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‘Since singing is so good a thing, I wish all men would learn to sing.’  William Byrd

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Lutterworth and District Choral Society Registered Charity number 1048089


Nevermore

15 November 2014


At a time when commemorations, performances and ceremonies marking this centenary are taking place across the nation and beyond, it must have been something of a challenge to devise a programme with a degree of originality, moving beyond the established standards - beloved as they are - that can appear so often.  On this evening that challenge was met very successfully.


The Lutterworth & District Choral Society performed a range of pieces which movingly and appropriately marked the depth and significance of the occasion. They were joined by baritone Andrew Ashwin, who, as well as performing as a soloist, sang with the ensemble choir throughout.  It was Andrew who began the evening with three songs from George Butterworth's A Shropshire Lad. After some introductory background, referring in part to Butterworth's own untimely death on the Somme in 1916, the songs - superbly sung - conveyed a poignant sense of loss in their evocation of a time before the conflict. In particular the third song, Is My Team Ploughing - the words of a dead man asking a friend about his home - was hauntingly beautiful.


Throughout the evening, the works performed were interspersed with readings  referring to aspects of life during The Great War. The home front, recruitment, the role of women and attitudes to German-born citizens were all mentioned at this point.


Karl Jenkins's choral suite from The Armed Man, which followed, is a modern piece with a powerful anti-war message. Four pieces from the Latin Mass were divided by a setting of Rudyard Kipling's Hymn Before Action - a patriotic call to arms written many years before the death of Kipling's own son at the battle of Loos in 1916. The piece is characterised by shifts in tone from gentleness to strength, with harmonies that have the power to surprise on occasion but can be sublimely beautiful. The choir achieved these dynamic and tonal shifts effectively, creating a highly charged and emotionally moving atmosphere throughout. The variations in mood both between and within the pieces are an essential element of its power. The Benedictus  in particular showed this contrast, while the concluding Agnus Dei offered a calm resolution in the face of the dramatic earlier sections. This was a worthy performance of a striking and appropriate piece.hr


The readings that came after the interval showed the contrast between the optimism of those volunteering for the front and the mass slaughter which met them. Then Andrew Ashwin introduced the Peace Aria from Benjamin Britten's overtly pacifist opera Owen Wingrave. He gave the background of the extract and set the scene of the aria - sung by 'a man haunted by violence, but daring to look beyond it.' Andrew also warned the audience not to be deterred by Britten's sometimes rather unconventional chords and harmonies!

What followed was a superb performance of a powerful and at times harrowing piece. The aria was by turns dramatic, expressive and lyrical, with a conclusion which left the audience - this member at least - stunned. The role is one with which Andrew is obviously very familiar, and he delivered it with utter conviction, supported by a wonderfully dynamic piano accompaniment.


The reading of In Flanders Fields which followed provided a moment's reflection and recovery after such a performance, in preparation for the  final item - the Fauré Requiem.

Well known as a requiem which eschews drama in favour of a calm, serene acceptance of death, this was the ideal conclusion to the evening, accompanied as it was by a series of telling images of Great War photographs and posters. It was sung beautifully throughout, the voices of the choir delivering both the gentler and the more intense  passages with assurance. In particular the smooth, swelling harmonies of the Sanctus, the powerful falling cadences of the Lux aeterna leading to the intense restatement of the opening Requiem aeternam and the calm resolution of the final In Paradisum were special moments.

In addition, the two solo parts were equally beautifully sung. Andrew Ashwin crowned his evening with a fine baritone performance in the Offertorium and the LIbera me, both of which were wonderfully heartfelt.

The Pie Jesu, often sung by boy sopranos, works best when sung 'simply' by a female soprano - without excessive vibrato. Karen Wilson-de Roze performed it with a sublime, soaring but almost fragile purity of tone which perfectly suited the piece, providing an interlude of total, perfect serenity - one of the memorable high points of the performance.


Overall a very effective and well-balanced programme of music and words, which suited the occasion perfectly, was performed with confidence and assurance by the choir and soloists - accompanied expertly by Ivan Linford at the organ. Andrew Ashwin in particular added a further dimension with his striking solo pieces. Alan Barraclough's direction and hosting of the evening were as assured as ever. This was a memorable evening, and one to be reflected on for some time.


Howard J McDermott