music, starting with four folk songs arranged by Ralph Vaughan Williams. The Solway Singers did full justice to this composer's consumate craftmanship. Of special note was the clarity of diction of the male voices who were pitted against a formidable array of sopranos and altos. The Carlisle Cantate Children's Choir performed three songs, impressively from memory. The well-known 'Rhythm of Life' enjoyed an appropriately jazzy, virtuosic accompaniment from Ed on piano and Charles Hattrell on double bass. John Rutter's 'For the Beauty of the Earth' was lovely to hear sung by young voices, and the syncopations of 'Defying Gravity' from the musical 'Wicked' were handled with aplomb. The final fortissimo was followed by spontaneous appreciative applause. Entry to this choir, who rehearse for an hour on Thursday evenings, is open to motivated boys and girls of seven and upwards. The first half finished with John Rutter's 'Birthday Madrigals', written in 1995 to celebrate the 75th birthday of the great jazz musician, George Shearing. Two of these were unaccompanied, a test which the choir passed with distinction, the others had witty accompaniment from Avril Tisdall and Charles.
After the interval the two choirs joined forces to perform 'Benedicite' by Andrew Carter, a masterpiece comprising eleven contrasting sections, each representing an aspect of God's creation. They were accompanied on the organ by Jordan English who played throughout with great sensitivity and a wonderful variety of appropriate registrations. Particular highlights included the haunting pianissimos in 'Sun and Moon', the dark, solemn 'Whales and Water', 'Ice and Snow' with its virtuosic organ accompaniment, and 'Thunder and Lightening' which featured the very lowest notes on the organ, a menacing bass which could be literally felt. The three songs for the Children's Choir, 'Badgers and Hedgehogs', 'Butterflies and Moths' and 'Grannies and Grandads' provided further variety, raising many smiles whilst giving food for thought. The final number 'O let the earth bless the Lord' performed by the whole company brought the evening to a close on a triumphant note.
Christmas 2021 Lanercost priory
Anthony Peacock farewell concert
Solway Singers,’Reflections at Christmastime’, Lanercost Priory, 11th December 2021
This Solway Singers’ first concert since Christmas concerts in December 2019 marked the retirement of Anthony Peacock their Musical Director since 2004,.
In part they dedicated this concert to all the victims of the pandemic. So the first half was devoted to a performance of Faure’s Requiem Op.48, scored for soprano and baritone soloists, mixed choir and organ. Anthony Peacock’s sensitive direction induced sweet contemplative singing from the choir that truly captured the spirit of the work. The two soloists, Sarah Lewis-Briggs and Jonathan Millican, especially in ‘Pie Jesu’ and ‘Libera Me’ enhanced this contemplative tone with their superb and restrained singing. Ed Taylor on the organ ensured the sensitive spirit of the work with his masterful accompaniment.
After the interval, by way of a bridge between the sensitive contemplation of the Requiem and the jollity of Christmas Carols, we were treated to an organ work - Eugene Ggout’s virtuosic ‘Rhapsodie sur des Noels’ nimbly and exuberantly performed by Ed Taylor.
The choir then performed well and with crisp yet sympathetically dynamic singing a variety of interesting carols, with delicious solos in ‘Away in a Manger’ by Flo Rice and Joanna King, and other music including Rachmaninov’s ‘Ave Maria’ with which they had won Carlisle’s Music Festival in 2016. Emma Garbett and Kathleen Peacock emphasised this dynamic dexterity in their finely sung duet “Laudamus Te’ from Vivialdi’s Gloria. Avril Tisdall, the choir’s indefatigable piano accompanist, accompanied them with her customary aplomb.
As well as carols for the audience there were additionally two hilarious versions of ‘The Twelve Days of Christmas’. Anthony Peacock sang Peter Medhurst’s ‘The First Day after Christmas’ in his beautiful tenor voice. It would however have helped the audience enormously to have had the words as much of the hilarity got lost without a microphone. Jonathan Millican with microphone gave a side-splitting monologue performance of Frank Kelly’s ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’, brought the house down.
All in all the bumper audience was treated to a bumper concert which from the pathos of exquisitely contemplative singing in Faure’s Requiem to the syncopated and dextrous singing of John Hewitt’s ‘Ragtime Carol’. The choir certainly did their retiring conductor proud with their sterling performance. Anthony Peacock went out on a deserved high! Tonight’s organist, Edward Taylor is the choir’s next Musical Director
Christmas Concert 2019
Solway Singers under their distinguished conductor, Anthony Peacock, brought ‘A Classical Christmas’ to audiences in Stanwix at St Michael’s Church last Thursday and on Saturday at St Michael’s Church Dalston with Gordon Mursell organ and Avril Tisdall piano.
The Classical and longest part of their rich programme was Mozart’s Missa Brevis in G K.49. The mix of the choir and soloists (Emma Garbett, soprano, Deborah Hewerstson-Tisdall, alto, Chris Hardman, guest tenor and Geoffrey Gray, guest bass) with Gordon Mursell accompanying was skilfully coaxed by Anthony Peacock into bringing out the vitality and sparkle of this jewel of Mozart’s early works. The solo parts were artfully and expressively sung by each soloist. The choir produced crisp and flowing singing throughout the tutti sections.
Before this we heard works of substance from the early 18thC and from the late 20thC. The choir opened the concert with two sacred anthems by modern British composers: Richard Shephard’s ‘Holy is the true light’, unaccompanied and Geraint Lewis’s ‘The Souls of the Righteous’ with organ. In both the choir displayed a sweet tone and dynamic mastery.
This was followed by a spirited performance by Gordon Mursell of perhaps the most magisterial of Bach’s organ works the Prelude in E flat BWV 552.
After the interval Christmas Carols, but first a well-executed rendition of the recitative, “Comfort Ye” and aria “Every Valley’ from Handel’s Messiah by tenor Chris Hardman, accompanied by Gordon Mursell. Then the choir performed a delightful and recherché selection of carols, some a cappella and others accompanied mostly by piano, interspersed with old favourites for audience participation. Also Geoffrey Gray bass gave a bravura and topical performance of Thomas Sterndale Bennett’s hilarious carol ‘The Carol Singers’, very skilfully accompanied by Avril Tisdall. The choir carols were performed with warmth, luminosity and expresiveness. For me, the trio of David Willcocks’‘Masters in this Hall’, Peter Warlock’s ‘Bethlehem Down’ and Willcock’s arrangement of ‘Silent Night’, the latter two a cappella, showed the choir at its best, full of rich and expressive tone and comfortably at ease with the intricacies and dynamics of the music . The final trio included Ragtime Carol with Avril Tisdall accompanying with verve and flair. They brought the concert to a rousing end with a masterful rendition of Andrew Carter’s tongue-twisting ‘Twelve Days of Christmas’ taken at breakneck speed!
Spring Term 2019
Solway Singers were in good form for their spring series of concerts, which were held over two weekends in early May. Apart from the fact that all the performances were in Anglican churches, the venues could hardly have been more different.
St. Mary’s Church, Wreay, just outside Carlisle, is one of the most interesting in the country, full of symbolic ornamentation and carvings which refer to death and rebirth, drawing upon Christian, pagan and the personal references of Sarah Losh, the extraordinary woman whose inspiration was the driving force behind its creation. The church is apparently one of special interest to Prince Charles.
The choir has performed here before, and, if not quite packed to the doors, the pews were very well filled with an enthusiastic and expectant audience of about eighty people.
In complete contrast was the austere, almost Presbyterian, atmosphere of St. Cuthbert’s Church, Bewcastle, which is situated far away in the apparently limitless upper regions of Cumbria, in what was the heart of Border Reiving country. Here, in spite of the population being vastly outnumbered by sheep, amazingly, almost a hundred people squeezed into the tiny building, having previously been amply ‘tea and caked’ by retired Bishop John Richardson and his charming wife, Felicity-Anne, who live in the Old Rectory, next door. Whether the tea and cake, or the superb singing of the choir, the audience afforded the choir a lively standing ovation at the end of the concert.
In complete contrast, the final concert of the series took place in the more urbane luxury of St Barnabas’ Church, a recently, lovingly, restored Art Decco gem, situated slap bang in the midst of a housing estate on the western edge of Carlisle. Here again, a good-sized audience turned out to hear the choir, and, as in the previous two concerts, they were not disappointed.
A nicely varied programme began with Brahms’ Liebeslieder Walzer (Lovesong Waltzes). This appealing group of eighteen very short songs were capably sung by the choir, assisted by five soloists, two from the choir, Kathleen Peacock and Deborah Hewerton-Tisdall, and three singers, well known in our area and far beyond - Susan Jordan, Chris Hardman and James Johnson. Well matched in every case, the soloists provided an interesting variety of colour and texture at intervals throughout this group of lovely songs, which were written by Brahms for Clara Schuman.
After a short interval, the Singers continued with a group of English parts-songs by Elgar, Finzi and Ireland. The choir excelled in these pieces, particularly in Ireland’s The Hills, and also in the very tricky, Owls, by Elgar: this is a rarely heard piece, and quite unlike anything else Elgar ever wrote.
Following these, guitarist, James Booth, enchanted the audience with his beautiful playing of pieces by Bach, and Villa Lobos, the spellbinding sound of the guitar gently floating around the rafters of each beautiful venue.
Some boisterous singing by the men of the choir followed in The Miller of Dee, and the sopranos showed equal ability, but with far more delicacy, in I know where I’m going, a wistful fragment of a piece, both from Rutters’s A sprig of thyme.
Again, James Booth delighted, this time with Bagatelle no.1 by William Walton, and, in his final piece, he was joined by choir soprano Sarah Lewis-Briggs in a poignant song by John Dowland.
The last group of the evening showcased music by Sir Hubert Parry, the hundredth anniversary of whose death occurred last December, and the audience joined the choir in a spirited rendition of Jerusalem, which was particularly moving at Bewcastle, surrounded as we were by ‘England’s green and pleasant lands’.
The enthusiasm of the audience in each venue was apparent, and in response to this the choir finished the evening with Aaron Copland’s I bought me a cat, a rousing and amusing end to a very entertaining programme.
May 2018 The Promised Kiss of Springtime
Solway Singers, conducted by Anthony Peacock and accompanied by Avril Tisdall, presented two stunning concerts of 20th Century music from Britain and America on Saturday evening at St. Patrick’s Church, Patterdale and at Canonbie United Church on Sunday afternoon. Also taking part was guest soloist Olivia Beckett on Cornet.
This choir produces a beautiful tone with wonderful light and shade in all their music making. These, coupled with their clear diction make every performance very enjoyable. Singing was dynamic when called for by the music and well controlled in the gentler and more intimate passages. While all the music-making was of a very high standard, the outstanding performance at both concerts was the choir’s interpretation and rendition of ‘Toward the Unknown Region’ by Vaughan Williams. The contrasts of very controlled, expressive and sustained singing in the quiet sections with the electrifying singing at the enormous climax of the piece, which the choir had mastered to a very high degree, were spell-binding. The performance of this and the rest of the programme was enhanced by the wonderful accompaniments of Avril. Special mention should also be made of the performances of the two Jerome Kern songs and the Old American songs by Aaron Copland. Two members of the choir, Deborah Hewertson-Tisdall and Sarah Lewis-Briggs ably performed solos and duets and Olivia Beckett, a 14 year old Cornett player amazed both audiences with her technical control of the instrument and her fluent cantabile playing. The concert ended with ‘The Ground’ by Ola Gjeilo. The opening humming section was very effective, as were the brilliantly sung climax and the atmospheric ending. There is no doubt that under the masterful direction of Anthony Peacock, Solway Singers have become one of the premier choirs in the region.