Sunday 6th December 2015 at Nicholas church, Guildford
Over the last few years, the Surrey Hills Christmas concerts have become a firm, annual favourite with both singers and audience alike. This year was no exception. The candlelit Sunday concert began in spectacular fashion. The two choirs involved, the Surrey Hills Chamber Choir, and the Surrey Hills Singers, candles in hand, surrounded the audience and sang Pepper Choplin’s exhilarating modern spiritual, Let all the People say Amen. After this rousing start, it was time for the Surrey Hills Singers to take centre stage. They showed their versatility, technical skill and exquisitely blended tone in singing four varied pieces: an arrangement of the traditional spiritual, Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, a beautiful, quirky modern piece, Songbird, and two pieces that showcased their choreography, as well as their singing skills, The Rose, and Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree.
After this, it was time for the Surrey Hills Chamber Choir to sing four non-seasonal pieces. The Dies Irae from Czech composer Zdenek Lukas’ 1992 Requiem took the audience’s breath away with its extraordinary speed and energy, while Hilary Campbell’s modern arrangement of Blow the Wind Southerly and Will Todd’s lyrical Encircled were both captivatingly beautiful. Another modern spiritual, Stacy Gibbs’ Way Over in Beaulah Lan’ brought the non-seasonal part of the concert to an end in rousing fashion.
The Christmas songs and carols were equally well received by an enthusiastic audience. Modern pieces, such as the Chamber Choir Men’s Sing Noel, both choirs’ Goin’ to Bethlehem and the Singers’ A Festive Noel and Angel’s Carol captured wonderfully the spirit of Christmas, being rooted as they are in a traditional style. Both choirs took the opportunity of performing one of the 20th century’s most atmospheric and memorable compositions: the Singers with Elizabeth Poston’s serene arrangement of Jesus Christ the Apple Tree, and the Chamber Choir with Morten Lauridsen’s O Magnum Mysterium.
It is worth mentioning at this point, that a number of members of both choirs had been suffering from sore throats and laryngitis during the week before the concert, and many were still not well. Despite this, and despite the absence of some key members, they all soldiered on magnificently, producing a moving concert of the highest quality for a delighted audience.
Carol Foussat from the Chamber Choir, despite herself being a victim of the laryngitis bug, performed Rejoice Greatly from Handel’s Messiah with her accustomed beauty of tone and technical mastery, accompanied at the keyboard by Robert Gillman, who also did his usual magnificent job in accompanying audience carols and some of the choral numbers.
Some more seasonal pieces from the Chamber Choir, such as Carol of the Bells, The Three Kings by Healey Willan, Gaudete and another lovely Will Todd composition, My Lord has Come rounded off the evening, with the final piece on the programme being a fine arrangement of the calypso carol, The Virgin Mary had a Baby Boy.
Before both choirs joined together to sing O Little One Sweet as a most welcome encore, there were some thanks and presentations to accompanist, concert manager, and those who had gamely stepped into the breach at short notice to replace some of those who were ill.
There were, of course, flowers and thanks for Debbie Walton, without whose energy, love of music and ability to bring the best and highest standards out of amateur singers, none of this would be possible.
Special mention should be made of the presentation to two founder members of the Chamber Choir, John and Hilary Steynor, who were singing their last concert with us. Their contributions to the choir musically, in administrative roles and in hospitality, opening their home to us for parties and rehearsals, are too many to mention in detail, but they will be sadly missed and we all wish them every blessing in the many ventures they will continue to enjoy.
So despite the ravages of laryngitis, the two choirs produced a memorable concert of the usual superb standard, and the Surrey Hills Singing School choirs and audiences can look forward to many more in 2016.