Concert Reviews



The Proms season started early in Keswick with a concert of choral favourites performed by Keswick Choral Society, conducted by their Musical Director Ian Hare, on a perfect April evening. Although the appealing programme of typical English prom favourites had attracted a good audience to St John’s Church, the main highlight of the evening was French: Poulenc’s glorious Gloria.

The choir proved they were in good voice, singing Stanford’s Te Deum Laudamus confidently and strongly, before going on to perform the quietly lovely motet Locus Iste by Anton Bruckner, whose 200th anniversary is this year.

Poulenc’s Gloria opened with a fine organ fanfare by Jordan English, Assistant Organist at St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh, soon joined by the choir who really showed their enjoyment in singing the piece – an uplifting work, with short movements, many changes of tempo and exquisite harmonies. The bouncy Laudamus Te, allegedly inspired by Poulenc catching sight of Benedictine monks playing soccer, is always captivating, but undoubtedly the highlight of the Gloria tonight was the young soprano soloist Nikki Martin, from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland in Glasgow, whose seemingly effortless solos in the Domine Deus were breathtaking, and her Agnus Dei, with its very French tonalities very expressive.

The joyful theme continued in the second half with Britten’s Jubilate Deo and Mozart’s well-loved Laudate Dominum, beautifully sung by soprano Nikki with the choir. The tranquil mood continued with Cantque de Jean Racine by Gabriel Fauré – another composer with an anniversary this year – before Handel’s Let the Bright Seraphim brought us a bright, lively, dancing soprano solo from Nikki Martin.

John Rutter’s For the Beauty of the Earth is a sweetly lyrical piece: the singers’ delight in singing it was clear, while Ian Hare’s piano accompaniment was a real treat. Another change of tempo, also featuring piano, brought us the foot-tapping gospel rhythms of Every Time I feel the Spirit, arranged by Ken Burton of the London Adventist Chorale, with whom Ian performed at the BBC Proms in 1996.

Taking forward the Proms theme, Jordan English brought us an organ arrangement of the Elgar’s ever-popular ‘Nimrod’ from his Enigma Varia7ons and then, in true Proms spirit, members of the choir decorated the conductors’ podium with traditional Last Night of the Proms bunting and flags as we moved towards the finale. Parry’s Jerusalem and Land of Hope and Glory from Elgar’s Pomp and Circumstance March No. 1, gave both choir and audience the chance to really raise the roof with their singing and end the evening on a high.

It was a delight to be able to listen to so many different pieces in such a range of musical styles, although must have been very hard work for the choir. Keswick Choral Society rose to the challenge admirably though: well-trained and responsive to their conductor, who brings out the best in them. It was quite possibly the best I have ever heard the choir: a hugely enjoyable evening all round.

Sue Allan

Festival of Christmas Music 2023, review by Mike Town

Keswick Choral Society: Festival of Christmas Music
St. John’s Church, Keswick – Tuesday 12th December, 2023

A different venue and somewhat altered format, compared to recent years, made the annual Keswick Choral Society Christmas Concert a particularly uplifting musical event, which attracted a large (almost capacity) and enthusiastic audience.

Ian Hare, the Conductor, led the combined forces from a splendid new rostrum, with precision and well-judged tempos throughout the concert.

The choir was generally in excellent form, rising to the challenges of a wide range of different styles of seasonal music. Some were arrangements of well-known carols, ranging from the energetic ‘Deck the hall with boughs of holly’ to the gently flowing ‘O babe divine’. The centre-piece was a performance of six sections taken from J. S. Bach’s ‘Christmas Oratorio’, Parts 1 and 2, which included chorales, solos and a Pastoral Symphony played on the organ. Other highlights included Bob Chilcott’s ‘Christmas-tide’, an American poem, set to original music, mostly accompanied by the string stops on the organ.

Tonight’s organist, Jordan English, accompanied the choir sensitively, with appropriate use of a variety of combinations of stops to support the singing.

Three local composers’ works were included in the programme, these were Ian Hare’s gently flowing seUng of Christna Rossetti’s ‘Before the Paling of the Stars’, John Cooper Green’s version of the old English carol ‘The Lord At First Did Adam Make’ and the late Andrew Seivewright’s ‘Starlight Carol’.
The addition of the excellent North Lakes Brass group, positoned in a semi-circle on the south side of the church, made a significant musical impact. They played several seasonal pieces, including arrangements of carols and Christmas songs, before the main concert started and before the second half of the programme, which put everyone in buoyant mood. During each half they played a piece, firstly ‘Winter’s Eve’, notable for its rich harmonies and reflective mood, rising to a central climax, and secondly ‘Christmas Song’ with its easyflowing melodies and trumpet solos. In addition, they accompanied two of the audience carols, ‘God Rest You Merry Gentlemen’ and ‘The First Nowell’ very effectively.

Overall, this was a memorable evening of music-making, enhanced by the fine acoustic of the church, as well as by the musicians’ combined efforts.

Mike Town

Spring concert 2023, Choral Favourites, review by Sue Allan

KESWICK CHORAL SOCIETY SPRING CONCERT, Sat April 22 2023 St John’s Church, Keswick

The sun shone on St John’s Church on Saturday evening as audience members made their way to
Keswick Choral Society’s annual spring concert: always an event to look forward to, particularly in
the fine acoustic that St John’s offers.

The programme was a varied, with the first half given over to Fauré’s Requiem: a work whose
gentle beauty has made it well-loved favourite of singers and audiences. The luminous opening of
the Introit presaged well, and Musical Director Ian Hare certainly drew the best from the choir.
Bass soloist Paul im Thurn’s solo in the Offertorium was both accomplished and moving, while
Fiona Weakley’s beautiful Pie Jesu was impressive, the more so as she had been brought in at short
notice as the soprano soloist. The organ accompaniment by Jordan English – Assistant Organist at
St Giles Cathedral in Edinburgh and a former Organ Scholar of Carlisle Cathedral – was always
supportive of the choir. Finally, the lovely Agnus Dei was sung with great confidence by the choir to
complete the first part of the evening.

The second half of the concert, by way of a nod to the forthcoming coronation, opened in dramatic
style with Handel’s Zadok the Priest, sung with great vim and vigour by the choir. A more
contemplative tone was struck with John Ireland’s Greater Love, probably the best-known and
most affecting of his works, followed by Bach’s tender and expressive duet for soprano and bass,
Mein Freund ist mein!, from his well-known cantata Wachet Auf.

A contrast was then struck with Elgar’s Give unto the Lord, full of the composer’s characteristic
energy and verve. More volume might have been offered by the men, who sang from a position
behind the women, at times, but overall the piece was sung with confidence before ultimately
ending quietly with a ‘blessing of peace’.

A further change of mood saw Jordan English move from organ to piano, to accompany the choir in
four of jazz pianist George Shearing’s settings of Shakespeare Songs and Sonnets. Interweaving
words of Shakespeare with jazz rhythms and harmonies, these were a surprise and a delight,
particularly the first, Live with me and be my love. The final song, Who is Sylvia?, which includes
the lines ‘Love doth to her eyes repair, To help him of his blindness’ offers a poignant reminder that
Shearing, although a musical prodigy, was himself born blind.

The concert concluded with Vaughan Williams majestic setting of the Old Hundredth, Psalm 100:
‘All People that on Earth do Dwell’. Written for the late Queen’s coronation in 1953, and opening
with a brilliant organ fanfare, the large and appreciative audience was invited to join in with the
choir to sing some of the verses – which they did, with gusto.

It was a fine performance and a lovely evening, and Ian Hare is to be congratulated, both for
nurturing and developing Keswick Choral Society over many years, and also for his imaginative and
thoughtful programming.

Festival Of Christmas Music 2022, review by Roger Cooke

A Festival of Christmas Music 

A large and enthusiastic audience turned out on Tuesday December 13th, a freezing evening, for a festival of music and readings at St. Kentigern’s Church, Crosthwaite. After an introduction by the vicar, Andie Murphy, the music was performed by the excellent Keswick Choral Society with substantial contributions from the baritone Jonathan Millican and organist Mike Town. Members and friends of the Society did the readings, which were both secular poetry and from the gospels. The varied and interesting programme was put together by the Choral Society’s distinguished Music Director, Ian Hare.

This annual event is not a carol service as such. Carefully billed as a ‘Festival of Christmas Music’ to signal that rather than religious celebration it is primarily a concert giving the Choir the opportunity to perform and the audience the chance to enjoy and participate in a wide variety of musical works that mark the passage of time: the season of goodwill and turning of the year.

This year’s concert included a mixture of the familiar and the unfamiliar, the exuberant and the contemplative. There were four excerpts from Handel’s Messiah including Jonathan Millcan’s superb, mellifluous rendering of two arias including The People that walked in Darkness, and the timeless Hallejuah Chorus sung energetically by the Choir. The Choir also sang unaccompanied the first verse of the traditional In Dulci Jubilo, and there was Ralph Vaughan Williams’s Fantasia on Christmas Carols in this 125th anniversary of his year of birth.

Most of the audience would never previously have heard some of the carols. This reviewer particularly enjoyed All My Heart this Night Rejoices by the 17th Century German composer Johann Georg Eberling. Each member of the audience will have discovered something new to appreciate.

The acoustics were excellent in the middle of the church nave and perhaps even more so at the west end, to which this reviewer switched during the second half of the concert.

Many thanks are due to Crosthwaite Church for enabling a thoroughly enjoyable occasion and excellent community evening in the wonderful historic setting: a heart-warming start to the festive season.

Roger Cooke

Celebrating the Jubilee
Review by Ian Wright of Keswick Choral Society’s “Celebrating the Jubilee”, 7 May 2022

There was celebration in the air at St. John’s Church for Keswick Choral Society’s Spring concert entitled ‘Celebrating the Jubilee’, directed by Ian Hare. From the opening notes of the majestic Fanfare to the National Anthem, written by Gordon Jacob for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953, the tone was set for an evening of festive jubilation. Mozart’s Mass in C K.317 (known as the Coronation Mass) followed, with Edward Taylor at the organ negotiating the orchestral writing with fluency. Soloists Charlotte Jackson, Mary Hitch, Christopher Steele and Jonathan Millican were well balanced and assured in their quartets, and Charlotte Jackson gave a very controlled rendition of the Agnus Dei. The choir was a little under its usual strength, as are most choirs in the wake of the pandemic, and this manifested itself in occasional tuning issues and uncertainty at entries, particularly in the sopranos. But the joyful spirit of the music won over in the end with an emphatic ‘Don nobis pacem’.
Ian Hare’s ‘Springtime in Lakeland’ brought a change of mood, from the pomp of coronations to the joy of spring as described by Wordsworth in his poetry. The first movement, ‘The Lake’, with its expressive piano introduction evocative of the bucolic setting, was well sung. There was some confidently negotiated chromaticism, and the eeriness of the abyss was effectively conveyed, though it was disappointing the tranquillity of the ending was disrupted by some inaccuracies in the lower parts of the choir. The second movement, ‘To a Snowdrop’, sung by the sopranos alone, needed to be better known and more confidently sung to really evoke the innocent joy apparent in both the poem and the piano accompaniment. ‘The Rainbow’ and ‘To the Small Celandine’, with their descriptive leaps and skipping accompaniments led us to the warm lushness of ‘Home at Grasmere’, leaving us in the cosy embrace of the surrounding hills and the familiarity and peaceful security of home. Written for the 250th Anniversary of Wordsworth in 2020, COVID delayed performances of this work, but I hope that it will now take its place as a firm favourite in the choral repertoire, especially in Cumbria. It is hard to imagine a work more infused with the spirit and beauty of the Lakes.
Two arias from Haydn’s ‘Creation’ continued the theme of the beauty and wonder of creation, authoritatively sung by Jonathan Millican and Christopher Steele, before the evening concluded with a performance of Vivaldi’s much loved ‘Gloria’. Here the choir was on more familiar territory, which allowed their enjoyment to shine through – a true celebration, not just of the Jubilee, but of the joy of music and singing and its place in our society and our lives. After the last couple of years it felt good to be sharing that again, and as we try to regain some new ‘normality’ we must do all we can to make sure that the joy that choral singing brings continues to be shared and strengthened with each new generation. This evening we enjoyed music written over a period of 300 years and we celebrated the Queen’s reign of 70 years: the damage done to our music societies in just the last two years of pandemic can soon be overcome, and thanks to Keswick Choral Society and Ian Hare for showing us how!
Ian Wright

Joy unconfined
Review by Bob Fowler of Keswick Choral Society’s Festival of Christmas Music and Readings, 14 December 2021

At Christmastide we have the annual delight of meeting together at Crosthwaite Church to enjoy and participate in Keswick Choral Society’s Festival of Christmas Music and Readings – with the exception of 2020. The lead-up to Christmas 2021 was overshadowed by the news and anxiety created by the pandemic. Even as Keswickians were preparing to make their way to the church for the 2021 Festival, the news of the spread of the Omicron variant was a cause for concern. Was it safe to attend a large gathering of folk singing together in the closed atmosphere of the church? On arrival it was clear that precautions were being taken. As the church filled, the audience became a sea of folk wearing face masks and observing social distancing. There was also a considerable warmth and shared anticipation as we were welcomed by the vicar, the Reverend Andy Murphie.

The first carol, “Once in royal David’s city”, led by soprano Samantha Green, resonated throughout the great building. We were safely here! The choir, conducted by Ian Hare, sang ‘Of the Father’s heart begotten’ with 4th century words and 16th century music, arranged by David Willcocks.
There followed “Up good Christen folk and listen”…. Christus natus hodie. The Choir were in good voice after nearly two years without performance, and clearly enjoyed singing a wide selection of traditional and modern music.

The vicar read from the King James version of the Bible, St Matthew announcing the birth of Jesus. Then came “Joys seven”: mediaeval devotions to the joys of Mary, set by Stephen Cleobury – indeed a joyful piece! Then the audience rousingly joined in with “Unto us is born a Son”.

Laurence Durston-Smith’s reading of “Inside of King’s College Chapel, Cambridge” by William Wordsworth linked our Festival to the BBC’s annual Carols from King’s, and was the first of three poems by local writers to be included this year.

Soloist and choir sang excerpts from Handel’s “Messiah” with verve and passion, rounding off with a stirring “Hallelujah Chorus” – “rejoice greatly!” indeed. The first half ended with us all singing that traditional old English Carol “God rest you merry, gentlemen, let nothing you dismay”.

Part two began with the audience joining in that most loved hymn, “O little town of Bethlehem”, which concludes with a passionate invitation “O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel”. Next the choir addressed the shepherds: “O leave your sheep ……you’ll find Him laid within a simple stable …. Whose wonder shall be told’.
The Sans Day carol prefaced the next reading, “Inscrutable Angel’” by Bob Fowler. This verse gives a contemporary view of the Christmas Story and its consequences.

Harold Darke’s setting of Christina Rossetti’s “In the Bleak Midwinter” followed, and the touching sentiments were sung with great tenderness, choir members taking two solo verses. It was nicely balanced by “Tres Magi Gentibus” – a jolly piece, sung with a twinkle. “O Come All Ye Faithful” next… everyone answering the invitation with vigour.
“A Crosthwaite Belfry Song”, a poem by Canon Rawnsley, followed.

Two more traditional old rhymes: “Nowell nowell, Sir Christemas”, and “Christmas is coming” – the choir rang out! Then “Hark the herald angels sing” had the whole assembly singing as one, and the evening finished with a lively “We wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!”

Keswick Choral Society is to be congratulated on presenting such a heart-warming festival of Christmas music and readings, despite the times we are presently experiencing.
Ian Hare conducted the whole performance with elan, good humour and fine musicianship. Mike Town, as ever, accompanied brilliantly on the organ and piano. The audience departed happy! Joy was indeed unconfined.


At the end of a day of driving rain and gales on Tuesday, a large audience packed into Crosthwaite Church for the annual Festival of Christmas Music, led by the Keswick Choral Society under their Musical Director Ian Hare. A warm welcome awaited, the church decorated with flowers, candles and a large brightly lit Christmas tree.
The evening began with the choir processing to the traditional carol “Once in Royal David’s City”, with the audience joining in after the second verse. This set the tone for the rest of the programme, where choir items were interspersed with carols for all.
The choir was in fine voice, with expressive singing and clear diction. “Ding Dong Merrily on High” was lively and rhythmic, followed by tender singing with flowing lines in “Infant Holy”. The Coventry Carol featured a soprano solo sweetly sung, contrasting with Herod’s fury from the men.
Organist Mike Town was kept busy all evening, accompanying the carols and tripping from the organ to the piano as needed. His mastery of the organ was displayed, with imaginative use of the stops of the fine Crosthwaite organ to provide contrasts and colours. He gave a good performance of “Variations on In Dulci Jubilo” by Denis Bedard, a piece full of variety and unusual harmonies.
It is good to be able to include music by local composers. This programme featured the first performance of “Be Merry” by Tamsin Jones, a lay clerk at Carlisle Cathedral. This is an attractive, lively and lilting piece which the choir performed with enthusiasm.
Ian Hare’s “Love Came Down at Christmas” is a simple, gentle carol which the composer wrote for Carlisle Cathedral’s Carliol choir. It is well written for the voices, and the choir was at ease here.
Baritone Jim Johnson made a very welcome appearance in Vaughan Williams’s “Fantasia on Christmas Carols”. He has a warm, rich and expressive voice and produced plenty of variety throughout. The choir accompanied him with sensitivity at the start and joined in the carols with joy. The peaceful ending was most effective. Jim Johnson also gave a lovely rendering of Cornelius’s “The Three Kings” with gentle accompaniment from the men at the start, though the full choir was a little overpowering for the soloist later on.
John Rutter’s “Christmas Lullaby” was effectively sung, especially in the soft passages.
“Here is the Little Door” by Herbert Howells provided a more serious moment, while Joubert’s “Torches” and Hairston’s “Mary’s Boy Child” were joyful in mood. “The Twelve Days of Christmas” gave the audience a chance to join the choir in the refrain.
As an encore the choir sang “We Wish you a Merry Christmas” which was the perfect end to a most enjoyable evening and which set the tone for the beginning of the Festive Season.

ELIJAH – St. John’s Church Keswick, Saturday 11th May 2019

Review by Ian Wright

Keswick Choral Society was in fine fettle for their performance of ‘Elijah’ at St. John’s Church on Saturday 11th May. From the opening bars of Mendelssohn’s 1846 oratorio, when Elijah (Paul im Thurn – Bass) steps forward to prophesy a three-year drought, the drama of the story was well portrayed by Paul’s authoritative delivery. As the drought takes hold, the pleadings of the people were heard from the chorus, suitably legato and sensitively sung. When the prophet Obadiah
(Christopher Steele – Tenor) urges the people to repent of their Baal worship, the cause of the Lord’s anger on them, Christopher’s lyrical and romantic tenor voice suited well the style of Mendelssohn’s writing and the dramatic rôle of his character. Amy Shaw (Alto) sang her angelic messages with clear precision and a smooth tone, and the words of Hosea with tenderness, while Rachel Little (Soprano) as the Widow of Zarephath pleaded convincingly for Elijah to help her
son, and played the ’Youth’ with a fitting innocence and simplicity. A highlight of the evening was the showdown on Mount Carmel: the chorus singing with great gusto as they call upon Baal to answer, accompanied brilliantly by Ian Pattinson on the organ, leading us to the moments of deafening silence that seem to last for ever as no response is forthcoming. Ian Pattinson’s virtuosic organ playing was again in evidence as the chorus sang ‘Thanks be to God’ as the drought came to an end. It was strangely appropriate that throughout the drought of the first half of the performance, some members of the choir had to contend with the late evening sun shining right in their eyes, but they coped admirably, and although there were just one or two hesitant entries they kept together well under Ian Hare’s direction.
The Second Part of the Oratorio provided its own highlights, with Paul im Thurn bringing out Elijah’s vulnerable side in the aria ‘It is enough’, and Christopher Steele’s tender tenor recitative ‘See how he sleepeth’ ushering in a well balanced and very good trio of angels, sung by a sextet of sopranos and altos from the chorus. Amy Shaw’s rendition of ‘O rest in the Lord’ was beautifully considered and reassuring. Ian Hare’s economical conducting style allowed the chorus enough room to display their enjoyment and enthusiasm for a work they clearly knew well, but a little more dynamic contrast in ‘Behold, God the Lord passed by’ would have been welcome. The eight-part ‘Holy holy holy’ was very effectively sung by the chorus, despite some slightly exposed soprano voices.
This was an assured performance in which the chorus and soloists brought to life all the energy and drama of the story led by an authoritative ‘Elijah’, while the organ accompaniment in turns both enhanced the excitement and sensitively supported the singers. Congratulations to all concerned!
Ian Wright

Christmas 2018: Vivaldi’s Gloria

Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder

The annual Festival of Christmas Music, presented by Keswick Choral Society, as always gave great pleasure and joy to the audience in a packed Crosthwaite Church on 11 December. The choir was in excellent voice and on sparkling form. The programme was rich and varied from Vivaldi’s Gloria, Hubert Parry’s I Was Glad, to the syncopated Shepherd’s pipe carol by John Rutter . The conductor Ian Hare’s skilful new composition, Love came down at Christmas, (from Christina Rossetti’s 1885 poem)- was a very refreshing addition and was warmly greeted by the appreciative listeners, not least Christina’s hauntingly beautiful call for love and fellowship amongst her Christian brothers and sisters. I soon found myself humming the musical refrain, Sing Noel.
As has become customary with KCS concerts, the audience were encouraged to join in with familiar Carols. Full advantage was taken to respond to the invitation and it was clear from the contributions that there were individuals who could equally have been in the choir rather than the audience. (Indeed, I discovered my neighbour sang regularly with Glyndebourne Opera). Jingle Bells chorus, accompanied by jingling bells, was particularly spirited, a reminder of the joy of a community singing together and the value of laughter.
The programmes were a valuable complement to the evening and an interesting source of information about the provenance of musical items and performers. Collectively they read as an impressive summary of achievement and ambition.
The whole performance was excellently supported by the splendid soloists, Phillipa Dodd, Anne-Marie Kerr, and Fiona Weakley. They gave a moving and thrilling performance of Mendelssohn’s Trio, Lift Thine Eyes.
Accompanying Organist, Mike Town, played skilfully throughout, not least for Parry’s I was Glad. “I thought I was in Westminster Abbey!” a member of the audience exclaimed.
Conductor, composer and choirmaster, Ian Hare, is to be congratulated for providing such an accomplished, professional and joyful Festival. Little wonder Ian was voted Cumbria Life Musician of the Year 2017.
I was glad, as were the packed, appreciative audience, to have had the privilege of enjoying an evening of such excellent choral expression, committed, joyful, uplifting.

Spring 2018: Haydn's Creation

Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder

There could hardly be a more appropriate siting for a performance of Haydn's Oratorio than Keswick Theatre by the Lake. Any one of us standing in awe as we view the mountains, valleys, streams and lakes may well wonder how did all this happen and what is my origin.
Haydn's Creation offers an answer to our wondering and its authority derives from the opening of the Old Testament and perhaps also Milton's epic poem, Paradise Lost. It has been said, justly, that The Creation is a 'statement of warm optimism about the world and our place in it, clothed in some of the most gorgeous music of music's golden age.’It is recorded that the wild applause which was accorded to The Creation on its performance in 1808 may have cost the elderly composer his life 'for he was so overcome that he had to be carried from the concert room and revived'.
The Keswick audience, if not quite overcome, were enthralled by the performance. Under the Director of KCS musical director/conductor Ian Hare, the Choir, and the Cumbria Classical Players were masterfully led by Mark Wilson. The exceptional soloists, Susanna Fairbairn, Richard Phillips, Brian Bannatyne-Scott with Continuo Mike Town, gave a thrilling and exhilarating experience. The performance had great tenderness and spiritual depth. Haydn's Angels related a tale of triumph. The story was one of success, illumination blazing out of darkness, 'this world, so great, so wonderful.’ Haydn shows men and women in eternally lovely surroundings-idyllic- a pastoral with no intimation of the Serpent and the Fall. Adam and Eve's characterisation was a delight. Eve is uncompromising – 'Life and all I have is thine.’ Adam is unequivocal: ‘Every moment brings new rapture.’All the performers related the story with great conviction and passion.
As one earlier reviewer put it, 'it seems apt that a work of such joy and reveries – composed in a period of war, political turmoil, and rapid scientific technological advancement – should be performed and relished with abandon at this moment in time.’ There was a contemporary feel to this production. Ian Hare and all who were involved in this performance of the Oratorio must be congratulated, not least for that final resonance of the chorus in praise of God:
‘Let every voice sing unto the Lord!
Thank him for all his works!
Sublime! How lucky we are to live in Cumbria and have KCS who offer so much pleasure and enlightenment for us all! The brightness of the full moon which greeted the audience as they left the Theatre was a fitting confirmation of their wonder of The Creation.

Spring 2017

Review by Susan Allison, courtesy of The Keswick Reminder.

St Johns Parish Church in Keswick is a fine building with good internal proportions, which suit the staging of concerts admirably, but most people would be aware that the acoustics for choirs are not ideal, so that the latter have to work hard to achieve the effect they want. That said, the coupling of two choirs, Keswick Choral Society with the Cantate Children’s choir from Carlisle Cathedral, was an unqualified success, bringing together the experience and excellent sound of a well established adult choir and the youthful exuberance of young voices.
Directed by Ian Hare (KCS) and Edward Taylor(Cantate), the programme’s first half consisted of Andrew Carter’s Benedicite (11 movements using verses taken from the Benedicite Canticle in the Book of Common Prayer). The modern idiom and rhythms were well handled by both choirs who took turns to sing and as the pictures in music unfolded the organist (John Cooper-Green) used his instrument to create the atmosphere of each movement. This was particular effective in Whales and Waters, the heaviness of the music representing the movement of large underwater creatures, Ice and Snow, where the music almost seemed to shiver with tinkling icicles, and Butterflies and Moths, in which the clear bright voices of Cantate fluttered convincingly. Thunder and Lightning was cleverly imagined by the composer and one was aware of the storm dying away as the music ended. Spirits and Souls was a difficult one for tuning, but the Keswick choir rose to the challenge beautifully and the choral sound was never compromised. The children took on Grannies and Grandads with great gusto, and if it was too much to expect smiles as well, when they were producing such lovely sound, Edward Taylor is to be congratulated on the careful training that has clearly gone into the making of a fine choir of disciplined and enthusiastic young singers.
Franck’s Panis Angelicus and Faure’s Cantique de Jean Racine followed the interval. These were convincingly sung , although a little more reverentially hushed sound might have enhanced the Franck
- the church acoustics may make this difficult! Lili Boulanger, a fraught personality if ever there was one, was represented by her version of Psalm 24, which one would expect to be fraught - again the choir did a great job of representing the composer’s sentiments - and singing most competently in French!
The lighter side of the concert came with Cantate singing John Rutter’s All Things Bright and Beautiful and then excelling themselves with a quite beautiful rendering of Alan Mencken’s Go the Distance from Hercules. What a Wonderful World was more difficult and although the children clearly enjoyed Rhythm of Life(not an easy one to sing and they certainly managed the words well) the sound ebbed and flowed a bit at times.
Keswick’s choir returned for a medley of Gilbert and Sullivan which gave the ladies (Comes a train of little Ladies) and gentlemen (With cat-like tread) a chance to shine and finally we had Dance a Cachucha, delivered by the whole choir with great élan and infectious enthusiasm, clearly appreciated by the large audience.
This was a most enjoyable evening in all respects and it is to be hoped that the two choirs will get together again in the future, as I think all present would vote it a great success. This was the last time Cilla Grant played for the choir with which she has worked for many years, and the choir wished her all the best with a large bouquet of flowers.

Christmas 2016: All Out of Darkness We Have Light Which Made the Angels Sing this Night

Keswick Choral Society "Festival of Christmas Music", 2016 Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 23rd December, 2016

The lines from the Sussex Carol might be a fitting reflection on Keswick Choral Society’s Festival of Christmas Music which delighted an appreciative, happy audience filling Keswick Crosthwaite Church on 13 December to participate in the Society’s Annual event. The Choir keeps growing in size and confidence. This year there was also a positive move to encourage the audience’s involvement. Put at their ease by the invitation of the conductor Ian Hare to participate in the carol singing, encouraged to join in The Twelve Days of Christmas (Five Golden Rings), inveigled by Bass/Baritone Jim Johnson to ‘help him’ with Mary’s Boy Child there developed a sense of joyful togetherness and community.
The more formal centrepiece of the evening was the Choir’s performance of Haydn’s Missa Sancti Nicolai. The audience’s appreciation of the confident treatment of the Mass was helpfully assisted by the programme notes on the St Nicolas Story, the parallel translation of the Latin text and the skilful, professional soloists, Soprano Philippa Dodd, Alto Helen Hutchinson, Tenor Ian Wright and Jim Johnson. Following the interval, Philippa Dodd, new to KCS, gave a thrilling solo of Handel’s Rejoice Greatly from The Messiah. Her clarity of diction and comfortably confident interpretation were indeed rejoicing. (She deserves to succeed in her determination to join a professional opera company).
The well-known lines of several of the Carols perhaps took on an added significance and timbre in the context of contemporary world crises. It Came Upon the Midnight Clear was uncompromising in its message – Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, And hear the angels sing. The audience were at one in willing round The Age of Gold. The rich and varied programme was also full of joy. In Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day the life of Jesus is repeatedly characterised as a dance and some of that spirit also infused the evening. The Conductor’s new composition Sing with Joy characterised the mood of the occasion, surely confirming the Roman poet’s wisdom that ‘song will banish care.’
Even the traditional Carols carried with them overtones and dimensions of interesting interpretations not altogether irrelevant to the present. It adds surely rather than detracts from the adoration demanded by O Come All Ye Faithful that the carol has also been interpreted as concealing a birth ode to Bonnie Prince Charlie! Irving Berlin’s White Christmas (‘Heck, I just wrote the best song that anybody’s ever written!’) had confirmed that there could be commercially successful Christmas songs and it was a welcome decision to include in the programme a carol by the author of God Bless America!
Again, the programme notes gave the early history of The Twelve Days of Christmas. It might be added that the earliest known version of the lyrics are to be found in a 1780 children’s book – Mirth without Mischief. It was also a Twelfth Night ‘memories and forfeits’ game. If a player forgot the lines the penalty was to offer a sweet – or a kiss. KCS singers were sure that they were word perfect!
Hark the Herald, sung by Choir and Audience, brought the evening to a positive and joyful (again) conclusion. Written by Charles Wesley, he envisaged that the accompanying music would be slow and solemn. However in the spirit of the whole evening the singing brought out the inescapable essence of joy in the words – a fitting conclusion to a rich, communal concert. Throughout, the performance was supported and enriched by Mike Town on the organ and Cilla Grant who has been the highly valued accompanist for Keswick Choral Society for the past three years. The Conductor, Ian Hare, is to be thanked and congratulated on his continuing direction and development of the Keswick Choral Society, an invaluable asset to our community.

Spring 2016: ‘Melodious Birds Sing Madrigals’ (The Merry Wives of Windsor)

Keswick Choral Society Spring Concert
Review by Bob Fowler reproduced courtesy of The Keswick Reminder, 29th April, 2016

The week of KCS Spring Concert was one full of signs and wonders and anniversaries. The first cuckoo was heard in Newlands and the new lambs gambolled happily. There were notable anniversaries – the Queen’s Birthday and Shakespeare’s (or was it his demise?). Prince, singer and song writer, died unexpectedly before his time. The President of America slipped over to wish Her Majesty ‘Happy Birthday!’ Despite Feste’s ‘For the rain it raineth every day’ (Twelfth Night), the majority of Keswickians were beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel after the near biblical floods.
Miraculously perhaps the Spring Concert captured the essence of the spirit of the time. Beethoven’s Mass in C Major closes with the Agnus Dei and the final line, dona nobis pacem – give us peace – matched the spirit of the moment. The programme notes draw attention to the ‘elegant balance, lovely melodies’ of the Beethoven. The Choir were at one with the spirit of this Mass, consummately conducted by their Director, Ian Hare, and interspersed with soaring and sensitive solos from the visiting professionals, Charlotte Jackson, Hollie-Anne Bangham, Robert Thompson and Jonathan Millican.
Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer took us to new heights. The audience (congregation??) were stilled at the pathos and the prayer’s question, ‘Where shall I fly?... I have no guide.’ The soloist’s cries soared and made us quiver with emotion. We all took off with the supplicant’s solution- ‘O for the wings of a dove! Far away would I rove. In the wilderness build me a nest’. Meanwhile the choir gently lent sensitive support and meaning to the supplicant’s dilemma. An unforgettable experience.
Britten’s Jubilate commanded us to be joyful ‘with its lively and spirited organ accompaniment and its simple and direct vocal phrases it positively bubbles’ . And so it did. Adrian Self at the organ and the confident and enthusiastic choir really ‘got it’. Joy indeed.
There now followed a brilliantly appropriate change of emphasis, knees bowed to the bard with a revelatory performance of a selection of Will’s Songs and Sonnets. As the programme recounts, George Shearing was born in 1919 and was blind from birth. ‘He began picking out melodies on a piano at the age of three and was soon able to play by ear. Shakespeare’s Songs and Sonnets was commissioned by the Mostly Madrigal Singers, Illinois. ...The songs cannot fail to delight singers and listeners alike.’ And so it was in St John’s Church on 23 April. Perfectly accompanied by pianist, Cilla Grant, and double bass player Ian Coburn, the choir sang and the audience (certainly no longer ‘congregation’) were indeed delighted and excited by the near jazz performances of Live with me, and be my love; When daffodils begin to peer; It was a lover and his lass; Cuckoo! Cuckoo, cuckoo!; Who is Silvia?; Fie on sinful fantasy; and, When I was and a little tiny boy – closing with the lyrical tones and promise to the audience:
A great while ago the world begun,
With hey, ho, the wind and the rain
But that’s all one, our play is done
And we’ll try to please you every day.
Well, pleased we all were, everyone. But the play was not quite done. Following a quick rehearsal of the audience we were all led by Ian Hare and Hollie-Anne in a rousing and patriotic chorus of Rule Britannia. Yes, everyone had enjoyed it all. Ian Hare is to be congratulated and thanked, along with his choir and accompanists, for a rich, professional, innovative, daring programme. With the ‘never, never’ of Rule Brittania still echoing, one or two of the audience were overheard mischievously(?) confiding as they left the Church, ‘Well, that puts paid to Brexit!’(?)
Bob Fowler