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Winter Concert - Sunday, 19th November 2023

Review by Areti Lymperopoulou
The Cloud-Capp'd Towers

All Creatures Now, J. Bennet (c.1575–1615)
Adieu, sweet Amaryllis, John Wilbye (1574–1638)
April is in my mistress’ face, Thomas Morley (c.1557–1602)

Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958)
Silent Noon
The Vagabond
The Infinite Shining Heavens
The Roadside Fire

Full Fathom Five (The Tempest)
The Cloud-Capp’d Towers (The Tempest)
Over Hill, Over Dale (Midsummer Night’s Dream)


Rosenethe Singers and their director, Kevin Duggan, returned to the Church of the Holy Rude for an evening of mostly a capella music. The programme consisted mainly of music by Ralph Vaughan Williams, apart from a short collection of English Madrigals at the beginning of the concert.

Three Madrigals
The audience were transported to the Tudor period at the opening of the evening with three delightful pieces by master composers of the style – John Bennet, John Wilbye and Thomas Morley. The choir sang the set with a healthy sound and clear diction and the mood changes were very successful, from the upbeat and playful All Creatures Now by Bennet, to the pensive harmonies of Adieu, Sweet Amaryllis and the bitter-sweet April is in my mistress’ face. There was good energy coming from the choir throughout and the pace was mostly well maintained.

Four Solo Songs
The move to the 20th century and Vaughan Williams was heralded by four pieces sung by members of the Rosenethe Singers with expert piano accompaniment by Kevin Duggan. The soprano Sophie Halpin, with her clear and expressive voice started with the reflective A Silent Noon from The House of Life and gave an evocative and earnest interpretation of Rossetti’s poem. The baritone Ryan Webber offered two items, The Vagabond and The Roadside Fire. He sang both songs beautifully, with a very even tone, natural strength and effortless expression and was very compelling to watch and listen to. Another soprano, Ros Sutherland, sang Vaughan Williams’ setting of The Infinite Shining Heavens by Robert Louis Stevenson, with a warm, velvety tone.

Three Shakespeare Songs
This exquisite set encapsulates Vaughan Williams’ musical language and genius. One can catch glimpses of A Sea Symphony, his incidental and chamber music and he managed to summarise his sound world most efficiently in these three short gems. The set poses several technical challenges for any choral ensemble. The choir took on the challenge with enthusiasm and offered the audience some lovely moments in their performance. Full Fathom Five from The Tempest features gossamer harmonies which have the sopranos split into four parts and cross rhythms between the altos, the tenors and the basses. The latter section was by far the most secure in this performance. The piece flowed successfully, despite the altos losing pitch fairly early in the opening bars. The choir held the ensemble sound well, with the exception of a few vague moments in terms of intonation and rhythmic accuracy. The Cloud Capp’d Towers was the most captivating of the three, with clear harmonies and good flow. If anything, there was scope for taking slightly more time over some of the more impactful modulations in terms of changes of mood. The finale, Over Hill, Over Dale, was energetic and full of mischief. The balance was unavoidably affected by the small number of tenors in the choir but, to their credit, they held their part quite successfully, despite the occasional lapse in restraint by some sopranos. The end of the set saw the choir skilfully fading into nothing and the audience held their breath for a few seconds before giving the choir and conductor a very well-deserved applause.


Mass in G Minor
After a short interval came the centrepiece of the evening, the Mass in G minor for soloists and double choir. This was another ambitious project for the Rosenethe Singers who, with Kevin Duggan’s inspirational leadership, presented a very sound result indeed, including all the solo lines in the course of the piece which, again, were sung by singers from the choir. The Kyrie, with its plainchant-like opening, set the atmosphere for the second half of the concert and the tone of the choir remained uniform and homogenous as the counterpoint emerged, reminiscent of the height of Renaissance, with open fourths and fifths often interjecting the modal chord progressions.


In contrast, the Gloria opened with dense chords and the texture breaking into a dialogue between the two choirs. The tone of the choir remained clear for most of the movement with a few insecurities from which the singers recovered very well and ended in a rich and sonorous G major final chord.


The Credo continued in Vaughan Williams’ style of fusing Renaissance structures of antiphonal singing resembling the writing of Gabrielli and a harmonic language consistent with his English pastoral style. There was some very good singing in this movement, both by soloists and the ensemble, who managed to get through some very challenging passages.


The Sanctus started with an undulating line by the female voices. There was some very careful phrasing here; very occasionally the first sopranos could have sounded a bit more confident and homogenous in their most exposed lines, but the blend improved greatly when the male voices joined in. The sense of pulse felt somewhat ambiguous in the second Osanna, following the Benedictus section, but Kevin was very successful in holding the ensemble together. This made all the difference in the outcome and resulted in a crisp and triumphant unison close to the movement.


The closing Agnus Dei was sung with very good intonation, considering the challenge of some dramatic harmonic shifts, typical of Vaughan Williams’ musical idiom. Both the soloists and the choir maintained good tone overall and the lines was neatly and sensitively shaped, culminating in the haunting yet serene final chord of ‘Amen’. The audience kept still until the last of the choral sound had faded out, after which they burst into a very enthusiastic applause at the end of a highly enjoyable evening.


Warm congratulations are due to Kevin Duggan and the Rosenethe Singers for rising to this challenge and for their high standard of musicality and committed stage presence throughout the evening.


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