Nailsea Choral Society performance of Haydn’s ‘The Creation’
Nailsea Choral Society did it again! In Nailsea Methodist Church on Saturday 16 November 2019 its members put on another wonderfully prepared evening of polished music-making, supported by eye-catching publicity, a slick box office operation, Paul Cronin’s helpful programme notes and the usual welcoming atmosphere established by the Society’s chairman Antony Evans.
Nailsea Choral Society, musical director Tom Williams
Saturday 30 March 2019, 7.30 pm
Nailsea Methodist Church
Mozart Requiem and Clarinet Concerto, soloist Poppy Beddoe
A programme comprising three works from the final year of a single composer’s life might seem lacking in enterprise but Nailsea Choral Society’s musical director, Tom Williams struck gold with Mozart in the company of a capable quartet of professional soloists and twenty fine instrumentalists led by Sarah Walsh along with a world-class clarinettist.
The capacity audience at Nailsea Methodist Church was treated to an immensely enjoyable experience of diverse music, starting with the evergreen miniature Ave Verum Corpus, which set the high standard of music-making for the evening, and which demonstrated Tom’s judgement of just how slowly and softly this gem can be sung to optimum effect by a large group of well-trained singers.
Centre stage was then taken by Poppy Beddoe for a definitive and sublime performance of the Clarinet Concerto K622. In fine partnership with the ensemble, she burnished all the beauty and sparkle of this unparalleled work which held listeners spellbound from start to finish.
If it is difficult to believe that Mozart, already terminally ill, wrote his sunlit clarinet concerto less than three months before his death, but the Grim Reaper certainly haunts his Requiem Mass, commissioned by a mysterious stranger, and which lay unfinished at the composer’s bedside when he died in December 1791. This performance drew out the full gamut of emotions expressed by a young genius facing his own untimely death. Dramatic soprano, Honey Rouhani with the capable triumvirate comprising countertenor, Rob Waters, tenor, Oscar Golder-Lee and bass, Andrew Marshall, made telling contributions in the lighter scored solo sections. For its part, the choir was unanimously focussed on communicating the drama of smouldering desperation, imploring piety, inconsolable grief, wild panic and grim acknowledgment of mortality. There were beautifully measured contrasts with expansive phrasing, excellently organised fugal sections as in the Osanna, and impressive solid walls of choral sound as in the Sanctus, whilst no wither was left unwrung in the Lacrimosa, even if it wasn’t actually written by Mozart.
With a membership currently exceeding 80, this choral society is a fine example of a happy and highly successful non-auditioned choir where a gifted musical director and efficient committee work with a supportive membership to present enviably attractive concerts, consistently supported by effective publicity, informative programmes and slick platform discipline.
Andrea Argent 31.03.2019
Nailsea Choral Society Concert on 18th November 2017 at Nailsea School Auditorium
Conductor : Tom Williams
Soloists: Laura Curry - Soprano and Marcus Evans - Bass
Pianos: Douglas Stevens and David Bednall
Brahms’ German Requiem isn’t long enough to stand alone as a programme so the Nailsea Choral Society’s November concert opened with six attractive miniatures shared between choir and soloists. Bruckner’s evergreen Locus iste and Rheinberger’s exquisite Abendlied helped choir and audience adjust to the disconcertingly dry ambience of Nailsea School Auditorium, designed to assist delivery of the spoken word but which denies singers the bloom and resonance found in the traditional English church venues where choirs generally perform. Next up was bass soloist Marcus Evans with Schubert’s celebrated An die Musik and Schumann’s tender song of devotion, Widmung, warmly and sensitively sung. Stepping into later romantic territory, soprano Laura Curry delivered compelling performances of Richard Strauss’ magical but ultimately fearful Die Nacht and fervent dedication Zueignung, all four songs sympathetically accompanied by Douglas Stevens.
Pending the on-schedule arrival of David Bednall the evening’s second pianist, Tom Williams gave the audience an informed and user-friendly outline of the background of the version of Brahms’ German Requiem accompanied not by an orchestra but by two pianists on two pianos, presumably partly why the choir had shifted camp to a more spacious venue. This version enables a choir of this size to compete on equal terms and give a more nuanced interpretation than if its main goal is to hold its own against a full orchestra.
From the outset, this pragmatic choice was vindicated. Indeed the restrained and intensely expressive quiet choral singing throughout extended passages of the music was one of many lovely features of this performance, skilfully keeping powder dry for greater impact in the sections where a thrilling full sound was essential.
There were a few moments when the composer’s demands were not entirely met but Brahms must take responsibility for his arguably unreasonable writing where the soprano line soars on ‘unkind’ vowels at the upper limits of the vocal range, and for throwing in exhausting complex fugal sections at the end of long movements when the choir has already given its all. Any discomfort was short-lived and Tom Williams’ musicality and thorough preparation of the choir constantly shone through with excellent attention to overall landscaping, beautiful phrasing and specific detail.
Douglas Stevens and David Bednall, distinguished performers in their own right, provided appropriately sonorous support from the grand pianos in the nobler passages as well as great delicacy for the more muted sections and the exquisite solos, delivered with a fine sense of style and assured authority by Marcus Evans and Laura Curry.
This was a hugely enjoyable performance of this listener’s favourite extended Requiem, with its emphasis on comforting the bereaved rather than pleading for the safe passage of the soul of the dead through the terrors of Purgatory. The choir has little experience of singing in German so it was particularly enterprising to go for the version in Brahms’ own language which was communicated with total conviction and evident understanding. The helpful notes and parallel German / English texts in the programme further enhanced the appreciative audience’s listening experience.
Nailsea Choral Society, Nailsea Methodist Church, 11th March 2017
Mozart Great Mass in C Minor
Never to be shy of a challenge, Nailsea Choral Society, for its Spring Concert, chose to perform Mozart’s ‘Great’ Mass in C Minor, a work of much difficulty and complexity. Despite the enormity of the task, this was certainly one of the finest that the choir has given.
This is a Society which does not cut corners. Front of House management was extremely efficient; the choir and orchestra, all dressed smartly, took their places in a well drilled way, and once the soloists and conductor entered, all resplendent in full evening wear, we in the audience all realised that we were attending a very special high class concert, even before a note of music had been played. We were not disappointed.
The spirited singing of the choir was joy to hear. Yes, as in all performances, there were a few slips, but these would have only been noticeable to those familiar with the score, and never once became too obvious, being rectified very quickly. This Society’s singing, attention to detail and sheer commitment is now of the highest standard that could be achieved by any non-auditioning amateur choir – all due to the leadership of their Director of Music. This enabled them to give full effect to the glorious varying styles which Mozart had provided, some of which was truly operatic and others obviously influenced by earlier composers. I doubt whether a better quartet of soloists could have been found, all of whom are now at the start of, what promises to be, very successful singing careers, as their c.v.’s shown in the programme indicate how busy they are already, singing in many prestigious concerts in London and elsewhere. The main solo work is set for one of the two sopranos required for this work. Jessica Cale was making a welcome return to Nailsea after her memorable performance of Dido in Dido and Aeneas a few months ago. She regaled us with her wonderful high tessitura which rang around the hall showing the highest standard of vocal ability (a match for Mozart’s arias written for the Queen of the Night in the Magic Flute), and she gave us an unforgettable calm and peace in her well controlled pianissimo passages, wherein the sense of beauty and stillness was palpable.
The other soprano, Gwendolen Martin, sang her arias with equal aplomb and grace, and in her duets with Jessica, the blending of these two fine singers was faultless.
Unfortunately, the two gentlemen singers had less to do (blame Mozart, not the Society !!) . Tom Castle and Edmund Danon, tenor and bass respectively, showed their undoubted vocal prowess in their solo passages, and matched the two ladies in the ensembles magnificently.
The orchestra, consisting of young professionals and students, played with great verve and sensitivity throughout, even though the acoustics of the building did not help, as they did, at times, overpower some of the solo work. However, special mention must be made of the flautist, whose role is pivotal in the soprano arias, and due to unforeseen circumstances graciously deputised at the last moment, sight reading the whole work from beginning to end.
However, once again it was Tom Williams’ evening. To watch him conduct is a master class in itself. His sheer enthusiasm for the music, attention to detail, sense of phrasing and inspirational control of the singers, brought out every nuance of this wonderful work. During the short break in the middle of the performance, Tom’s brief talk on the work (complementing Paul Cronin’s programme notes which were, as always, informative and worth reading) gave us an additional explanation to the special edition being used. His inimitable style of imparting his knowledge, - never in a dry way, but always radiating his sheer joy in the music, - added further to this memorable concert. It is clear that Nailsea is indeed fortunate to have someone of his charisma and knowledge to spearhead concerts of such a standard worthy of any major concert hall and bring such events to our comparatively small area.
If anyone was in doubt of the sheer respect, appreciation and, dare I say, deep affection with which the Society holds Tom Williams, then they only had to listen to the sheer volume of the applause and cheering given by the near capacity audience at the close of the concert.
Truly an evening to be long remembered.
Vice President, Nailsea Choral Society