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Striking sonorities

Twentieth-century British music,
sung by Derby Choral Union
and reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


This was a bold piece of programming on Derby Choral Union's part, an evening of twentieth-century British works with a first half well off the beaten track.

Vaughan Williams's motet Lord, thou hast been our refuge is a big work woven around the hymn 'O God our help in ages past'. It was given an effectively-shaped, though not always confident, performance, with some shaky tuning, and with some unsteady tone in the semi-chorus.

Jonathan Willcocks ought to know about effective choral writing, given his parentage, and so it turned out. Lux Perpetua is a plea for peace in the face of armed conflict, covering similar ground to Karl Jenkins's The armed man (which DCU performed last year) in less than half the time and without that work's mind-numbing banality. DCU's committed performance revealed its sterling qualities, but was unable to hide its major weakness -- the lack of fast music to give a element of contrast vital in a work like this. The choir produced some fine tone for the striking sonorities of the Laurence Housman setting 'Love looked down', though, again, there were some moments of uncertainty elsewhere.

Members of Derby Choral Union in rehearsal
Members of Derby Choral Union in rehearsal

Britten's St Nicolas got an enjoyable performance, with conductor Richard Lacey holding together the disparate forces and the music's expressive variety with assurance. It got off to a confident start, and the choir's blend and balance were at their best in 'His Piety and his Marvellous Works'. The Gallery Choir (from two local schools) sounded bright but a bit cautious in the storm scene. Huw Rhys-Evans's dramatic, well-characterised Nicolas was the work's authoritative sheet-anchor.

And call me an old softy if you like, but the resurrection of the Pickled Boys brought a real lump to my throat.

Copyright © 23 November 2005 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK


Mike Wheeler listened to Derby Choral Union's concert of twentieth-century British music in Derby Cathedral on 19 November 2005.

The choir's next concert will be Handel's Messiah on 17 December 2005 at 7.30pm in Derby Cathedral, featuring soloists Sarah Dacey, Chris Field, Ross Buddie and Richard Hillier.

Derby Choral Union ends its celebratory 140th season with a concert on Saturday 11 March 2005, welcoming its patron, Emma Kirkby: Mozart's Vesperae solemnes de confessore K339, John Rutter's Magnificat and Haydn's Salve Regina.

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