11th March 2017, Nailsea Methodist Church

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.

Christopher Jennings
Vice President, Nailsea Choral Society

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