Ashtead Choral Society – review of its concert on 13th May St Martins Church, Epsom. The evening began with Carl Orff’s Carmina Burana. Written in 1936, this secular work has remained a favourite of many choral societies as it is great fun to sing and encompasses a wide range of musical genre and emotion.
The choir began with the punchy accents we know so well of the ‘O Fortuna’ (Oh Fate), filling the space of St Martin’s full of grandeur. The first male-only entry was strong and confident, as was the lamenting unison passage to follow. Then we heard the first of the fantastic Baritone soloist Rupert Pardoe, who shone with his clarity of lyric and tone. The choir returned to sing with great joy and spirit, aptly reflecting the ‘welcoming of spring’ in the text. The Tanz, or dance, gave the Kent Sinfonia a moment in the spotlight, with especially lyrical pizzicato from the strings and the first of many incredible flute solos, again beautifully reflecting the tone and content of this meadow dance. Now into the ‘Floret Silva Nobilis,’ the sopranos tackled those pianissimo high notes with tremendous grace – I know how hard those are myself! Both choir and orchestra injected some energy into the ‘Swaz Hie Gat Umbe,’ before switching to a more calming and melodic timbre, again supported and balanced by the flute melody.
The energy returned, and the choir sang regally on ‘Were diu welt all min,’ leaning in on the outrageous storytelling about the Queen of England, and what a great ‘Hej!’ at the end of the passage! Speaking of storytelling, what a performance from the countertenor, Richard Decker! Aside from the fantastic singing, the facial expressions of the soon-to-be-roasted swan told us of the dread and terror (and slight comedy) of the situation! On to the men’s time to shine, in the Tavern, which they sang very well with clear diction and gusto, and finally we were joined by the soprano soloist Ana Beard Fernandez. Her projection was especially impressive in the pillared setting of the church, and the duet with the flute was a particular highlight. ‘In trutina’ is widely considered the most beautiful moment of the work and Fernandez’s rendition definitely lived up to this claim. The energy began to return for both choir and orchestra in the drive up to the finale, finishing with the reprise of the ‘O Fortuna’ with the same energy and punch as at the start.
In the second half of the evening, the choir sang ‘The Armed Man’, by Karl Jenkins. He is known for a wide range of work, recently having composed for the King’s Coronation, but this piece is his most widely-sung setting, originally written for the millennium, and subtitled ‘A Mass for Peace.’
It began with a strong drumbeat to set the military scene, and a wonderful folk-style piccolo solo. The choir came in strongly in unison, and moved on to a fantastic canon section, really giving them space to shine as it was unaccompanied. The call to prayer was then given by Mr Noor Sheikh from Baitul-Futuh Mosque in Morden, which was a huge highlight, and really gave light to the range of religions and genres this piece calls upon. The ‘Kyrie’ then began with some moody strings and a gentle melodic soprano line, with the choir overall sombre and well balanced. Another strong male entry complimented the flowing scalic passages, and the choir handled the chromaticism with ease.
The Sanctus was great in spirit with especially clear consonants, accompanied by the sweeping
cinematic writing in the orchestra. Towards the end of the Charge is some quite unique musical writing, where in the score it says ‘convey horror!’, and the choir did just that! The Last Post, usually always surrounded by silence, was this time played with some eerie string accompaniment at the end and this painted a similarly haunting scene. The altos then had a very strong solo line, and everyone came together for another excellent chromatic passage. The Agnus Dei was a really beautiful sing, with sweeping melodic lines and really great harmonic resolutions. It was at this point especially I felt that the choir was really enjoying their singing, which added an extra something special to the performance. The penultimate section, the Benedictus, was another spotlight on the orchestra, with a great cello solo. To finish off the piece, the final section is broken up by a really fantastic piccolo solo – to get such clarity on a
piccolo and at such speed is really impressive! The choir then interjected with the repeated word ‘Ring!,’ very effectively passing the melody between the parts. They really did sound like bells, ringing out for peace, as I imagine the composer intended!
Overall a thoroughly enjoyable performance, with two great showcases of popular choral works. I look forward to seeing what ACS produces next.
Ashtead Choral Society is one of the leading choral societies in Surrey with around 90 singers giving three concerts a year with professional orchestras and soloists.