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.