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Heavenly chorus

Reading Bach: Songs of Farewell, at Douai Abbey, Upper Woolhampton, review by Fiona Bennett

Trish Lee

Trish Lee

trish.lee@newburynews.co.uk

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01635 886663

fiona bennett

Reading Bach

WHAT a day. I played cornet with Test Valley Brass in the morning, dashed home to watch England beat Sweden and the perfect end to this busy day was a drive to Douai Abbey to hear the Reading Bach Choir. The concert marked the end of their new musical director’s first year and from what I have seen and heard, David Young is doing great things with this talented choir.

The concert was entirely unaccompanied and, as with so many non-professional choirs, the pitch occasionally sagged, but David (sensibly) helped them re-pitch at certain vital points, allowing the basses to reach the notes at the very bottom of their register. It is the 100th anniversary of the death of Prince Charles’ favourite composer, Hubert Parry, so it was fitting that the other composers featured all linked to him in one way or another.

The choir’s German pronunciation sounded convincing in the opening two pieces by Mendelssohn and JS Bach and Douai’s wonderful acoustic helped create the most heavenly sound. David’s deft and precise conducting technique proved that all the hard work had been done in rehearsal and all eyes were on him throughout. He is a true musician and his warmth and passion for the music shone through when he turned to the audience to explain the concept behind the programme and introduce the following pieces by Brahms, Stanford and Holst. Parry loved Brahms’ music and tried, unsuccessfully, to arrange tuition with the great composer, but it wasn’t to be. The opening Warum of Warum ist das Licht gegeben, with its forte to pianissimo dynamic, set the mood for a beautiful piece of Brahms’ choral writing and the choir clearly enjoyed the dance-like feel of the later sections.

Some tricky, but well-handled, changes of tonality followed, in Stanford’s less well-known Magnificat Op164 and the double choir relished the familiar Latin text as they wove their way through. The first half closed with Holst’s Nunc Dimittis and we enjoyed a sunny interval outside the magnificent abbey.

Parry’s Songs of Farewell, written in his final years and tempered with the tragedy of having lost young pupils (such as George Butterworth) to the Great War, features an eclectic blend of poetry and was a fine and fitting end to the evening.
After the blessing, the Abbey was returned to its natural state of prayer and meditation with Parry’s exquisite Crossing the Bar (from memory). Thank you Reading Bach Choir and thank you David, it was a truly lovely evening.

FIONA BENNETT

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