Review - 07 December 2011


If you thought you knew what to expect from a Bridgwater Choral Society concert, last night’s concert would give you cause to think again. Conductor Iain Cooper was keen to demonstrate the versatility of the choir with a rich and varied programme drawn from the less familiar choral canon. Following on from recent performances of Handel, Mozart and Haydn, the music was relatively modern, ranging from Brahm’s Alto Rhapsody written in the 1860s to Holst’s Ode to Death, completed in 1919.

The first choral twist was the Pavanne by Faure. Here a melody embedded on our musical consciousness has the added piquance of a lighthearted and flirtatious interplay between male and female voices, in French, naturally! The orchestra played this superbly and held the audience from the outset, with particularly evocative playing by the strings section under the leadership of Brigid Kirkland-Wilson.

Holst’s choral works are both modernistic and richly referenced to both english folk song and the mystical east. The twist here was that lugubrious though it might haved looked on the programme listing, The Ode to Death is truly a song of praise and celebration, not of sadness or fear. Both orchestra and choir performed this searingly beautiful piece with a depth and passion, which overrode any glitches in timing. It stood as a humbling testament to those who have been injured or fallen in battle, then as now.

The Brahm’s Alto Rhapsody will stand out in many minds as the performance of the evening. Helen Sherman looked simply stunning in red velvet, and sang with superb diction and presence. The tenor and bass sections only accompanied Miss Sherman confidently and with precision, demonstrating how much stronger they have become under Iain Cooper’s leadership. The Rhapsody is a melancholic piece which gradually advances from minor to major as the singer pleads for relief from the sufferings of the heart. The orchestra rendered this superbly.

Puccini’s Messa di Gloria was another surprise in waiting – a sacred piece by the Italian composer based at Lucca cathedral but full of the verve and colourful motif of his later, and better known, operatic works. Both audience and choir clearly relished this unreservedly, and when pressed, would say that this is the item which initially drew them to the performance. All sections of the choir acquitted themselves well, and the performance was tightly held together and well balanced on the whole. The highlights in this section were the baritone solo in the Benedictus, sung powerfully by Julian Rippon, and the wonderful two hander between he and tenor, Peter Wilman, in the final Agnus Dei. The trumpets sounded the resurrection rousingly, and were undoubtedly heard ringing out beyond the church walls to the town beyond.

Mr John Curry of Cossington Concerts, a regular at Choral Society events for many years, commented that he enjoyed this concert more than any he has heard in a long while. He was impressed by the strengthening of the male sections and the overall balance, together with the tight, crisp leadership of Iain Cooper. The programme itself was refreshing and the choir acquitted itself well. He reflected that for a town as small as Bridgwater should consider itself pleased to have a choir of such range and ability.

Review by: Jenny McCubbin