Wed, 27 Mar 2019
REVIEW by JULIA ROWNTREE: Pangbourne Choral Society, at the Falkland Islands Memorial Chapel, Pangbourne College, on
Saturday, March 16
PANGBOURNE Choral Society is a shining example of the pride that England takes in amateur choral singing. It advertises for new members to join them ‘to share in the joy of singing... no audition is necessary’. As a consequence, the choir boasted nearly 100 singers at the concert on Saturday. Wonderful!
All were taking advantage of what we now know to be the enormous benefit which singing, particularly choral singing, has on both physical and mental health. Although still relatively light in the lower parts, it was encouraging to see a good number of tenors and basses. Pangbourne Choral Society undertook an ambitious adventure with the choice of works for their spring concert. Poulenc’s Gloria is a notoriously tricky piece to sing especially with such large forces. The harmonic and rhythmic content is almost Jekyll and Hyde – one moment simplicity itself and then turning into quirky and complicated passagework.
Claude Rostand said of Poulenc ‘there is in him something of the monk and the street urchin’ which is reflected in this composition.
Ably accompanied by Southern Sinfonia, they were joined by soprano Danae Eleni whose clean, poised and focused tonal quality was ideal for this work. Her considerable dynamic range was demonstrated and she added lustre to the performance. Southern Sinfonia then played Siegfried Idyll by Richard Wagner. This was a well-blended rendering with some lovely mellow string passages – the oboe solos were noteworthy.
Puccini wrote his Messa di Gloria 70 years earlier than Poulenc’s Gloria and the style and mood could not have been more of a contrast. Every movement was like a rich dessert course, each covered with a large dollop of double cream. This is really opera in very thin disguise, with long, flowing melodies and sequential rising harmonic phrases whipping the mood into the highest of emotional states time after time. The orchestra, particularly the brass section, gave the choir its full support. The choir was able to show off its skills in this work with good sustained build-ups in the extended phrases. All eyes were on the conductor and the audience could hear the sheer joy of singing. The tenor soloist Adam Tunnicliffe embraced the operatic style wholeheartedly with well-supported high tessitura. The bass soloist, Robert Garland, with his very lovely, warm and controlled voice beautifully demonstrated Isobel Baillie’s maxim ‘never sing louder than lovely’.
This was a really brave and challenging evening and the applause at the end was well deserved. English amateur choral singing is alive and well.