Wolcum Hevenè King, 25th November 2017

An Atmospheric Evening

Isle of Wight County Press
1st December 2017

Orpheus Singers, under the baton of Philip Fryer, provided the audience with a most enjoyable programme for their ‘Wolcum Hevenè King’ Concert which opened their 25th Anniversary Concert Series. It was a very atmospheric evening, with works performed by candlelight to an appreciative, full house.

Benjamin Britten’s ‘Ceremony of Carols’, sung with Harp accompaniment by Alexander Rider, opened the programme. The choir really brought out the joyous and inventive nature of this piece which consists of 9 medieval carols, mainly in Middle English. The piece opened with the sopranos and altos processing in from the back of the church which created an ethereal atmosphere. There was very good dynamic contrast shown in the ‘Wolcum Yole’ movement. One of my favourite movements was ‘There is no Rose’ interspersed with the haunting ‘Alleluia’ theme. Deborah Coeshott performed the solo ‘That yongë child’ which has a recitative style and Deborah rose to the challenge. In ‘Ballulalow’, we enjoyed Kathy Howells’ plaintive solo and the section where she was accompanied by the choir.

The harp accompaniment really brought the work alive and the harp Interlude movement had a beautiful bell-like quality with glissandi sending shivers down the spine. The deliberate clashing intervals were well marked by the choir in ‘In Freezing Winter Night’ and one could imagine the frosts painted by this setting. There was good balance in the duet from Kathy Howells and Pippa Dice in ‘Spring Carol’. The penultimate movement, ‘Deo Gracias’ was very lively with the Latin passages alternating with an arrangement of Adam lay i-bounden. The whole work showed off Orpheus Singers’ capacity for a great dynamic range of singing.

Adding to the effectiveness of the piece was the Recession in the final movement ‘Hodie Christus natus est’ as gradually all singers disappeared to the back of the church.

After the interval came a real treat in Britten’s ‘Hymn to the Virgin’, which is a short devotional piece composed when he was only 16 years’ old. It is written for 2 antiphonal 4-part choirs. This was my favourite performance of the concert. There was great control shown in the unaccompanied singing with excellent tuning. Once again, the dynamic range demonstrated was good and diction was very clear between choir I, singing in English and choir 2, singing in Latin.

The concert concluded with Charpentier’s ‘Messe de Minuit Pour Noël’ (Midnight Mass for Christmas). This is a rarely performed Baroque Mass which provided a considerable contrast to the 20th Century works in the Programme. After the complexities of the Britten, the Charpentier had a ‘stripped-back’ feel to it.

Ably accompanied by Merryl Spong, the choir faithfully performed the text with good diction. There was a confident start in the ‘Kyrie’. The homophonic sections in several movements were very successful and the choir kept pace with the constant changes of tempi and negotiated the rhythmic challenges well. In the more exposed sections, more attention could have been paid to blending the sound in the tenor lines. Enjoyable solo sections came from Kathy Howells, Laura Burnett and Deborah Coeshott and their voices balanced well in the trio section.

It is difficult to keep the momentum going in a piece such as this and there were occasional intonation problems in the soprano line in this work. The final movement, ‘Agnus Dei’ had a very pleasing pianissimo on the repeated section. Although I didn’t enjoy the Charpentier as much as the Britten works, the fault probably lay in the setting itself rather than in the choir’s performance of it.

A most enjoyable concert and we look forward to Orpheus Singers’ next concert on 3rd March 2018 at St. Catherine’s Church, Ventnor when they will be performing Music from Orpheus Singers’ first concert 25 years ago and Poulenc’s Gloria.