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Samson brings the house down

Newbury Choral Society sing Handel’s mighty oratorio

Trish Lee

Trish Lee


01635 886663

Newbury choral society

Newbury Choral Society: Samson, at St John’s Church, on Saturday, December 1

Review by Fiona Bennett

IT’S December and all over the UK choral societies will be brushing up their Messiahs, but on the first Saturday of this Christmas month, Newbury Choral Society, under the baton of their musical director Cathal Garvey, gave us something a little different in the shape of another of Handel’s mighty oratorios, Samson. The original piece was more than three hours in length so the composer, realising it was too long, cut it down and Cathal told us he had also made a few tweaks here and there.

Five top notch soloists sang the roles of Samson (Paul Austin Kelly), Dalila (Anna Devin), Micah (Hannah Pedley), Manoah (Stephen Charlesworth) and Harapha (Paul Carey Jones) and although the programme text didn’t always match their sung words, these fine performers narrated the well-known tale of love, betrayal, death and destruction with passion and tenderness, wonderful singers all.

Cathal gave us one of his “So, this is how the story goes…” introductions and explained that the choir played both the ‘goodies’ (Israelites) and the ‘baddies’ (Philistines) and that, although Dalila had betrayed her husband by cutting off his hair and allowing the Philistines to gouge out his eyes and tie him up in chains, she had come to see him, hoping for a reconciliation and couldn’t understand why he wasn’t “in the mood to compromise”.

Cathal brings NCS concerts to life and his eagerness and enthusiasm even extends to his singing along with the orchestra and stamping his feet at key moments, which all adds to the quirkiness of their concerts. The London Ulysses Orchestra
supported the choir well and the choir’s own accompanist, Steve Bowey, played the organ. Special mention should go to the oboists (Clare Hoskins and Richard O’Neal) and the two dazzling trumpet players (Catherine Knight and Louis Barclay), although it might have been better if they’d shared their secret jokes after the concert – it was rather distracting for those of us who could see them tucked away behind the huge pillar.

NCS will perform Haydn’s The Seasons at St Nic’s on Saturday, March 23, and given the difference in numbers between the sopranos/altos (63) and tenors/basses (29), I wondered whether rearranging the seating mightn’t help balance the sound a little more evenly. I would also love to hear every single consonant enunciated to perfection in order to combat the difficult acoustic of the church.

But well done Newbury Choral Society, another feather in your cap.

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