Concert Reviews

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.

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.

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.

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.

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

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