Hexham choir champions British music

The Winter Gardens, Queen Elizabeth High School, 2 December 2017

Reviewed by Katharine Morley

Under the baton of conductor Mark Edwards, the Hexham Orpheus Choir demonstrated their vocal agility and musical sensitivity in a concert of British choral music.

As is the way during the Christmas season, concerts of traditional carols and Handel’s Messiah abound. While musical works like these are cherished and performed for good reason, the recent concert given by Hexham Orpheus Choir proved to be a refreshing programme of lesser-known seasonal music that championed modern British composers.

The first half of the concert opened with a work by the late Mark Bolderson, a Hexham-based prize-winning composer and percussionist who sadly passed away in August 2017. His Requiem is full of both musical darkness and light, with passages of tension, poignancy and joy. The vocal agility of the choir was immediately on display as they moved sensitively from moments of quiet, focused unison into rich and expansive harmonies.

Composer Will Todd’s Softly created a calm respite, thoughtfully led by conductor Mark Edwards who was deftly able to guide the choir through challenging musical passages without losing the air of tranquillity as befits a carol about Christmas peace.

Betty Roe’s Madam’s Three Callers, set to poetry by Langston Hughes, and scored for solo soprano (sung by Hannah Reynolds) and cello (Claire MacFadyen) brought humour and a jazzy playfulness to the evening. Paul Mealor’s fine music inspired by Byron’s She walks in beauty allowed the choir to once again showcase their ability in producing shimmering, warm musical colours. Stephen Waller’s charming work, The Minstrels, with text by Wordsworth, was well-sung by the choir and supported by the sweet-toned and lyrical accompaniment of pianist Warren Smith.

The second half of the concert belonged to composer John Rutter and his much-loved Requiem. Written in 1975, Rutter’s seven-movement work is an intimate setting that takes its texts from a combination of traditional Latin Mass, Psalms and the Anglican Burial Service. The choir handled this work with exceptional sensitivity, especially given its large roster of 75 singers. Mark Edwards’ skilfully considered conducting allowed the singers to fully demonstrate their musical dexterity, convincingly leading the audience through moments of grief and foreboding, joyful triumph and calm reflection.