A spectacular evening of passion and pleasure

THE SWAN SINGERS

FAIRE IS THE HEAVEN: 400 YEARS OF ENGLISH CHORAL MUSIC 

Once again Giggleswick Chapel proved to be an idyllic venue for a concert of this nature, the acoustics are superb for choral singing and the actual location lends itself to any celebration of sacred music. The statue of King Edward VI over the door of the building being particularly apt in a programme which contained pieces from the Tudor period including the composition by Thomas Tallis, "If ye love me" which reflected the traditions of church music during his reign.  The contrast in music during the Tudor period was a consequence of the religious upheavals caused by the reformation but this certainly added a frisson to the programme with the simplicity of the Protestant "If ye love me", where the emphasis was on the clarity of the text, with the more ornate complexity found in the Catholic style as represented by "Ave Maria" by Robert Parsons and Ascendit Deus by Peter Philips.

 

The choir however, seemed at ease with both styles and while the former highlighted their purity of tone and wonderful diction the latter transported the audience to another time by the sense of otherworldliness which it created. The "Allelulias" in " Ascendit Deus being quite spectacular. Other pieces in the programme equally reflected the concerns of the periods of their creation, such as in "Greater Love" by John Ireland, where the melancholy pre-empted the turmoil of The Great War. Expressive and dramatic the music was wide and varied in both tone and content but always performed at the very highest level.  Incorporated into the programme were three stunning organ solos, a wonderful showcase for the choir's accompanist Julian McNamara.  These too covered a range of periods and styles but in doing so demonstrated not only the instrument's tremendous versatility but also the extensive skills of the organist. The first piece, "Allegretto Grazioso" by Frank Bridge, here ingeniously used as incidental music to allow the choir to move into position, was pastoral in style while "Serenade" by Derek Bourgeois was a wonderful exposition of the range of the organ itself and also filled with gaiety, particularly in the final flourish. The third solo, "Elegy" by George Thalben Ball was both solemn and serene, redolent with atmosphere of grand state occasions yet actually began life as a hasty improvisation to fill in time at the end of a short-running radio programme!

 

From such quirks of fate do masterpieces emerge.  The same is true of the concert itself, a choir from Wells conducted by a former teacher from Giggleswick and accompanied by a Yorkshireman from Hull coming together in Somerset to create music together... And what music! This truly was a spectacular evening, with an amazing selection of pieces sung with passion and pleasure and outstanding attention to detail. Congratulations to all concerned in the creation of this wonderful programme.

 

Gill O'Donnell