Remembrance Concert

St Wilfrid's Church, Haywards Heath 11th November 2023

Review of the Ardingly Choral Society Remembrance Concert
by Melvyn Walmsley

This was a poignant time for a Remembrance concert in Haywards Heath’s oldest church, which had stood for most of the 170 years between the compositions performed. Appropriately the proceeds benefited both the Royal British Legion and the Town Mayor’s chosen charity, Time4Children. St Wilfrid’s was full, and the audience showed, joining in heartily in Monk’s Abide with Me (1861) and, at the end, Parry’s Jerusalem, their fulsome appreciation of an imaginative programme of familiar and less familiar pieces.

Robert Hammersley’s Remembrance (1999) established a dignified but hopeful tone, the composer conducting the Choral Society in his Binyon-inspired tribute to the fallen, bookended by the Last Post and Reveille played by trumpeter Francesca Butler-King, and during which all stood respectfully. Now a regular feature of these concerts, this, thanks to fine singing by a choir who seemed to own it, had lost none of its touching immediacy. The choir was equally effective in Abide with Me, which sounded freshly-minted.

Another familiar feature of ACS Remembrance concerts followed: a touchingly sung contribution by a young and, this time, only ten-strong group of girls and boys from the Handcross Park Prep School Choirs, gently encouraged by their teacher, Evelina Ndlovu and the evening’s soprano soloist Olivia Bell, with sensitive accompaniment by organist David Moore, who, with Robert Hammersley, securely anchored the whole concert. First the children captured hearts with their confident, clear rendition of Lionel Bourne’s call for peace in Thou art God (2000) and then, joined seamlessly by the adult choir, in Franck’s blissful classic, Panis Angelicus.  

Next, the Choral Society proved equal to the challenge of Verdi’s sound portrait of a captive nation’s indomitable faith in a return to freedom in their homeland in the Song of the Hebrew Slaves (Nabucco, 1830). A key feature of any moving performance of this evergreen is the disciplined, empathetic building of crescendi, which sometimes professional choirs underachieve. Here the lock was turned smoothly and convincingly, paving the way for the choir’s warm but not over-egged interpretation of another old favourite, Parry’s I was Glad, recently heard at King Charles III’s coronation.

Less well-known but deserving more frequent performances, the most masterly performance was saved till last: Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass (1885). It can be hard to resist reducing this very sacred work by Gounod, a master of the opera house, to a self-indulgent opportunity for three soloists and choir to wallow in histrionics. Fortunately, in today’s operatic age both diva and divo are usually fine, sensitive actors as well as vocally outstanding. Like the assured, mellifluous contribution of Matthew Duncan (bass), soprano Olivia Bell and tenor Lawrence Olsworth-Peter’s inputs, resisting such temptations, were clearly receptive to the words of the mass. Just one example of their engaging, solemn ensemble work was their careful delivery of the Credo’s Et incarnatus est – the core of Christian faith. This they expressed, like the rest, with quiet conviction. The choir too, faithful to the text, with good diction and well-rehearsed harmonies, did justice to Gounod’s notable inclusion of prayers for church, army, and nation.

Musically and emotionally, this concert was an outstandingly fitting tribute to the fallen and those still falling in world-wide conflicts.

Review by: Melvyn Walmsley



Contact

To find out more about the choir and any performances:
contact Lorraine Doron, Secretary

07878 315901

info@ardinglychoralsociety.org.uk

President: Sylvia Lady Limerick CBE

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