SHCC were delighted to welcome a large and enthusiastic audience to their annual summer concert at St Nicolas Church, Guildford on Saturday 22nd June. After the choir’s amazing run and ultimate crowning as Adult Choir of the Year in the national Choir of the Year competition in 2012, this was the choir’s first concert as the holders of the title. The many months invested in the competition shortened the time available to learn new repertoire, but with many good soloists and instrumentalists within the choir it provided the perfect opportunity to share their talents and provide a fresh SHCC concert format. The first half comprising two whole works, one with chamber orchestra, and the second half following the traditional SHCC mix of songs.
The concert opened with Purcell’s Come Ye Sons of Art. Written in 1694, it is the last of six birthday odes written in honour of Queen Mary II. This delightful Baroque work contains some of Purcell’s best-loved solos and duets and suited the choir perfectly. The decision to use soloists from within the choir gave the audience the opportunity to get to know some of the choir members individually as soloists Rachel Musgrove, Sally Hobbs, Andy Gill, Mike Winterbotham, Carol Foussat, Sally Varley and Graham Webb performed. Also within the chamber orchestra were SHCC members John Musgrove, Sarah Winterbotham, Melanie Lewin and David Musgrove.
This was followed by Hymn to St Cecilia by Benjamin Britten, chosen to celebrate the centenary of his birth. The hymn is made up of a collection of poems written specifically for Britten by W.H. Auden during the Second World War whilst Britten was in the United States living as a conscientious objector. The work is around 11 mins long and quite a challenge to sing, but particularly difficult to perform from memory. Determined to keep to the SHCC code of performance, the choir worked tirelessly on memorising the work, but this effort was worthwhile resulting in a dramatic and emotional performance. Sally Varley beautifully sang the main soprano solo in the third section.
The second half followed the traditional SHCC format of a mix of styles performed without music or a conductor that has made the choir so popular and successful. Opening with the beautiful 8-part Crucifixus by Lotti, the early music theme continued as the choir divided into two small groups to sing Salvator Mundi by Tallis and the Elizabethan madrigal All Creatures Now by Bennett.
The two contemporary songs were the favourites with both choir and audience. Both inspired by the theme of light, O Radiant Dawn by James MacMillan likens Christ to a rising dawn, dispelling darkness and bringing eternal life and light. The second song, Lux Arumque by Eric Whitacre, contrasted in mood and tempo with its sustained lines. Always inspired and led by the text, Whitacre writes to take his audience on a journey that will paint a picture and move them emotionally. The choir excelled in both these songs and performances can be viewed on YouTube.
The folk songs this year were both English. Strawberry Fair, arranged by Donald James, is a tricky little number to sing, yet masterfully delivered by the choir. The audience chuckled at the cheeky delivery and fruit innuendos, unaware of the difficulties of the harmonies . The beautiful floating lines of Bushes and Briars followed as a young girl, sung by Melanie Lewin, describes her longing for her true love. John Steynor sang the baritone narrator.
Finally, the concert concluded with two popular songs and a spiritual. Here comes the sun by the Beatles was very welcomed having suffered a very long winter this year, whilst the haunting tune of Billy Joel’s And So it Goes created a spellbinding atmosphere. SHCC love to sing spirituals and concluded the concert with the great arrangement by Richard Allain of “Didn’t my lord Deliver Daniel”. Soloist Carol Foussat provided a soulful start and later descant, whilst the basses thundered out the verses in the middle. A great end to a wonderful concert, both in terms of content and the standard of singing. It has been quoted that the musical director said the second half was “out of this world, with no steering or tweaking of tuning to be done” – I simply can’t imagine she would have said that!