• Review 11 May 2024
  •  Date Posted: Thu, 16 May 2024
    Holst: Psalm 86 and Psalm 148

    Whitlock: Allegro Risoluto (from Plymouth Suite) - organ solo

    Britten: Rejoice in the Lamb

    Vaughan Williams: Benedicite

    Vaughan Williams: Five Mystical Songs

    A master of understatement, conductor Steve Kings described Thornbury Choral Society’s recent concert as ‘A Concert of English Music’. It was much, much more than that: it was a celebration of English music and one in which the choir responded magnificently. This was the best I have heard TCS sing; perhaps it was the move away from the dead-hand and cloying acoustics of previous venues, but the space of St. Mary’s Church allowed all voices to be heard to good effect: the balance was good and visually impressive too.

    The choice of composers was admirable: Holst’s two psalm settings set the scene for the programme – the very quiet opening (quite a test for any choir) was very convincing. The second setting had a few problems, but that is the joy of live music-making. We have perhaps become too accustomed to perfection on our CD’s, but live music can be perilous. (Even Rattle and the Berlin SO at the Proms had a car-crash moment.) These things happen.

    Britten’s ‘Rejoice in the Lamb’ was the undoubted highlight of the evening. Kings’s expert direction was faultless, and the choir responded magnificently to his every gesture. Their singing was matched by a fine quartet of soloists: Emily Wenman’s (soprano) contribution was extremely good, whilst Alto Sacha Fullerton’s minor role in the work left me wishing to hear more of her singing. Tenor Samir Savant was in fine form, with a commanding projection throughout, whilst Robert Pritchard (bass) really came into his own in his remarkably sensitive interpretation of VW’s ‘Five Mystical Songs’ which concluded the concert.

    Congratulations are in order to the stewards who managed to serve drinks in the interval in spite of the difficulties created by the major building work at the West end.

    Suitably refreshed, we settled to the other major work of the evening – Vaughan Williams’s ‘Benedicite’. This is a strange work and one written at a time when VW was searching for a new style, yet this work harks back to an earlier period – one characterised by over-complex and thickened textures and an unremitting preoccupation with modality. Perhaps it was this that prompted the music critic Fuller-Maitland to ask “whether we are listening to something very old, or very new?”. The chorus dividing into eight parts gives a clue to the multi-layering of voice parts – a technique which works well with strings (T.Tallis Fantasia & Symph 5i), but is difficult to make convincing with voices.. In this, however, the choir – faced with a difficult score - gave of their best, but it was a pity that Holst hadn’t taken his red pen to the piece, as he often did as VW’s mentor at this time.

    Again, Steve Kings was admirably in control throughout, steering choir and soloist through some very tricky passages to enormous effect.

    The hero of the evening, however, was largely hidden from our view: James Drinkwater excelled as both organist and pianist – not only coping with the technical demands of a reduced orchestral score in the Benedicite, but his extraordinarily sensitive registration in the Britten. James produced precisely the right colours and textures to illustrate and complement Smart’s poem and in spite of their spatial separation, he was admirably at one with the soloists. His solo playing in the Whitlock Allegro risoluto was equally impressive, though the St.Mary’s organ lacked the wonderfully honking Tuba that Whitlock had at St. Stephen’s, Bournemouth.

    This was a most enjoyable concert – highly successful. TCS need entertain no anxieties about the suitability of this venue for future concerts.

    Martin Firth

  • Review 25 November 2023
  •  Date Posted: Sun, 26 Nov 2023
    Mendelssohn: Sinfonia No.10 in B minor for strings

    Mendelssohn: Zweistimmige Lieder op. 63

    Brahms: A German Requiem

    When one doesn’t read the programme during the concert you know that the concert itself has been an interesting one.  This was the case last night.  A delightful programme introducing me to some new Mendelssohn and the familiar Brahms German Requiem although this time in English.

    Welcomed into a warm St Mary’s church on a cold night by smiling volunteers on the ticket desk set the scene for an event where people were obviously enjoying themselves either participating or appreciating.  The happy string symphony (Mendelssohn’s 10th at the age of 14) continued that feeling.  The Thornbury Camerata strings were on form in this delightful symphony, just a pity only one movement remains.

    The highlight for me was the Mendelssohn duets.  Steven Kings’ orchestral accompaniment was nicely judged and the Camerata were never intrusive, in fact ideal accompanists.  Such was the ensemble of the two soloists they appeared to be using the same set of lungs.  Their expressive and light vocal sound gave a real sense of enjoyment.

    The second half was taken up with the Brahms.  I haven’t been to the last couple of concerts but I sense that TCS has a recruited some new members.  Steven Kings has good control and a lot of contact with members.  This enabled the choir to respond to the dynamics and commit to important passages such as “For all the flesh is grass”.  St Mary’s has constraints and perhaps we could have done with a little more sound from basses and tenors who were some way back in the chancel.
    The two soloists once again provided lovely interpretations – I sensed that the soprano’s beautiful rendition of “You now are sorrowful” inspired the choir to sing even better when they joined in.

    It was good to see a large audience enjoying this concert.  Thornbury is lucky to have a large choral society ably led by Steven Kings and run by an enthusiastic and welcoming committee.

    Chris Hill
  • Review - 11 May 2019
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 11 May 2019

    Coleridge-Taylor: Hiawatha's Wedding Feast

    Vaughan Williams: A Cotswold Romance

    An interesting programme of dramatic works from Vaughan Williams and Coleridge Taylor played to what appeared to be a full house in Castle School.  The RVW was new to me although there were snippets from various pieces and many typical RVW passages.  I have a recording of Hiawatha but it is a long time since I’ve heard it live, if ever.  As such it was an evening to look forward to and enjoy.

    The singers were accompanied by a piano and strings which suited the balance very well from where I was sitting.  The Cotswold Romance is fairly lightly scored with strings sitting out many movements and this probably helped to give good ensemble for the most part.  The tenor soloist, Andrew Henley, was admirable in his role as Hugh the Drover echoing the lighter numbers from Songs of Travel in its style.  The excellent programme notes (maybe there should be a credit for the author) guided us through the story to its happy conclusion.

    After the interval the much better known Hiawatha was performed.  This time the strings were more in demand and the good tone of the Thornbury Camerata was nicely managed through the orchestral solos passages.  Throughout the evening the very able pianist, Christopher Northam was kept busy managing the rest of the orchestral score.  The choir obviously enjoyed the piece and told the story.

    Dr Steven Kings is to be congratulated on bringing an interesting programme to Thornbury and managing the singers and players to good effect.   An enjoyable evening for TCS and their audience alike.

    Chris Hill

  • Review - 1 December 2018
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 1 Dec 2018

    Elgar: The Spirit of England, Polonia, The Music Makers

    A complete Elgar programme including 2 pieces composed during the First World War was presented to a good audience in the Castle School tonight.

    The Thornbury Camerata opened the evening with Polonia.  The Orchestra created a warm sound and brought out the various quotations clearly.  The Polish National Hymn was played with a grandeur befitting the tune.

    The Spirit of England, a setting of Binyon’s words is a less well known work but the choir were well on top of the music.  The helpful programme notes point out the many references to earlier Elgar works.  I felt these were well managed and added to the Spirit rather than distracted. These are telling words with particular poignancy around the centenary of the end of the First World War.

    Following the interval we were treated to the Music Makers.  Special mention should be made for the Mezzo Oliva Gomez whose delivery was superb with well controlled vibrato used to warm the notes.  The choir were under strength this evening due to illness and absence and this showed in the balance at times.  However the overall performance was enjoyable and the message from the music powerfully put over.

    It can be difficult to programme an entire concert from one composer, particularly when the items are composed in a similar timespan.  Thornbury Choral and their conductor gave us a good insight into the music of the time and ably demonstrated the variety in Elgar’s compositions.

    Chris Hill

  • Review - 19 May 2018
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 19 May 2018

    Rutter: Requiem

    Fauré: Cantique de Jean Racine

    Steven Kings: Care Charming Spells

    Parry: I was glad

    Franck: Panis angelicus

    Prescience or happenstance? What better opening for Thornbury Choral Society’s Spring Concert, on the day of the Royal Wedding, than Parry’s monumental coronation anthem I was glad – a setting of Psalm 122? A fine and inspired choice it was, as the chorus tackled its robust character from the outset, with no time to ‘warm up’. The section divided into two choirs was especially effective, and the sopranos showed that the repeated top Bb’s were well within their grasp. The quiet central section (O pray for the peace of Jerusalem) was well nuanced – the altos, in particular, bring a subtle warmth of tone to their line. The slight drop in pitch going into this part did little to mar the beauty of Parry’s writing.  Altogether a most stirring and promising start to this concert.

    In complete contrast there then came Cesar Franck’s Panis Angelicus. It is, of course, a hugely popular work and it was well sung and received, and was an interesting contrast with Parry’s very English style of writing. The contrast was even more marked by the inclusion, next, of Faure’s exquisite Cantique de Jean Racine. Here was French polish of the highest order: Faure’s gentle chromaticism and feel for understatement are hallmarks of his style, and combined with an unfailing sense of melodic invention, the Cantique is deservedly one of his most popular works.

    The choir responded well to the mood of the piece and entries were generally secure.  The concluding pages, with their ‘squiffy’ chromatic chords, are always a challenge to choirs, and there was considerable groping for notes in the lower voices whilst the sopranos sailed serenely on to the hushed pianissimo ending. A very satisfying performance in the main, with the choir responding eagerly to conductor Stephen Kings’ directions, who elicited some finely controlled dynamics.

    In further celebration of Parry, and whilst the choir took a deserved ‘breather’, the evening continued with a performance of his Fantasia and Fugue in G for organ. An electronic organ had been hired for the evening’s concert, and the organist tackled this hugely demanding work on a relatively small and inadequate instrument.  That the performance was utterly convincing and immensely impressive is due in no small measure to the astonishing virtuosity of organist James Drinkwater.

    No ‘breather’ for James, as he launched into the last piece of the first-half – conductor Stephen Kings’ own Care-Charming Spells. Written to mark the choir’s 50th anniversary, it is a celebration of Music in three short poems by Herrick Sassoon and Tessimond. The style was challenging for the singers, many of whom had not sung it previously, yet they overcame most of the difficulties thrown at them with obvious enthusiasm. From the listener’s point of view, Stephen’s music comes across as easily accessible and enjoyable. The choir were joined in the performance by a chamber ensemble from the Thornbury Camerata which added yet another layer of enjoyment – particularly the significant contribution of harpist Kathryn Rees-Peak.

    The entire second half of the concert was given over to John Rutter’s  Requiem, written in memory of the composer’s father. Conductor Stephen Kings really brought out the best of his choir in this work: the sombre opening had just the right degree of hushed anticipation (though again the lower voice parts had difficulty in precisely placing their notes). The main theme, announced by the sopranos, was a welcome diatonic contrast to the complex chromaticism of the opening and the choir were at ease with the remainder of this movement, as indeed they were in the following one – a setting of Psalm130 (Out of the deep).

    Ruth Bamfield was a splendid choice of soprano soloist in Pie Jesu: her crystal-clear tone and total confidence in exposed passages were entirely appropriate for this music, and the choir responded well with their echoing answers to the soloist’s pleas.

    The Sanctus was especially exciting with its tumult of canonical writing – all brought to a magnificent climax. The Agnus Dei which followed is an impressive piece of writing – mixing Latin text with Biblical passages. The relentless repetition of the Latin words built to a fine climax, with the choir divided into six parts, before subsiding to a most effective pianissimo ending.

    Rutter again interpolates a psalm setting into the Latin Mass – this time as setting of Psalm 23 (The Lord is my shepherd). Here the angularity of themes previously heard is replaced by a flowing pastoral style, supported most effectively by a solo Oboe. The choir responded well to the music – seemingly at ease and at peace throughout.

    The final movement, Lux aeterna, brings all the performers together – starting with yet more Biblical texts where, here again, soprano Ruth Bamfield was outstanding. The Latin text resumes and quietly recapitulates the Kyrie theme from the first movement to bring the work to a hushed conclusion.

    Thornbury Choral Society are to be congratulated for having devised and performed such a first-class and enjoyable programme. Much credit must go to conductor Stephen Kings for his careful attention to detail and inspired leadership on the podium, but also to organist James Drinkwater for his excellent solo performance and sensitive accompanying throughout.

    Chris Hill

  • Review - 25 November 2017
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 25 Nov 2017

    Haydn: Nelson Mass

    CPE Bach: Magnificat in D

    Thornbury Choral Society chose to perform CPE Bach’s Magnificat this weekend.  Typically CPE Bach’s Magnificat is paired with J S Bach’s looking backwards towards its origins. However as CPE sits on the cusp of Baroque and Classical, looking forward to one of Haydn’s  best loved settings of the Mass was good programming.  The CPE Bach Magnificat is not a well-known work outside the choral tradition and it is a challenging piece, the son having learnt a lot about fast running semiquavers from the father.  It is however, a lovely work and Thornbury Choral gave a very enjoyable performance. Possibly the highlight of the evening was Dan Robson’s (Bass - Baritone) superbly stylised performance of the Fecit Potentiam – He has shewed strength.  An immensely difficult aria with a huge range was carried off with engaging aplomb.

    After the interval the choir returned to much more well-known territory with Haydn’s Nelson Mass. The joyous opening Kyrie demonstrated a much better balance between the choir and the orchestra and that set the scene for the rest of the evening.  Dr Steven Kings managed the increased forces well providing clear and helpful direction in all departments.  In particular the ensemble between the soloists was excellent.  In the Et Incarnatus the exchanges between choir and soloists worked very well.

    Once again Thornbury Choral Society put together and performed a good programme of works. The audience appreciated their efforts and the work Thornbury Choral Society do to keep good quality choral music in the locality.

    Chris Hill

  • Review - 21 November 2015
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 21 Nov 2015

    Brahms: A German Requiem with other works

    It occasionally happens that a concert programme takes on unexpected significance, shaped by external events. Such was the case on Saturday 21st November when a performance by Thornbury Choral Society of Brahms’ A German Requiem was given at the Castle School; the occasion was particularly poignant, coming as it did only a week after the indiscriminate massacre of more than 120 innocent people in Paris.

    Vocal music grows from a text. The composer seeks to express the depth of meaning hidden in that text, and - at the most profound level - the complex musical structures that result can provide a real test of stamina for the performers. This is the case with the German Requiem where the opening statement (“Selig sind…” – “Blessed are they that mourn”) is simple and direct, but leads to one substantial movement after another.

    However, despite its length and seriousness, there is another side to this music of Brahms’ early maturity; that is its intimacy. This can be especially apparent in the version heard on Saturday where piano accompaniment replaces a large orchestra.  Brahms had been deeply affected by the death of his friend Robert Schumann in 1856. In 1865, Brahms lost his mother; her death left him inconsolable. Whatever may have been Brahms’ motivation for his Requiem, he expresses his personal thoughts in such a way that he was able to say to a friend that he would have been quite happy to let the work be known as ‘A Human Requiem’.

    Brahms chose his own texts from the German Bible (another indication of the deeply personal aspect of the work). Saturday’s performance was sung in the original language rather than English translation, a brave move when amateur singers might find it tricky enough to achieve security in the musical demands of the work. However, the chorus of some 75 voices certainly rose to that challenge, sustaining the intensity of the music through this demanding score: not an easy task in any hall and certainly not in a dry acoustic (Thornbury does need a new auditorium!).

    The two soloists, Frances Gregory (soprano) and Samuel Oram (baritone), were also vital to the success of the performance, both of them adding with sensitivity that extra dimension to the musical structure that Brahms demands. The single movement which involves the soprano soloist requires a rich, even tone in a sustained line that moves effortlessly to high B flat; this we heard in the voice of Frances Gregory. Meanwhile, it was a pleasure to hear the two movements involving the single male soloist sung by a true baritone: warm and even in tone throughout the range demanded by the composer, and never strained or over-stated.

    The success of the evening’s performance also depended immeasurably upon the fine piano accompaniment provided by Christopher Northam and Gus Tredwell, and of course the assured direction of the conductor, Steven Kings, who drew from the chorus such a well-honed and committed reading of this profound score.

    The first half of the concert included two short choral works: Mendelssohn’s much-loved Hear my prayer, and (immediately before the interval) Stanford’s Magnifcat and Nunc Dimittis in G, the text of the latter leading neatly on to the Requiem. Between these two items, the audience was treated to a captivating selection of waltzes in varying moods for piano duet by Brahms from his Opus 39 set. Here was the composer in lighter vein (though he was always essentially an earnest soul), providing a well-judged moment of contrast in the evening’s music. But, coincidentally, one couldn’t help thinking of those who had been innocently enjoying life in Paris that Friday evening in mid-November before meeting their untimely end…

    This was a thoroughly rewarding concert - a thoughtful reflection of so many facets of life and beyond that was the result of a great deal of hard work; it was good to be there.

    Richard Jones

  • Review - 9 May 2015
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 9 May 2015

    Beethoven - Egmont Overture

    Symphony No 9 "Choral"

    Dvorak - Te Deum

    Orchestra - Bristol Ensemble, leader Roger Huckle

    Conductor - Steven Kings

    A full house responded enthusiastically to a varied programme and to performances of the highest quality, opening with Beethoven's Egmont Overture. In this, the conductor Steven Kings demonstrated his ability to get the best out of the orchestra, and the degree of his meticulous preparation of both orchestra and choir became ever more apparent as the evening went on.

    The Te Deum is not one of Dvorak's best known works, but the Soprano and Bass soloists (Stephanie Edwards and Edmund Saddington), together with the choir and orchestra, gave a performance which was appealing to those hearing it for the first time. Most memorable were the hushed, mellow men's voices in the slow movement, and the well blended answering phrases between men and women in the third movement.

    After the interval we were treated to Beethoven's Choral Symphony in a manner which exceeded all our expectations.  The three orchestral movements were played with great feeling and musicianship, including a sprightly scherzo, and a most tender and moving variation movement.

    The high point of the symphony is of course when the four soloists and choir join the orchestra to sing Schiller's Ode to Joy.  Beethoven makes great demands on the choir's stamina and resilience, particularly in the very high repeated-note passages, but the choir answered these demands with full assurance and energy, providing, with the soloists' quartet, a thrilling climax to a great work.

    It is regrettable that Thornbury cannot offer a venue which can do justice to a work of this calibre, when the orchestra is required to field such large wind and percussion sections.  The confined space meant that much of the subtlety was lost.

    Richard Birdsall

  • Review - 22 November 2014
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 22 Nov 2014

    Handel: MESSIAH

    22 November 2014 at the Castle School

    There was another full house for Thornbury Choral Society’s recent performance of Handel’s Messiah at The Castle School.

    Under the baton of Steven Kings, Thornbury Camerata, ably led by Katie Latham, introduced this popular oratorio with a spirited “Overture”. The opening recitative and aria, sung by tenor Pablo Strong, with excellent diction and expression, set the standard for the rest of the evening.

    The choir sang with gusto, taking some of the choruses at a quick pace, “And the Glory” and “For unto us a child is born” really motored along but without any loss of clarity or emotion. Entries were good and crisp and it was evident that the choir was enjoying the music as much as the audience.

    Olivia Gomez, the contralto, sang with feeling, with a voice full of warmth in “Behold a virgin” in the first half and with steel in “He was despised“ in the second half. The soprano, Emily Rose Wenman, sang with great passion, her voice ringing out in “Rejoice greatly” and most sensitively in “How beautiful”. Despite their contrasting voices they blended well in “He shall feed his flock”.

    The bass soloist, James Geidt, sang well, perhaps just lacking a little passion and connection with the audience in some of his arias, but making a great sound in “The Trumpet shall sound”.

    The small orchestra created just the right accompaniment for the choir, with some excellent playing from Paul Harris and Eiron Bailey on trumpets. Steven Kings brings out the best in the dedicated singers. The work was well rehearsed and executed. Putting on a well-known work can sometimes be a challenge. This was one that conductor, soloists, choir and orchestra rose to admirably. Thornbury should be justly proud of its Choral Society.

    Gill Holmes

  • Review - 10 May 2014
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 10 May 2014

    Faure: Requiem, Poulenc: Gloria, Ravel: Pavane pour une Infante Defunte (Pavane for a Dead Princess)

    10 May 2014 at the Castle School

    Once again The Castle School was the venue for Thornbury Choral Society’s Spring Concert and once again the audience was treated to a wonderful evening’s entertainment. The concert started with Thornbury Camerata, ably led by Katy Latham, performing Ravel’s evocative “Pavane pour une Infante Defunte”. Originally written for piano solo, the title chosen for the sound of the words, Ravel, a master of orchestration, reworked it for orchestra in 1910. Its beautiful melody, taken at a speed Ravel would have enjoyed, has a dreamy quality caught by the Camerata which, despite a few split horn notes, captured the imagination of the audience.

    This was followed by Poulenc’s “Gloria”. Despite being part of the ordinary of the mass, Poulenc’s Gloria written between 1959 and 1960 is refreshingly up beat with some parts reminiscent of mid-century American musicals, and the singing from the choir matched this perfectly. Under the admirable conducting skills of Steven Kings, the choir made the music dance along in the opening two sections. The lovely soloist, Llio Evans, entranced with her expressive Domine Deus and Agnus Dei sections, interspersed by the choir’s spirited singing of the fourth section. The choir managed very well the contrasting final movement which started playfully and finished peacefully.

    The second half of the concert was taken up with Faure’s well known “Requiem”. As an organist Faure had played for many funerals but in this piece he wanted to create something different, missing out some sections and adding others. The opening words set the scene of calmness and dignity with the choir singing movingly, with clear diction and attention to detail and to the conductor, building up with precision accompanying from the orchestra, to the 3rd movement. Llio Evans sang Pie Jesu with such feeling that the air was electric and this was followed by an equally stunning Libera Me sung by tenor Meilir Jones. I’m sure much more will be heard from these two talented young soloists. The silence at the end of the final movement In Paradisum was palpable as the audience savoured the dying last notes before giving the choir, soloist, orchestra and conductor a rousing round of applause.

    On the surface the pieces chosen for the concert are linked by French composers writing in the late C19th & early C20th. However the choice of pieces raises the programme above the ordinary. Three pieces which aren’t quite what they seem: Ravel’s piece written not for a dead princess, Poulenc’s Gloria written with a sense of humour and Faure’s Requiem not following the usual Requiem pattern and in Faure’s words “ a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest”. Another triumph for Thornbury Choral Society: don’t miss their next performance, Handel’s “Messiah”, on November 22nd.

    Gill Holmes

  • Review - 30 November 2013
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 30 Nov 2013

    Bach: A Christmas Oratorio & Vivaldi: Gloria

    30 November 2013 at the Castle School

    It was good to see The Castle School’s hall full for Thornbury Choral Society concert on 30th November. Performing two well-known works, the Vivaldi Gloria and Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, no doubt helped to sell tickets and the audience would not have gone home disappointed.  The Gloria started with a joyous introduction by the orchestra, ably led by Katy Latham. The pace was good and Vivaldi’s distinctive trademark melodic and rhythmic patterns prepared the way for the chorus’ opening “Gloria in excelsis Deo”. The two young soprano soloists, Jennifer Walker and Stephanie Harrison, sang beautifully in the “Laudamus te” section, their voices blending well together.The French style dotted rhythms of the lively “Domine Fili” section were well executed and the talented counter tenor Sebastian Field impressed in the “Domini Deus” and “Qui Sede” sections. Apart from a couple of slightly hesitant soprano entries the choir brought the piece to a rousing conclusion.

    The choir really came alive for the Christmas Oratorio making a great sound in the opening chorus. The tenor soloist, Alexei Winter, sang the Evangelist’s part confidently and Sebastian Field’s recitative and aria were beautifully sung. The choir sang movingly in the chorale sections, with clear diction and following the conductor, Steven Kings, so that they were always together. The bass soloist, Daniel Robson, sang strongly and really engaged with the audience. His duets with the soprano, Jennifer Walker, were excellent and her voice was most fitting as the Angel.

    Mention must be made of the excellent orchestra. The solo oboe and trumpet performed well and the timpanist always confidently on cue. Steven Kings did a very good job conducting both choir and orchestra. Thornbury should be justly proud of its Choral Society.

    Gill Holmes

  • Review - 18 May 2013
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 18 May 2013

    50th Anniversary Concert

    18 May 2013 at the Castle School

    Once again Thornbury Choral Society produced a magnificent evening’s entertainment. Never shy to try new works their 50th Anniversary Concert on  16th May was packed with musical gems. The first item was Handel’s well-known and well-loved anthem, “Zadok the Priest”, written for the Coronation of King George II and sung at every Coronation since. This fairly motored along with the exuberant choir ably accompanied by Robin Baggs on chamber organ. Many choral societies up and down the country will be performing this work as the 60th anniversary of the coronation is celebrated and follow it with other Coronation related works. Thornbury Choral Society is in a different league! Continuing the religious theme the next work was Janacek’s setting of the Lord’s Prayer, “Otcenas”, sung in Czech. It is written for the unusual combination of harp, organ, tenor soloist and choir. Not written for liturgical use, the piece is in several sections designed to be sung to paintings by Kresz-Mecina. Gareth Treseder, the tenor soloist, sang beautifully against the frequently modulating choral parts. Not an easy work to sing or hear and with its stark closing section the choir produced just the right atmosphere of reverence and awe.

    “Rejoice in the Lamb” composed by Britten for another 50th anniversary in 1943 is based on a long, rambling poem by the C18th poet, Christopher Smart. It is in several sections: how animals praise the Lord, the blessings of flowers, Smart’s personal tribulations and the mystical nature of four letters of the alphabet - an eclectic mix! The choir set the scene enthusiastically calling men and beasts to pay homage and coped well with the rhythmic complexities of the first quick section. Dynamic contrasts were excellent and the four soloists put across the character of the diverse movements. Stephanie Spragg (soprano) gave an amusing rendition of Jeoffry the cat. Gareth Treseder (tenor) and Meilir Jones (bass) all added considerable pleasure to this delightful piece as did the harpist, Kathryn Rees Peak. The choir finished with a brilliant final quick section with all the bizarre musical instrument rhymes before a beautiful serene section and the final Hallelujah.

    Steven Kings has been the conductor of Thornbury Choral Society since 2005. He is also an accomplished composer. He was asked to write a piece for the 50th anniversary by TCS and “Care-Charming Spells” opened the second half of the concert. It is a setting of three poems by Herrick, Sassoon and Tessimond which celebrate music. The choir is joined by organ, harp and percussion. Catherine Ring was a study in concentration as she deftly played triangle, bass drum, side drum and cymbals. The choir executed the soothing, meditative and reflective qualities of the music finishing on a  complex eight note chord followed by a beautiful interplay between harp and organ. Steven Kings must have been delighted with this the first performance of his piece.

    There was a lovely instrumental interlude before the final Chichester Psalms. Robin Baggs (organ) and Kathryn Rees Peak (harp) played a delightful duet by a lesser known impressionist composer, Grandjany, harking back to an earlier time. “Aria in a Classic Style” was just that. Idiomatic writing for both harp and organ produced a light, elegant sound and gave both soloists the opportunity to shine.

    Having shown their prowess by singing in Czech, the choir and soloists sang in Hebrew for the final piece, Bernstein’s “Chichester Psalms”. Originally written with an orchestral accompaniment, Bernstein prepared this alternative version for organ, harp  and percussion. The counter tenor solos are not easy but Simon Clulow, despite looking nervous, hit the correct notes for his difficult entries. The choir coped well with the sudden changes in mood and the asymmetrical rhythms and created a wonderful sense of joy and awe which brought the concert to a close.

    This was a challenging programme and Thornbury Choral Society should be proud of their achievements in this their 50th Anniversary Year. Do come and support them: they deserve a much bigger audience.

    Gill Holmes

  • Review - 1 December 2012
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 1 Dec 2012

    Elgar: Dream of Gerontius

    1 December 2012 at the Castle School

    I doubt that anyone could have left The Castle School unmoved after the fabulous performance of Dream of Gerontius by Thornbury Choral Society on Saturday 1st December. From the opening notes of the Prelude by the orchestra, ably led by Katy Latham, to the final strains of the Choir of Angelicals, the evening was a triumph.

    Edward Elgar’s setting of Cardinal Newman’s “Dream of Gerontius” is a difficult work, both musically and spiritually.  As a practicing Catholic, Elgar knew Newman’s poem well and it marked important events in his life, notably receiving a copy from his priest at his marriage to Alice. After completing his setting of parts of the poem in 1900 he said “This is the best of me”

    The opening Prelude sets the scene, not just by playing some of the themes to be heard later in the work, but it’s spirituality and meaning. Conducted by Steven Kings, the orchestra captured this spiritual quality preparing the audience for the entrance of Gerontius. Philip Lloyd Holtam as Gerontius gave a vivid and moving portrayal of a man near to death, full of fear and dread, hitting beautiful top Bbs in “in thine own agony”. The audience could feel the intensity as he placed himself into the hands of God in “Novissima hora est”. Thornbury Choral Society, assisted by the semi chorus, New Bristol Voices, sang powerfully but with great compassion “Rescue him, O Lord, in this his final hour” as Gerontius prepares to be judged by God.

    The introduction to Part 2 is typically Elgarian in sound, light and with a clarity of texture, setting the scene for the soul of Gerontius, “I went to sleep; and now I am refreshed”. Diction was clear and anguish gave way to calmness and rest. The Angel, in the form of mezzo-soprano Susan Marrs in a suitably silvery outfit, joined Gerontius. Her singing was expressive and in the dialogue between her and the soul of Gerontius was sensitive and moving. The music changes from moving to threatening as the choir demonically sang “Dread of hell fire”, This in turn becomes a thrilling sound with the words of “Praise to the Holiest in the heights”, sung with much feeling by the choir and excellently played by the orchestra. Special mention must be made of the three percussionists who were always on cue throughout the work,

    The bass/baritone soloist has a difficult role. He has two short parts-the Priest in Part 1 and the Angel of Agony in Part 2. The high tessitura of the Priest suited Jeremy Huw Williams’ baritone voice but he lacked some depth and clarity as the Angel of Agony, perhaps not quite enough “shuddering dread”.

    The closing music, “Praise to the Holiest” sung by the choir was magical with only the rapturous applause breaking the spell.

    I look forward to Thornbury Choral Society’s 50th Anniversary and their next concert on Saturday 18th May.

    Gill Holmes

  • Review - 12 May 2012
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 12 May 2012

    Team GB

    12 May 2012 at the Castle School

    Thornbury Choral Society presented their spring (Team GB) concert of music from around the British Isles at the Castle school on Saturday 12th May.  The concert opened with a sprightly performance of Purcell’s “Bell” anthem where the Alto (Helen Bruce), Tenor (Philip Styles) and Baritone (Niall Hoskin) soloists were used to good effect in dialogue with the Choir.  This was followed by a more substantial piece with a contrasted setting of Psalm 48 (Great is the Lord) set to music by Elgar for Choir and Baritone soloist.  The Choir was able to demonstrate a wide dynamic range and the effects of an orchestra were ably produced on the organ by the Choir’s accompanist Robin Baggs.  Helen Bruce provided two Irish folksongs which were charmingly sung.   We were treated to two organ pieces by James MacMillan also based on folk song themes.  The folk theme continued with a set of charming Scottish folksongs sung expressively by the “Octaves”, a Thornbury based youth Choir, who were clearly directed by Kate Phillipson-Masters and sensitively accompanied by Steven Kings.  The first half of the programme concluded with Wesley’s second large scale anthem from his Hereford period “Blessed by the God and Father”.   This work allowed us the opportunity to hear the fine voice of the soprano soloist (Louise Merrifield) for the first time of the evening, in the central section of the work.  The solo contrasted nicely with the sweet tone produced in the soprano section of the Choir.  The Baritone soloist, Niall Hoskin also contributed two stirring recitative sections leading to a fugal section where a steady tempo was maintained.

    The second half of the programme opened with Benjamin Britten’s setting of the Te Deum in C, which gave us the opportunity to hear the excellent soprano soloist once again.  Although this is an early work it showed all the hallmarks of Britten’s style demonstrated in later and better known settings of the morning canticles. The “Octaves” returned with folksongs from Scotland and Wales and were beautifully accompanied once again by Steven Kings.  The moving setting of “All though the night” ably sung in Welsh, gave the opportunity to hear a short semi-chorus section contrasting with the main Choir and was well received by the audience.  Charles Wood’s well known setting of the Evening Canticles were well sung and followed by two further organ pieced composed by William Matthias, where the trade mark harmonic progressions and spiky rhythmic patterns were ably executed by Robin Baggs.  The final piece was Vaughan Williams’ five mystical songs, which the Choir and Baritone soloist clearly enjoyed; particularly the triumphant finale “Let all the World”.  A fine conclusion to a highly enjoyable evening.

    David Furnival

  • Review - 26 November 2011
  •  Date Posted: Sat, 26 Nov 2011


    26 November 2011 at the Castle School

    Thornbury Choral Society, under their Conductor Steven Kings and with the Bristol Ensemble gave us another inspiring evening on Saturday 26 November at The Castle School with their performance of two settings of the Mass.  These works were the lesser known Schubert setting in B flat followed by the well loved Mozart Requiem.

    The Schubert work featured in the first half of the evening’s programme.  The short opening introduction from the orchestra led into the Kyrie where the singing of the Choir was nicely balanced with the orchestra.  This contrasted well with the short passages for the four soloists.  The first solo came from the soprano (Linda Gerrard) who took an operatic approach to the work.  The other soloists were Louise Tucker (alto) Richard Rowntree (tenor) and Steven Foulkes (bass) who formed an atmospheric quartet for the Et Incarnartus section of the Credo.  This contrasted with the full toned singing of the Choir in the earlier parts of the movement.  The difficult tempo change for the Cum Sancto Spiritu section was successfully negotiated and it was clear that the Choir had been working hard on improving their diction with clear enunciation and entries particularly at the start of the Gloria.  Whilst this work is not as well known as the more often performed Schubert masses in G and A flat, an enjoyable performance was given

    For the Mozart Requiem the orchestra was slightly augmented and produced a flowing introduction before the Choir’s confident entry to the Kyrie.  A brisk pace for the Rex Tremendae was matched with precise entries from the Choir.  The excellent quartet work from the soloists was interspersed with well executed contrasting choral passages for the Choir capturing the spirit of the work.  The choir also presented some good dynamics contrasts in the Hostias section which was maintained in the later movements.  The steady pace of the final Cum Sanctis allowed the fugal writing with both themes to be clearly heard above the orchestral tutti as the work reached its triumphant conclusion.  A most enjoyable concert which was very well attended.

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