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Classy Performance

Summer with The Derwent Singers,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER


Choirs often celebrate the long summer evenings by putting away the more serious stuff for a while and getting out the madrigals, close-harmony arrangements and other party pieces. So a first half exclusively devoted to Palestrina was perhaps not the most obvious choice for the Derwent Singers' 'Music for Midsummer' concert (St Alkmund's Church, Duffield, Derbyshire, UK, 23 June 2007).

But it worked, both on its own terms and in the context of the evening as a whole. The framework was provided by the Missa Brevis, sung with care for expressive lines, clear textures and, in the Gloria, a vibrant sharpness of attack. Only in the second Agnus Dei, with its five-part writing, was there a hint of insecurity. Two motets filled out this first half -- an invigoratingly bouncy account of Exultate Deo to begin with, and in between the Gloria and Sanctus (the Credo was omitted on this occasion) a gentle, unhurried performance of Sicut Cervus.

For the second part of the evening we moved outside to the church's cloister. Walled on all four sides it has an unexpectedly sympathetic acoustic for voices, though it treats instruments less kindly, while the church clock and the nearby railway line occasionally compete for attention.

Among other items, an arrangement of the spiritual Ain'a that good news made an exuberant opener, and the choir had fun with John Whitworth's arrangement of The Mermaid, though a slightly steadier pace would have helped project the words, and hence the story, more distinctly. The centrepiece was a warm, confident reading of Debussy's Trois Chansons de Charles D'Orléans.

Members of the choir were given the chance to display other talents -- Elizabeth Jack (violin) and Rosemary McChesney (piano) in a sympathetic account of Elgar's Salut d'Amour; Rosemary McChesney, again, delicate and sensitive in 'The Lover and the Nightingale' from Granados' Goyescas; soprano Gillian von Fragstein hitting just the right balance between seriousness and parody in Josephine's big Act 2 number from HMS Pinafore (a foretaste of Derby Bach Choir's performance of the whole show in a couple of weeks' time).

The standout number for me, though, was Andrew Carter's choral treatment of George Shearing's Lullaby of Birdland -- classy song, classy arrangement, classy performance.

Copyright © 3 July 2007 Mike Wheeler, Derby UK





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