Hexham Courant – Friday May 20

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THE combined Orpheus and Northern Praeclassica choirs gave a resounding performance in Hexham Abbey recently under the baton of young and talented Mark Edward; clearly a name to look out for in future.

Vaughan Williams’ Sea Symphony is a challenging work for the singers, with very little rest, but they sailed through it with ease.

The concert began with a buzz; Vaughan Williams’ witty Wasps overture, followed by four of Stamford’sSongs of the Sea. The first and last, Drake’s Drum and The Old Superb, still speak to us in the 21st century and tenor soloist Alex Otterburn clearly relished the rollicking couplet ‘So Westward ho! for Trinidad and Eastward ho! for Spain/ And ‘Ship ahoy’ a hundred times a day.’ But perhaps the middle two songs should have been consigned to oblivion, as is the case with the majority of this prolific Victorian composer’s works.

Like Beethoven, Vaughan Williams wrote nine symphonies and this is his first, and a mighty one it is. From the tempestuous opening through to the ethereal finale, it uses the seas and the sailors who sail them, through gales and storms until they reach the safety of port, as a metaphor for the soul’s journey through the vicissitudes of life to final peace. The tenor soloist and Carole King’s sweet and powerful soprano brought the work to a moving end.

The only criticism of this memorable performance was that the balance between choir and orchestra, heavy with brass and percussion, was sometimes less than perfect. However, it was a daring choice for the choir and they pulled it off brilliantly.

Derek Harris