Christopher Slater

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For their spring concert the Choral Society presented a most interesting programme of rarely heard works – rarely heard that is to say in a choral concert, as included were also some well-known solo songs.

The main work on the programme was the second part of The Song of Hiawatha – The Death of Minnehaha - by the now largely forgotten composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The first part, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, is perhaps better known, in which the various characters in Longfellow’s poem are introduced, and the final part, The Departure of Hiawatha, concludes the trilogy. All three parts were written over 100 years ago and first performed separately but as a whole used to be an annual event at the Royal Albert Hall in the 1920s and 30s as a pageant with full costume conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent.

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This evening's performance under Musical Director Robin Kimber was a committed one with full blooded singing where it was called for, and delicate pianissimos in places where necessary. It was complemented by the two soloists: soprano Josephine Goddard and baritone Mark Nathan. Although on this occasion there was no orchestra one hardly missed it for the piano playing of Marion Lea was exemplary, but her name, unaccountably, was absent from the programme, other than its front cover!

Coleridge-Taylor studied as a young man with Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music, as did Vaughan Williams, so it was appropriate that both these composers were also represented in the concert.

The choir sang Stanford’s The Blue Bird beautifully, and the upper voices Elgar’s The Snow (Op.26) a fairly early part song with words by Caroline Alice Elgar, followed by the tenors and basses with a delightfully humorous account of Dunhill’s arrangement of Steven’s Sigh no more ladies. Elizabeth Goddard gave us Vaughan Williams' Silent Noon as well as songs by Quilter and Ivor Gurney. Mark Nathan showed the possession of a mellifluous voice with plenty of expression in his three solo songs from Songs of Travel by Vaughan Williams.

A much lesser known piece by Vaughan Williams was The Garden of Proserpine written in 1897-9 and not published until 2011. It is interesting to reflect that these years of composition were much the same as those of Hiawatha. It is a fine work although not yet typical of the Vaughan Williams that we mostly know and love. It is perhaps a little episodic with no really memorable tunes. Nevertheless the choir and soprano soloist gave a convincing account of the score with the orchestral transcription again deftly dispatched by Marion.

All in all a most attractive and enterprising concert.

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[Thanks to John Wild for the photographs]

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