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Imaginative and ambitious

REX HARLEY discovers the Crickhowell Festival


Crickhowell is famous for its thirteen-arch bridge and for the beautiful hills that encircle it. It's also, less famously, home to a May music festival, featuring The Crickhowell Choral Society under its conductor Stephen Marshall. The society has been making music for twenty one years now. An early leading light, the local doctor, apparently finished all initial consultations with the question: 'Which part do you sing?' And so the choir came together, grew and now fills to bursting its practice room in The Bear Hotel. There's even a waiting list. Its ambitions have grown too: hence the festival, now in its eleventh year.

This year there were two major choral performances, plus a series of related chamber concerts, made possible by the high quality of instrumentalists offering their services. The vocal soloists are top-notch too, and someone has an ear for future talent. A few years back, they needed a sub for the indisposed bass soloist in Samson. Enter a young Welshman named Bryn who, the following year, went on to win Cardiff Singer of the World!

This year's soloists included the peerless Catherine King and Charles Daniels, whose skills were on display in Saturday night's offering: a witty, imaginative and ambitious selection of material headed Special Greetings. The greetings concerned were firstly to God -- de Lalande's Jubilate Deo; then from Gabriel to Mary -- Schütz's Hail Mary, Favoured Virgin; from Mary to Elizabeth -- Bach's Magnificat; and, finally, from the citizens of York to the newly installed William and Mary -- Purcell's wonderfully dotty The Yorkshire Feast Song.

The opening Jubilate made for a rousing start, though there were some uncertainties of pitch in the orchestra which made for a certain jitteriness at times. The highlight was undoubtedly the glorious haute contre singing of tenor Charles Daniels, who also impressed in the subsequent Hail Mary ..., a piece scored solely for tenor, alto and continuo -- here the harpsichord of Terence Charlston. With these minimal forces, imposed on Schütz by the exigencies of the times, the composer conjures a mystical dialogue of great emotional power. Catherine King's Mary was sung with a purity of tone, perfection of phrasing, and emotional restraint which could not fail to move. The decision to use an English language version, about which I would normally have strong reservations, actually contributed to the immediacy of the piece

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Copyright © 8 May 2005 Rex Harley, Cardiff UK


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