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Bexhill Choral Society (Susan Elkin reviews)

St Barnabas Church, Bexhill-on-Sea
5 October 2019

A patchwork programme meant that, on this occasion Bexhill Choral Society and conductor, Kenneth Roberts, were able to feature several rather lovely short works – such as the G minor  Schubert Stabat Mater and Gounod’s O Divine Redeemer – which don’t get too many outings in standard format concerts. And I really liked the spacious, warm red brick Victorian church venue which is new for BCS so there was a festive atmosphere and a pleasingly large audience.

The most striking performance of the evening was, by chance, also the shortest. Roberts and his choir gave us, in the first half, an excellent rendering of Mozart’s famous little gem, Ave Verum Corpus. The control was palpable, the cohesion arresting and result outstanding largely, because – having presumably sung this all their lives so little need to look at the music – every singer’s eye was on the conductor.  It was a riveting couple of minutes.

Judith Buckle, a fine contralto, did her best with Gounod’s O Divine Redeemer but it’s a schmultzy piece further blurred, on this occasion by the church acoustic but a nice sound nonetheless from both soloist and prominent instrumentalists such Sally-Ann Thorkildsen on cello. All the work from the 21-strong Sussex Concert Orchestra was competent and Richard Eldridge, who played several beautiful clarinet solos, deserves a special commendation. I found their account of Mendelssohn’s overture The Hebrides pretty understated, however, apart from some dramatic crescendi. It was mostly taken well under (the usual) tempo too.

Mendelssohn’s Hear My Prayer is actually a weak piece with far too much choir and soloist echoing each other but soprano Kristy Swift did what she could with it. Her tone was harsh in the opening sections but by the time she got to the lower register O for the wings of a dove! it had warmed and softened bringing the first half of the concert to a reasonably satisfying conclusion.

The single post-interval work was Beethoven Mass in C, a delightful work which really should be performed more often. All four soloists. Buckle and Swift along with Gary Marriott (tenor) and Barnaby Beer (bass) worked unusually well together to achieve some attractively colourful effects especially in the Gloria and  Agnus Dei.

It is well known that Beethoven took no prisoners when it came to choirs and this piece is a demanding sing especially for sopranos. On the whole, as with the evening’s earlier pieces, BCS did a reasonable job here but the strain and tiredness was audibly beginning to tell as the Mass neared its conclusion. And it would be churlish to dwell too much on the occasional tuning problems, ragged moments and the failure of most choir members to look as if they were enjoying themselves. Many a conductor/ choirmaster I’ve worked with has pointed out that if you smile and look confident your intonation will probably look after itself.

First published by Lark Reviews:

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Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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