Concert November 2016
- Parry Blest Pair of Sirens
- Holst Hymns from the Rig Veda III (sung by the Quiristers with Harp soloist Angela Moore and conducted by Malcolm Archer)
- Vaughan Williams Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis (by orchestra only)
- Vaughan Williams Dona Nobis Pacem
- Lucy Crowe – Soprano
- Neal Davies – Baritone
Winchester Music Club Choir
Winchester College Glee Club and Quiristers
Winchester Music Club Orchestra
Vaughan Williams’ Dona nobis pacem is one of his finest choral works. Composed in 1936 and employing mainly the poetry of Walt Whitman as its text, it is a passionate and deeply-felt plea by the composer against war, at a time when a second global conflict seemed imminent. Vaughan Williams had served in the Great War as a stretcher-bearer, and had therefore seen the horror of the trenches at first hand; he had also lost many friends during the course of the war. The texts represent those horrors but also the belief that eventually man will see the error of his ways, and live in peace. The resultant work is both moving and rousing, passionate and powerful, contrasting beauty with terror, and the sounds of battle with the calm of peace.
The first half of the concert included the same composer’s Fantasia on a Theme of Thomas Tallis with its lush writing for double string orchestra; Vaughan Williams’ teacher, Hubert Parry, is represented by his ode to music Blest pair of sirens, a setting of words by John Milton, while the Hymns from the Rig Veda by Vaughan Williams’ contemporary and friend Gustav Holst were performed by the Winchester College Quiristers, conducted by Malcolm Archer. The Harp solo was performed by Angela Moore.
We were fortunate to be joined for the concert by two internationally renowned soloists, soprano Lucy Crowe and baritone Neal Davies. The combined forces of the Winchester Music Club and Winchester College Glee Club were conducted by David Thomas.
Concert Review by Duncan Eves
Remembrance of WW1 is never very far away at this time of the year and Winchester Music Club and Orchestra provided a timely commemoration with their performance of a much under-appreciated choral gem, Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem.
This work, from the mid-1930’s, is a pre-cursor of Britten’s War Requiem, and mixes texts from Walt Whitman, the Bible and the traditional Latin Mass. The soprano, Lucy Crowe, opened and closed the work with a commanding vocal presence that held the large audience spellbound. From her cry of anguish (‘Agnus Dei’) at the opening to her final soft ‘Pacem’ she worked the cathedral’s long reverberation to excellent effect. The soprano role is in this work is ungratifyingly small, but Lucy’s vocal control was simply fabulous. Very moving in her soft passages.
The baritone, Neal Davies, had a rich and powerful tone, but also found tenderness in Whitman’s ‘Reconciliation’. His diction was crystal-clear in the echoing acoustic and he projected John Bright’s famous passage about ‘the Angel of Death…’ with dramatic conviction. Just like a politician, in fact!
The violent and forceful music of ‘Beat! Beat! drums!’ was hurled out by the large choir, augmented by Winchester College Glee Club and Chapel Choir, to impressive effect. Here, and in the final movement, some diction was lost in the battle with the orchestra (Vaughan Williams’ writing is quite brass-heavy) and not helped by the acoustic, but the impact was nonetheless gripping. All credit to the choir for tackling this difficult score and to David Thomas for inspiring his musicians.
The College Chapel Choir gave a beautiful rendition of Holst’s Hymns from the ‘Rig Veda’. Poise and control in the singing was complemented by the superb harp playing of Angela Moore. Intonation was very good in the cloudy, impressionistic harmonies and this rarelyheard work made a strong impact. All credit, of course, to Malcolm Archer for pushing his young performers to such heights of excellence.
The Music Club’s orchestra string section, augmented by the Winchester College String Orchestra, gave a sensitive account of Vaughan Williams’ Tallis Fantasia, making full use of the spatial and acoustic surroundings. Some lovely dialogues between the solo instruments were complemented by glorious antiphonal effects between the Music Club strings and the College strings.
The concert opened with the splendour of Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens. The massed choral forces produced a rich, full sound. A strong tenor and bass section gave plenty of weight to the sound, while a bright tone from the upper voices gave special emphasis to the words ‘O may we soon again renew that song…’
A most enjoyable evening and warmly appreciated by the audience. Personal high points: the Holst Rig Veda (which I had never heard live before) and Lucy Crowe, who was, as I said, simply fabulous.