An Eloquent Performance
Music from the Richard Roddis Singers
and the Helix Ensemble,
reviewed by MIKE WHEELER
The Richard Roddis Singers are a hand-picked group that meets for a week once a year in Derbyshire, giving concerts in towns such as Bakewell, Buxton and Wirksworth. This year they included Derby Cathedral in their itinerary for the first time (Derby, UK, 18 April 2009); I hope the meagre audience won't deter them from coming again. Another first for the group was its collaboration with the Helix Ensemble, a flexible team of instrumentalists from the region, whose flair and commitment made a strong contribution to the evening's success.
The concert began with Anthony le Fleming's Everyone Sang, setting Siegfried Sassoon's well-known poem. A well-crafted piece with some Finzi-ish moments, it received an eloquent performance that skilfully handled the written-out fade ending.
The spirit of Finzi was not far away, either, in Richard Rodney Bennett's A farewell to arms for chorus and solo cello. This sets the same pair of sixteenth-century texts, by Richard Knevet and George Peele, as Finzi's almost identically-titled work for baritone and orchestra. Cellist John Bean and the choir together projected the smiling melancholy at the work's heart. The contrasts in Britten's Hymn to St Cecilia were deftly handled, with the central scherzo section nimble and buoyant.
The first half ended with 'Jane Scroop (Her lament for Philip Sparrow)', the fourth of Vaughan Williams' Five Tudor Portraits. Though Skelton's text did not always come across with ideal clarity, this was a touching performance, with mezzo soloist Ros Williams charting Jane's changes of mood to moving effect.
Finzi emerged in his own right in a thoughtful, penetrating account of his Eclogue, for piano and strings, from Clive Pollard and the Helix Ensemble that was not just another amiable meander through pastoral clichés.
Britten's Cantata Misericordium, written for the centenary of the Red Cross in 1963, is something of an also-ran among his choral music, but this committed and highly-charged performance showed just what a strong, powerful work it is, tautly structured and economically written. Stephen Brown and Greg Skidmore were the eloquent soloists.
Copyright © 25 April 2009
RICHARD RODNEY BENNETT
RALPH VAUGHAN WILLIAMS