December 2023 Christmas Concert
Vivaldi Gloria, carols with audience participation, seasonal music by Berlioz, Rutter, Whitacre, Holst
Basil Abbott’s review of Christmas Concert 2023: Harleston Choral Society
A popular carol says, “Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing!” Equally, they could go to a Harleston Choral Society concert. These have become part of local community life in the weeks before Christmas, under Justin Bindley’s direction. In Rutter’s Blow, Blow, Thou Winter Wind, Karen Smith’s piano and Tony Pringsheim’s flute acted like musical icicles. An early highpoint was the surging emotion of The Shepherd’s Farewell by Berlioz, with Chloe Peterson’s oboe sounding out like a herdsman’s horn from a distant pasture. Among several lesser-known works, Eric Whitacre’s song Glow (“Softly falls the winter snow”) came over with waves of gentleness.
Vivaldi’s very name suggests music without a dull moment. The orchestra sprang into the opening of his Gloria, followed by the eager choir with V words like vivid, vivacity, vitality. Soloists Jo Westaway and Joanna Gamble sang with a mature passion and relish. Holst’s Christmas Day is like a jukebox of well-known carols, performed with Christmas party enjoyment by the choir. Their version of that most wintry of carols, In the Bleak Midwinter, was like a warm, thawing zephyr. An interesting addition was a version of the Carol of the Skiddaw Yowes (Ewes), a Lake District composition by Ivor Gurney, sung by Joanna Gamble, pastoral and with what has been described as “a kind of motherly concern in dark days”.
Pianist Karen Smith delivered a solo fusillade of carols that drew whoops of applause. Jo Westaway sang all four parts in Rutter’s I Wish You Christmas, with no problem. The choir could even make Jingle Bells sound like a big production number and make you think you could remember sleigh bells in the snow. The audience was able to join in with carols before going off into Christmas, full of goodwill. Basil Abbott
Our Summer Concert
We gave our audience a wonderful experience at our Summer Concert on Saturday 1 July at 7.30 pm in St John’s Church, Harleston, when we sang Haydn Stabat Mater and a selection of Mozart opera arias, choruses and ensembles, and – as a tribute to our new King – Handel Zadok the Priest.
A Review of the Harleston Choral Society Summer Concert by Basil Abbott
For penitential Good Friday music, Stabat Maters are ever popular, with about 60 in existence.
Something about Christ’s grieving mother at the Cross has an enduring impact.
Haydn’s work, directed here by Justin Bindley, requires much light and shade and vocal dexterity.
Tenor David Menezies, gentle and heartfelt, opened while the sounds of the choir spilled down behind him like a mist.
Alto Joanna Gamble was nobly expressive and passionate when the need came. Soprano Laura Morgan had a loving, thrilling delivery. Both she and bass Aleksi Koponen had that dexterity of voice.
The choir often achieved a bubbling energy, while the instrumentalists provided a reassuring bulwark of atmospheric melody.
After the interval, Handel’s Zadok the Priest was an apt addition for Coronation year.
From then on, we had a beanfeast of Mozart arias and choruses, including The Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni, The Magic Flute and lesser-known works.
The choir threw off all penitence, and Karen Smith’s piano came to prominence, while the soloists assumed a more relaxed theatricality.
It made you realise how truly they had inhabited their roles in the Haydn, as they took mutual delight in entirely different music, especially the duets.
This was a rare chance to hear such a generous helping of opera; and an evening that took us from Calvary to the dalliances of the 18th century stage.
July 2023: Summer Concert: Haydn Stabat Mater and a selection of Mozart opera arias, choruses and ensembles, and – as a tribute to our new King – Handel Zadok the Priest.
December 2022: Christmas Concert: Ronald Corp A Christmas Mass, Christmas carols, some with audience participation; Christmas readings
June 2022: Summer Concert Fauré Requiem and solo pieces
December 2021 Christmas Concert Excerpts from the Messiah, carols and choral classics.
December 2019 Christmas Concert Chilcott’s “Twelve days of Christmas” and “Behold that Star” and Vaughn Williams “The First Nowell”
Summer Concert 2019 ‘An Evening with Henry Purcell’. Purcell – Dido and Aeneas; three anthems (Thou knowest Lord the secrets of our hearts; Remember not Lord our offences; I was glad) and O Sing unto the Lord.
Christmas Concert 2018: Blessed be that Babe. Handel’s Messiah [part 1], Telemann’s German Magnificat.
Summer concert 2018: Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle
Christmas Concert 2017: Bach’s Orchestral Suite No 4 in D Major, and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio
Summer Concert 2017: Mozart’s Requiem and Haydn’s Maria Theresa Mass
Christmas Concert 2016: Vivaldi’s Gloria, Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, ‘The Shepherds’ Farewell’ from Berlioz’ ‘L’Enfance du Christ‘, Franck’s Panis angelicus and carols (some with audience participation)
Summer Concert 2016: Bach’s St John Passion
Christmas Concert 2015: Handel’s Messiah
Summer Concert 2015: Brahms’ Requiem
Reviews of some recent concerts
Christmas Concert 10 December 2022
On 10 December, we performed our first Christmas concert under the baton of Justin Bindley. The major works were A Christmas Mass by Ronald Corp and O Magnum Mysterium by Morten Lauridsen. We also sang other festive favourites in French and German and there were carols for audience participation.
Here is a review of the concert by Basil Abbott of the Diss Express.
Harleston Choral Society
Although it probably never happened, the Nativity story has inspired carols from Gregorian chant to the present day. Religious, classical and popular music come together in carols and provide chances both to shine and demolish barriers. At this concert we must have heard most of them, from the Medieval Adam Lay Ybounden to the 2007 work of Ronald Corp. His Christmas Mass incorporates some 70 carols in a glittering patchwork. The choir duly took their chances and, under Justin Bindley’s direction, created seasonal sparkle. The concert, in St. John’s Church, was a laden festive table of music, readings and audience participation in the singing. The choir gave a gentle power to O Magnum Mysterium, a setting of a Gregorian chant by American composer Morten Lauridsen. There was a sweetly charming rendition of Stille Nacht; and a memorable quartet version of In Dulce Jubilo. It was an emotive coup to end with the Ukrainian Carol of the Bells, dedicated to the people of that war-torn land.
This was a concert to lift the spirits, helping to forget for a while the freezing conditions outside and the troubles of the world.
Summer Concert Saturday 25th June 2022
On Saturday 25th June, we performed our first summer concert since 2019 and our first under the baton of our new Musical Director, Justin Bindley. In the first half, the choir gave a beautiful performance of Fauré’s Requiem. Of particular note was the very precise coming in on and the ending of phrases and the use of dynamics. The soloists, soprano Laura Morgan and baritone Aleksi Koponen, sang wonderfully and greatly added to the experience for the audience.
The second half was a mixed programme of further pieces sung by the choir, including the very moving O Magnum Mysterium by Lauridsen, solo pieces by both Laura and Aleksi, and solos from the harpist, Lucinda Pennick, and our piano accompanist, Karen Smith. Throughout the concert, we were also brilliantly accompanied by Emily Sheldrake on violin and Ingrid Perrin on cello.
It was a fabulous evening with something for everyone to enjoy.
Christmas Concert 18th December 2021 Excerpts from the Messiah, carols and choral classics.
It was with great joy and relief that we performed our Christmas concert planned for 18th December. It was the first time in 2 years that we had performed in public, due to Covid restrictions, and we were all crossing our fingers as to whether we would be allowed to sing.
After Rev. Nigel Tuffnell and Stella, our Chair had welcomed everyone to the concert we very nervously stood to start singing. However, with Karen, our Director smiling at us from the keyboard we soon started to enjoy the atmosphere and experience of singing again to a very appreciative audience.
The Chamber Ensemble were marvellously supportive and Laura, our soloist sang exquisitely. One could have heard a pin drop when she was singing and the acoustics helped everyone to give of their best.
Everyone went home happy and ready for the Christmas season and we even received an email the following day from Rev. Nigel expressing his pride and thanks for our concert. He even stayed till the end – a compliment indeed!
Stella Brownsea, Chair of HCS
Christmas Concert 2018: Handel’s Messiah [part 1]
Christmas Concert Harleston Choral Society Review by Basil Abbott appeared in the Diss Express.
There is enough of biblical prophecy and the nativity in Part 1 of Handel’s Messiah to provide Advent fare. With carols, one especially written, and Teleman’s German Magnificat, this was an ideal pre-Christmas concert. Director Janette Ruocco has a sense of history, heard in her own carol Blessed Be That Maid. You felt that it must have been found in some 15th-century manuscript. Under her direction, you could detect similar undercurrents when the Dargason Ensemble played the timeless opening of Messiah. And again in the touching Pastorale, with oboes and continuo (Alec Harmon, Chloe Peterson and Karen Smith) skimming the centuries. Pick of the soloists was Mitesh Khatri, a velvet yet declamatory tenor. Gary Griffiths had the sternness of a bass and the subtlety of a baritone. Soprano Beverley Lockyer was like Spring in December, and contralto Christine Petch sure and sincere. The choir sang the prophecies with a light and tripping enthusiasm and relish. After the carols, with the audience, the wall seemed to come down even more. So the Magnificat was sung with a cheerful abandon.
Basil Abbott, Diss Express
Christmas Concert 2016
Performed on Saturday 10 December 2016
Vivaldi’s Gloria, Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine, ‘The Shepherds’ Farewell’ from Berlioz’ ‘L’Enfance du Christ‘, Franck’s Panis angelicus and carols (some with audience participation). St John’s Church, Harleston.
Bach’s St John Passion
Performed on 18 June 2016
Bach’s work of small-bite recitatives needs an adroit juxtaposition of conductor, choir, soloists and orchestra.
Under Christopher Bracewell’s direction you knew this would succeed as the opening chorus met the surge of the orchestra.
Waves of ecstatic sound, whether measured, lively, meditative, declamatory, contrite or hymn-like filled St. John’s Church.
Tenor Michael Hart-Davies’ crystal clarity of delivery proved ideal for telling the crucifixion story and for the more expressive Airs.
Sri Lankan born, and now British citizen, Dhilan Gnanadurai, again brought his darkly passionate bass voice to the dramas of Calvary.
Contralto Catherine Denley’s singing had a loving quality, if a little underpowered; and there were some soaring-rafter moments from Soprano Siona Stockel.
Mature and mellow, the orchestra, led by Miles Golding, was a bedrock of excellence. Special mentions for the oboe, cor anglais and bassoon playing of Emma Penfold, Kim Haan and Mark Sharp.
Featured in the Diss Express on Sunday 20 December 2015
Reassurance and praise were the keynotes of this concert conducted by Christopher Bracewell.
Well-known choruses like And the Glory of the Lord and For Unto Us A Child is Born came across like warm, benign breezes.
The soloists were top drawer. Vernon Kirk had a particularly agile tenor voice. Dhilan Guanadurai combined an unassuming style with a molasses-rich voice.
Contralto Daniela Thomas, with Vogue looks, elegance and a winning smile, won the audience with Behold a Virgin Shall Conceive.
Soprano Lynda Russell also showed an ardent, urgent vitality in singing of angels and shepherds.
The orchestra, led by Miles Golding, played with great assurance and achieved a placid profundity in the Pastoral.
The Hallelujah Chorus had an exhilaration and sense of occasion that must have made it as memorable for the choir as the audience.
Handel’s great oratorio gave as much pleasure as ever since its Dublin charity premiere in 1742.
Brahms’ Requiem and Vivaldi’s Nulla in mundo pax sincera
20 June 2015
Siona Stockel – Soprano,
Callum Thorpe – Bass
The German Requiem has a poised, one foot in the afterlife air, with all its hopes and fears.
Under Christopher Bracewell’s direction, the orchestra created the sombre opening, which was allayed by the ‘green shoots’ singing of the choir.
In the solemnities of All Flesh Is Grass the singers achieved some spine-tingling moments.
The dramatic, penetrative bass-baritone voice of Callum Thorpe and the cadenza and fugue of the chorus and orchestra gave a rumbustious flourish to end the first half.
The choir then gave a rolling energy to How Lovely Are Thy Dwellings.
Siona Stockel had opened the concert with a Vivaldi motet and a voice like a dextrous silver sword.
Now she touchingly sang the movement inspired by the death of Brahms’ mother.
By the end, with the final notes of the heavenly harp, death just seemed like a serene slipping away.
Basil Abbott, Diss Express
Haydn – “The Creation”
21 June 2014
Siona Stockel – Soprano, Michael
Hart-Davis – Tenor
Callum Thorpe – Bass
Orchestra Leader – Miles Golding
Mendelssohn – “Elijah”
29 June 2013
Linda Perillo – Soprano, Laura Trayhurn – Contralto
Michael Hart-Davis – Tenor, Maciek O’Shea, Baritone
Orchestra Leader – Margot Rumanis
Handel – “Zadok the Priest” , Vivaldi – “Gloria”, Vaughan Williams – “The Old Hundreth Psalm Tune, and Mozart “Coronation Mass”
16 June 2012
Julia Golding – Soprano, Joanna Gamble – Contralto
Michael Hart-Davis – Tenor, Callum Thorpe – Bass
Orchestra Leader – Miles Golding