(reviewed by Chris Little)
Hexham Orpheus Choir Summer Charity Concert
in aid of Tynedale Hospice at Home
Going to a concert in summer quite often requires you to tear yourself away from warm evening sunshine. On Saturday, there was no such problem, with the light and warmth exuding from the performance of Hexham Orpheus Choir in St Andrews church, combatting the unseasonal gloom of another approaching storm. A full house was gathered for the performance of ‘Popular Baroque’, held in aid of Tynedale Hospice at Home, a much loved charity providing essential support to our local community, battling its way through the current round of cuts and in need of our support. As ever Glenn Davis, Musical Director, had pulled together a varied and exciting programme. ‘Popular Baroque’ might conjure up a ‘Baroque Greatest Hits’ approach, with great tunes but leaving you feeling like you have been fed the icing on a cake and seen the cake put in a bin. As usual Glenn avoided that problem with an accessible programme that nevertheless avoided cliché, with some great surprises as well wonderful well known set pieces. The concert was straight into engaging action with Handel’s Coronation anthem, performed with a lightness of touch and great energy, followed by Torelli’s Concerto for Trumpet and Strings. If that doesn’t mean anything to you, it didn’t to me either before the performance. It’s a great piece. If you look it up on the internet, the chances are that whatever great professional you get performing the solo trumpet, it will be a good approximation to the exquisite performance by Mike Walton on Saturday.
Glenn then gave a very tenuous excuse to justify bringing in some John Dowland into the performance….is it Renaissance? Is it Baroque? The truth is, no one cares if it’s an excuse to hear Pip Emler singing to Jim Bickel’s lute in an assured, emotional and touching performance.
At the friendly Pimms fuelled interval, I caught talk in the men’s chorus of looming fear and trepidation as they approached the chanting of Allegri Miserere (wisely, they were all on lemonade). It’s a piece that sounds simple, but isn’t. Adrenalin, lack of dutch courage and raw fear obviously worked a treat. I knew what mistake they feared , but under the assured hand of assistant conductor Paul Berry, we got a note perfect and stunning performance, then followed by Vivaldi’s Gloria that easily matched a professional choral performance I saw a few years ago,especially Val Hooker’s stunning solos.
Finally, no account of the concert would be complete without considering the young soprano Mary Houlton and her rendition of Dido’s lament. This will probably go down as one of the musical highlights of the year for me. An exquisite performance, sensitively chosen as one of the greatest and most beautiful expressions of grief and loss that still rings down the ages. There were tears. Not me of course, I just had something in my eye.
The evening served as a powerful reminder of the depth of local talent. I was born in London on the doorstep of the world’s leading cultural experiences. I continually need to pinch myself that performances such as Popular Baroque are so readily available to us, on our doorstep, in beautiful and authentic settings, for just a few pounds and all in aid of a much loved local charity. Also just like the Proms, it’s available in 3D.