Reviews: We have collected some press articles about the choir here for information:
Simon Lindley’s interpretation of the Messiah tonight was extremely pacey and exhilarating. Many of the faster choruses were taken at speeds one might associate with much smaller choirs, perhaps in smaller spaces – with mixed results. Some were impressive and punchy (‘And The Glory of the Lord’; ‘He Trusted in God’), while others were scrappy in the virtuosic passages (‘And He Shall Purify’; ‘All We Like Sheep’), or seemed to settle on slower speeds midway through (‘For Unto Us a Child is Born’; ‘His Yoke is Easy’). This wasn’t a problem in the second half (the interval was placed halfway through Part 2) where the music is more condusive to being so brisk. I did fear for ‘Let Us Break Their Bonds’ but in fact Lindley chose a poised, steady tempo for that one and we heard every note with authority. The Hallelujah Chorus was joyous, as was the closing sequence.
I should say that the choir’s deep intimacy with this work was evident at all times, not just knowing the notes inside-out, but inflecting them with the appropriate drama and portent. Their choral sound was most impressive in the most brooding music, such as ‘Behold the Lamb of God’ and ‘And With His Stripes’. One payoff to rattling through the work at speed was the very strong narrative drive, and the packed audience of the cathedral were indeed completely transported at times tonight.
The choir were joined by a strong set of soloists, who were equally committed to the drama of the occasion. Bass Alex Ashworth was strong and imposing but relaxed, and his ‘The Trumpet Shall Sound’ was a memorable highlight. Tenor Tim Kennedy sounded a touch underpowered in my slightly far-flung spot in the cathedral, but was nonetheless engaging and colourful, with another highlight in “Thou Shalt Break Them”. Alto Margaret McDonald was austere and forboding, and then occasionally forgiving, which was most touching in ‘He was Despised’. To my ears Soprano Debra Morley was in a different league again – sweet and clear, with such unforced and compelling expression, alternately perky and soaring, and with an easy rapport with the National Festival Orchestra and Lindley. Both “I Know that My Redeemer Liveth” and “If God Be For Us” were completely sensational.
While Samson is probably not a piece that one would fully stage,
tonight an engaging set of soloists helped to maintain the theatrical
sense of the work. Christopher Trenholme is well cast as Samson, with
a sweetness to his voice that prevails whether dealing with God, his
wife or future brawling partners. The bass Quentin Brown impressed
with two strikingly different voice colours, playing both the
concerned father figure Manoah, and the barbaric (but vocally nimble)
giant Harapha. Soprano Helen Strange, of whom I could have taken a lot
more, set the scene beautifully as a generic Philistine woman, and
Kristina james was a steely Dalila.
It is a piece which flatters the soloists more than the ensemble, with
the chorus often found depicting crowds and missing out on the most
nuanced music, nevertheless the Sheffield Bach Choir found some
profundity when accompanying Kathryn Woodruff’s tender, stoical Micah
in ‘Return, O God of Hosts’. The choir sustained a bright and well
balanced sound throughout this substantial work, moving the drama
along apace. The two finest fugal numbers (‘O First Created Beam’ and
‘Then Shall They Know’) were tremendous.
Under the baton of Simon Lindley, the National Festival Orchestra
might have taken a little more care accompanying some of the
recitatives, and indeed Quentin Brown’s agile singing at the very
bottom of the bass range. The orchestral sound was also a bit
monochrome for a piece of this length and dramatic sweep, although the
sequence of numbers which close the work were lifted by crystalline
organ playing from Alan Horsey in the Dead March (imported from Saul),
and by exemplary trumpet playing from Jamie O’Brien in ‘Let the Bright
Seraphim’. It did all add up to a successful performance both
musically and in terms of telling the tale, and if the soloists were
heroic then the choir were worthy accomplices
If you did not know Handel’s setting of the Brockes-Passion you may have enjoyed this performance of Denys Darlow’s abridged English version of it by the Sheffield Bach Choir. The Handel scholar’s intentions were no doubt sincere, but he didn’t just abridge a fraction over three hours of music, paring it down to under an hour, he decimated it!
Selecting the ‘best bits’, while retaining the Passion narrative, is highly subjective and there are many splendid arias, and a trio, that Darlow appears to have felt not worthy of cherry-picking. Also, puzzlingly, the opening Sinfonia – restored at this performance.
Clipping some of the Daughter of Zion’s 17 arias is understandable, though 12 is pretty drastic, but Judas (a countertenor) is left as a cipher, Pilate (bass) a little less so. Peter’s part is heavily curtailed, as are the dozen SATB arias of the four ‘Believers’, all of which balance the work’s structural and musical texture.
The two soloists left with the most music were excellent – in the case of John Dunford, little short of a revelation as the Evangelist and in the three tenor ‘Believer’ numbers – the only ones to escape excision!
Sarah Potter sang what survived of the Daughter of Zion’s contributions with touching simplicity, although the young soprano’s voice was perhaps not heard at its best in the unflattering acoustic.
A few of the other soloists, when heard, were a little iffy, but the Bach Choir sang with plenty of gusto and commitment – the chorale ‘I stand before the lonely Cross’ was particularly stirring – driven on by its entirely committed conductor Simon Lindley.
Earlier, three well-known choruses (two extremely familiar) by Bach were rendered with evenly balanced line; Alan Horsey made out a strong case for Handel’s organ concertos with a felicitous account of Op 4 No 5; and a seven-member National Festival Orchestra ensemble was impeccable throughout.
Little wonder Simon Lindley says the Sheffield Bach Choir’s singing of the choruses in Handel’s oratorio impresses him. For the third year running the final Amen prompted an instantaneous standing ovation.
Entirely merited: sopranos soaring, it was absolutely superb choral singing. Mind you, it had hardly been un-noteworthy before. The choir live the choruses; they are in each member’s blood.
You can see in faces, the full-blooded commitment and hear it in the unfailingly accurate, rhythmic execution with due regard for shading and dynamics.
Simon Lindley himself must take some credit for much of the latter. His inspiring direction since becoming the choir’s conductor has reawakened what had been lying dormant since the glory days of Roger Bullivant with startling success.
There wasn’t a better example here of the man clearly wallowing in Handel’s music without a score in front of him and his choir magnificently responding than at Let all the angels of God worship him.
There was another incorrigible, unashamedly operatic rendition of the tenor soloist’s music from Ben Thapa. He did, however, go very close to completely OTT with Comfort Ye on this occasion.
Countertenor David Allsopp’s more conventional, but still deeply felt singing of the alto’s music was marvellous with impeccable intonation and scrupulously clean vocal ornamentation.
Keeping it simple, so to speak, was the gentle soprano singing of Philippa Hyde. It’s not a big voice but is beautifully focussed and well projected; ditto, Matthew Palmer’s essentially baritone voice, certainly at this stage in his young career. He shirked nothing and convincingly sang everything with huge confidence.
Sally Robinson, leader of the excellent National Festival Orchestra, handled all her violin obbligato work admirably, and wherever the shade of George Swindells – to whom the performance was dedicated – might be, it would doubtless have been smiling with satisfaction.
Sheffield Bach Choir performed a concert of English music this evening, with works by Holst, Warlock and Britten, as part of the University of Sheffield’s ‘A Boy Was Born’ festival.
The concert began with Holst’s Two Psalms (1912), with the choir on top form, producing an almost heavenly atmosphere in the wonderful setting of St Mark’s. They were accompanied by the National Festival Orchestra, which captivated an attentive audience with its rich string sounds.
To commemorate the centenary of Britten’s birth, the Serenade for Tenor, Horn and Strings followed. Tenor Stephen Liley demonstrated a thorough understanding of Britten’s score, delivering it with clear enjoyment. The performance of solo horn player, Jenny Cox, was particularly noteworthy – she produced a colourful and sensitive account.
Next was Peter Warlock’s neoclassical Capriol Suite: a twentieth-century take on sixteenth-century dances. Tonight’s conductor, Simon Lindley, delivered an exciting interpretation, choosing lively tempi. The orchestra responded vivaciously and enthusiastically.
After the interval was the final work, Britten’s St Nicolas cantata. Stephen Liley once again assumed the lead role with tremendous authority and panache.
Karim Dandas (Leeds Minster) took on the part of the young Nicolas, and Sam Meredith, Lewis Jones and William Renouccie (Wakefield Cathedral) joined him as the three pickled boys. All the young soloists showed what bright futures they have with some fine singing, as did the choristers of St John’s Church, Ranmoor.
Jonathan Gooing and Nigel Gyte displayed a virtuoso mastery of the fiendish four-hand piano part, and organist David Houlder accompanied magnificently. The audience clearly enjoyed themselves in their participation of the hymn singing.
For this concert in the spacious Victoria Hall, Sheffield Bach Choir joined forces with Leeds-based St Peter’s Singers – embracing a very Classical-Sheffield ethos of combining resources!
Spurred on by Simon Lindley’s conducting (which used and inspired enough energy to keep national prices down for a while longer yet), the musicians produced a performance of great commitment which seemed to increase in freshness as the concert went on, despite a demanding programme.
I initially wondered whether the minimal acoustic (the venue is carpeted and padded) might not afford this music the space and warmth it requires. But, in fact, it made for an exceptionally clean, focussed sound that really helped to bring the lines out and to communicate detail, especially with more than 70 musicians involved.
The only time that I wanted more echo was at the end of movements when triumphant Amens or grand cadences stopped dead in their tracks rather than spun out into the space. But on the other hand, softer moments were made all the more intimate. There was striking nuance in the Agnus Dei of the Charpentier, and a beautifully understated finish.
Just occasionally, the tenors and basses faced an unfair fight to be heard in the texture, and tone wasn’t always completely full at those moments. Happily, though, this was limited to the Charpentier only; the very first entry in the motoring Handel was far more successful, and they didn’t look back from there.
Far from being precious, the soloists entered into the chorus work with great vigour and I admired all the contributions throughout the evening, choral and solo, and the elegant and graceful playing supplied by the National Festival Orchestra.
Cleverly, Vivaldi’s evergreen Gloria came at the end; who couldn’t lift their spirits one last time for that? It was every bit as fine and fresh as the opening bars of Charpentier had been. The final movement concluded gloriously!
St Mark’s Church is a wonderful, resonant venue perfectly suited to the eclectic programme of 16th, 18th and 20th century sacred music. As one would expect from the Sheffield Bach Society, the performance of Bach’s Cantata 11 was fantastic. The opening was powerfully dramatic; the choir responding to Simon Lindley’s energetic, enthusiastic conducting. The performance of Kodály’s Missa Brevis was even stronger. The choir exhibited a wonderful range of colour and expression, and there were moments of real beauty. Especially effective was the trio, performed by Peter Condry, Matthew Palmer and Charlotte Kitson. The Missa Brevis is a technically demanding piece, and there were a few inaccuracies, but these did not detract from the overall effect. The second half programming was slightly weaker. Vidi speciosam was performed with appropriate lightness and clarity, but lacked the impact of the Bach or Kodály. It is always good to see the programming of music by living composers, and Donald Hunt’s Hymnus Paschalis contained some lovely moments. A section where the singers were required to simultaneously ring bells was intriguing, but resulted in some balance issues where the text could no longer be heard.
The soloists were excellent. Of particular note was Matthew Palmer, whose voice possesses a richness and depth unusual for someone so young. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Bach’s magnificent St John Passion was the sole item in a concert given by the Sheffield Bach Choir last Saturday, accompanied by the National Festival Orchestra with Simon Lindley conducting. From the outset, the audience was captivated by the sheer intensity of the haunting opening chorus, with the choir and orchestra capturing the pain and suffering of the biblical text. Lindley’s interpretation was clearly well thought out, and his enthusiasm and enjoyment mirrored by the musicians he directed.The orchestra, in spite of its use of modern instruments, managed to create a stylistic rendition of the work with its sensitive involvement. The high quality of the woodwind section was notable in its understanding and execution of this highly demanding music. The vocal soloists, too, contributed competently. Stephen Liley played the Evangelist with a pure and assured performance and David Allsop’s counter tenor voice was highly effective in its colourful contrasts. Perhaps the most enjoyable part of the concert was the audience participation aspect, with the congregation being invited to join in with the chorales, as indeed they would have done in Bach’s day. I, along with the majority of the audience members, jumped at this opportunity gladly. Gary O’Shea
'Instrumental Success in Sheffield‘, Sheffield Telegraph August 2012.
‘Stylistic Integrity‘, Sheffield Telegraph, December 8th 2011
‘The man who purified Handel’s masterpiece‘ (Sheffield Telegraph 3rd March 2011)
‘Diamond jubilee choir celebration‘ (Sheffield Telegraph 11th February 2010)
‘Showstopping debut‘ (Sheffield Telegraph 2nd November 2009)
‘Bach cantatas for season opening‘ (Sheffield Telegraph 14th October 2009)
‘Choir mark their anniversary with a Mendelssohn rarity‘ (Sheffield Telegraph 1st September 2009)
‘The Discrete Charm of Sheffield Bach Society’ (Now Then magazine, Issue 55)
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