Reviews of Concerts
Spring Concert: 22 April 2023 "Wonderful uplifting concert at St. Andrew’s Burgess Hill"
I spent a splendid evening on Saturday 22 April with Burgess Hill Choral Society performing Gioachino Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle in St. Andrew’s Church, Burgess Hill under their charismatic conductor Michael Stefan Wood. Despite the title which includes ‘petite’ (little) the reality is far from the case and the work is filled with impressive choral fugues and aria-like solos. The sheer variety of movements is extraordinary, ranging from a desolate Crucifixus, ecstatic solos, sublime duets and dramatic trios, a hair-raising Et resurrexit, and as powerful an Agnus Dei.
Rossini scored the Messe for four soloists and choir, accompanied by piano and harmonium, here played with panache by Kate Matthews and Neil Matthews. The first thing to note was the sheer joy which radiated from all the performers of this extraordinary music. Tenor Paul Austin Kelly sang the first solo item Domine Deus magnificently, soprano Ruth Kerr the lovely Crucifixus and O Salutaris with delicacy and power, and bass Stephen Charlesworth Quoniam with authority. The wonderful duet Qui Tollis was ravishingly given by Ruth Kerr and mezzo Lauren Easton – I was spellbound by the colours on display within her singing.
Main honours, though, go to the choir, who sang throughout with enormous gusto, their enjoyment of the piece very evident, including being by turns devotional (‘Kyrie’), sonorous (‘Gloria’) and passionate (‘Agnus Dei’), singing with clarity and vitality. The tricky fugal passages were sung with real drama. Indeed the energy and passion shown in the choral movements was impressive. A wonderful concert – an evening full of joy.
The Choral Society’s next concert is on 2nd December, also at St. Andrew’s and will include Rutter, Vaughan Williams, Hely-Hutchinson and carols for choir and audience.
Review by Andrew B. Storey
Christmas Concert: 3 December 2022
I had a splendid evening on Saturday 3rd December in St. Andrew’s Church, Burgess Hill attending Burgess Choral Society’s Christmas Concert under their charismatic conductor Michael Stefan Wood. Four superb soloists took part – Emilia Bertolini (soprano), Maya Wheeler-Colwell (mezzo-soprano), Samuel Kibble (tenor) and Daniel Vening (bass). Orchestral support was provided by the Sussex Mozart players under Richard Sutcliffe with continuo Neil Matthews.
In this uplifting concert the soloists sang with poetic lyricism throughout. The choir was well-balanced between the parts and I noticed the amount of eye contact between choir and conductor. Impressive. Indeed some of the finest singing occurred during the quietest moments which showed the level of care taken in rehearsals and the performance itself.
Music included Vaughan Williams’ “No Sad Thought His Soul Affright” from his Christmas Cantata Hodie followed by Shchedryk – Carol of the Bells sung in Ukrainian and English. Part 1 of the programme ended with Schubert’s Mass in G during which there were many thrilling moments: the Gloria and Sanctus movements will remain in the memory.
Part 2 included Vivaldi’s Double Concerto in D for two oboes and orchestra. The oboes (played with virtuosity by Clare Worth and David Hollingum) were placed well apart, increasing the effect of a dialogue between the two instruments.
There was a beautiful rendition of Buxtehude's In Dulci Jubilo and the choir’s ability to sing a cappella was shown in a number of pieces including Tavener’s The Lamb. The evening closed with an exceptionally spirited performance of Vivaldi’s evergreen Gloria which was light, airy, fast-paced where necessary and sung with rhythmic precision and obvious enjoyment by the choir and soloists (I loved their trills in the “Laudamus te”) and again ably supported by the Mozart Players.
This was one of the most uplifting Christmas Concerts I have attended in many years and the Choral Society should be well pleased! Their next concert is on Saturday 22nd April 2023, also at St. Andrew’s and will include Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. I can’t wait!
Review by Andrew B. Storey in Sussex Express
Spring Concert: 23 April 2022 "A concert full of heart and poignancy"
Burgess Hill Choral Society’s Requiem concert was a fitting tribute to the continuing struggles of the people of Ukraine. The evening also acknowledged the long service and dedication of John Morgan to the group. The choir sang with commitment and displayed a high level of preparation which excellently complimented the high calibre of the soloists all currently studying at The Royal Academy of Music.
The first half of the concert was a selection of choruses from Karl Jenkin’s Requiem. This popular and musically eclectic Welsh composer engages the listener with his use of repetition and filmic style. The highlight of the extracts chosen was the Dies Irae. The impactful opening, led by the excellent percussion section, catapulted the choir and orchestra into a high energy movement with sustained concentration and rhythmic drive. Another standout moment of the Jenkins was a beautifully sung acapella section in the Rex Tremendae, based on a Gregorian melody, where the choir found a good balance and plenty of soul. The clarity of tone and calming manner of the soprano soloist, Isla MacEwan, beautifully reflected the poignant text of the Pie Jesu: Pious Lord Jesus, Give them rest, Pious Lord Jesus, Give them everlasting rest.
The Sussex Mozart Players led by Richard Sutcliffe provided solid support for the Mozart Requiem in the second half of the evening. Again, a high energy Dies Irae stood out among the movements. The large audience were treated to soloists of distinction. All in the final stages of study with much experience to date, their singing displayed elegant phrasing, exceptional quality of tone and tender sensitivity, whether singing as an ensemble or individually. The resonant Will Pate did not disappoint with the famous opening of “Tuba mirum spargens sonum”, Bernadette Johns had a highly impressive even tone which was superbly projected in the lower range and tenor, Samuel Kibble, displayed an engaging dynamism without being over dramatic. The haunting sound of the wind in the St Andrew’s rafters was a disarming moment breaking the silence before the Lacrymosa, only adding to the pathos. Conductor, Michael Stefan Wood, guided soprano, choir and orchestra particularly attentively through the last movement as he had done for the whole evening. It was expertly managed, especially the entries for “Cum sanctis tuis“ and brought a highly satisfying evening to its conclusion.
Review by Rebecca Dowden in Sussex Express
Christmas Concert: 7 December 2019 – Bach Christmas Oratorio
Spread over 13 days from Christmas day to New Year 1734-5, the task of quickly preparing, then presenting six cantatas in his Leipzig churches tested Bach’s energy and imagination. It even involved re-packaging some of his Passion scores. However, this gave them the dramatic intensity of oratorio, so the Christmas story came alive in a joyful celebration of the Incarnation.
Conductor Michael Wood’s Advent 2019 challenge demanded similar ingenuity. How to capture that energetic joy, engage the capacity audience at St Andrew’s Church, Burgess Hill in carols after each cantata, fit in an interval and send everyone home “with a festive glow” – all in one evening?
Positive and genial, he inspired the well-rehearsed and on-form Burgess Hill Choral Society and Richard Sutcliffe’s Sussex Bach Players, and they sang and played with infectious exuberance. Bach’s score demands, and received, excellent diction and smooth, slick transitions from sopranos to tenors to altos to basses to the whole chorus. Chorus and instrumentalists were as one throughout. Dance rhythms and forward momentum – both at the heart of Bach’s music – suffused their whole-hearted, vibrant performance.
The chorus and players’ core contributions were assisted by a fine English text and technically accomplished tenor and mezzo soprano soloists with operatic backgrounds and youthful commitment. Guy Withers and Anne-Sofie Søby Jensen’s recitatives and arias animated the story and our reflections on it with a warmth and optimism echoed by chorus and players. The cuts were well hidden. Even the final chorale seamlessly became O Come all ye Faithful with all present totally involved. Bach would have warmly approved. So would Fiona Fawssett, to whom this concert was rightly dedicated, a few days after her memorial service, to mark her treasured legacy of tireless, outstanding service to Mid Sussex music making for well over 60 inspiring years.
Review by Melvyn Walmsley
Spring Concert: 27 April 2019
Burgess Hill Choral Society was on fine form for their spring concert under the baton of Michael Stefan Wood. Together with the Sinfonietta of Sussex, a varied programme of opera choruses and Puccini’s Messa di Gloria entertained and uplifted an appreciative audience. Singing choruses by Verdi, Mozart, Bizet and Wagner, all in their original languages, was a challenge well worth taking. The demands of different vowel and consonant production for the Italian, French and German were well met, as was the Latin text in the mass. The choir provided lovely dynamic shaping in the Voyagers’ Chorus from Idomeneo, rhythmic coordination in the famous Va Pensiero from Nabucco, an expressive communal sound in With Drooping Wings from Dido and Aeneas, a vibrant Anvil Chorus from Il Trovatore and a moving and heartfelt Pilgrims’ Chorus from Tannhäuser. The Wagner, for me, was the musical highlight of the evening.
Of the three Royal Academy of Music soloists, Meilir Jones had the required platform manner and mellifluous tone to engage the audience. Catriona Holsgrove sang in the Idomeneo extract and brought clarity of tone to Dido’s Lament which was skilfully accompanied by members of the Sinfonietta. Along with the Overture from 'The Marriage of Figaro', the Sinfonietta presented two movements of the Carmen suite with gusto and obvious enjoyment. For the ever-popular Habanera, choir member Trish Symon stepped in a few hours before the concert to transport us to Seville, blowing a kiss to her conductor as she took to the stage. Wood kept the audience up to speed on opera plots as we travelled through civilisations and centuries, most, he warned, with the likelihood of our leading lady dying of a broken heart.
Puccini composed his Messa di Gloria by time he was 21. It marked, though, the culmination of his association with church music and was never played in his lifetime following the first performance in 1880. The benefit of a first half of operatic treats, including Verdi, allowed us to appreciate Verdi’s influence on Puccini’s music. The opening Kyrie immediately demonstrated this and was lyrically performed. The familiar Gloria progressed well and all credit to the basses in the Cum Sancto Spiritu section for their energetic entries. Tenor Peter Harris had the appropriate romantic timbre for the piece. High entries for the soprani and descending strings were all precursors of what would follow in Puccini’s operas, and were handled impressively by choir and orchestra, who established an effective dialogue at the opening of the Credo. The Sanctus united the choir before the impressive Meilir Jones led the Benedictus with dramatic intensity. A reprise of the Gloria brought an evening full of joy to a resolute close.
Review by Rebecca Dowden
Christmas Concert: 4 December 2021
It was wonderful to be invited to the first live concert in two years by Burgess Hill Choral Society accompanied by Sussex Baroque Players and conducted by Michael Stefan Wood BEM.
In the first half of the concert there was a real tour de force from the choir with Rutter’s “Candlelight Carol” – and what a beautiful carol this was – pure magic. The Society also really excelled itself with Bach’s cantata no. 122 which was sung with such sincerity and skill. The haunting recorders and moving strings from Sussex Baroque Players added an ethereal quality. As we all began to sing “Oh Come All Ye Faithful” at the end of the first half of the concert I watched the faces of the choir looking joyful and triumphant at being able to sing again live.
The second act featured the Christmas music from “The Messiah” and showed, yet again, what a superb conductor Mike Wood is. Like a master puppeteer, he directed, teased, led and controlled every note and dynamic from the choir as they sang with passion, gentleness, beauty and gusto. New life was breathed into this popular piece and there was an energy and pace.
This performance featured some outstanding soloists: the bass Dan d'Souza sang with great diction and a commanding presence, connecting to the audience with every note. There was a calmness and stillness in the voice of mezzo soprano Angharad Rowlands, which beautifully matched soprano Helen Lacey’s bubbling enthusiasm and optimism. The tenor Sam Hartley expertly controlled every note, and he sang with empathy and intent.
The “Hallelujah chorus” was strong and purposeful and filled the church with optimism. The second act ended with perfect musicality and enunciation and a stunning performance from the Society as they sang “Worthy is The Lamb that Was Slain.” The timpani went wild and a magnificent crescendo ended what can only be described as a formidable concert. Burgess Hill Choral Society has a concert planned in April – my advice would be to get your tickets in good time before they sell out!
Review by Charlotte Hoddell in Sussex Express
No concert owing to restrictions on gatherings imposed by HM government in response to coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Christmas and Spring 2020
Concerts were planned for December and April 2020, but both were cancelled owing to restrictions on gatherings imposed by HM government in response to coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic.
Christmas Concert: 8 December 2018 - Choir shines in The Armed Man
The Armed Man was an apt and highly successful choice for Burgess Hill Choral Society’s December concert at St Andrew’s Church. Coming only a few weeks after the nationwide 100th commemoration of the Armistice of World War One, it was a timely, powerful and often sombre reminder of the ultimate sacrifice made by those fighting wars, and war’s innocent victims.
The choir, orchestra, and soloists Cydnei Baines and Jonathan Summers did full justice to their memory with a performance that captured faithfully the rousing and the reflective elements of the music of Karl Jenkins.
All this was given another emotional dimension with pictures on screen portraying the many moods from fear to hope.
Martial jauntiness from the opening piece, also called The Armed Man, quickly put the chorus into its marching stride, with some bold brass and excellent percussion. In confident mood, the choir captured not only the repetitive rhythm of the piece but also its intricate layers of sound.
A deeply moving Kyrie, with immaculately delivered and delicate inter-twined harmonies, featured a plaintive solo from lyric soprano Cydnei Baines. This beautiful plea got to the heart of the matter spiritually, with the basses and tenors of the choir infusing deep gravitas, set against heartbreaking pictures of concentration camps.
The singers showed good timing on the insistent menace of the Sanctus, their careful pacing matching the trudge of the orchestra set against haunting trumpet echoes, which then exploded into power.
Hymn Before Action sounded suitably dramatic and sacrificial. Energy and commitment oozed from Charge, with a memorable shattering climax. In soothing contrast, after the dark opening of the Agnus Dei the soft lightness of female voices brought shafts of light that hinted of peace, while its melody was captured neatly in a touching performance.
During the engaging Benedictus, the long and soothing opening melody by the cello led the singers to raise their voices to heaven in cascades, as if to assert that a full church was the natural home for this extremely soulful piece. The choir, coaxed patiently yet emphatically throughout by conductor Michael Stefan Wood, later erupted in a unified celebration of humanity in the more powerful passages, only occasionally being slightly overwhelmed by the brass and percussion.
A mood of both realism and optimism from the assertive Better is Peace was strongly portrayed by the choir in a stirring finale which eased into a peaceful climax.
All in all, the singers and musicians distilled with conviction the spirit of an impassioned call for peace.
In the rest of the concert, Handel’s stirring Zadok the Priest was sung in triumphant style in the opening half. A joyful session of Christmas carols included a touching and subtle performance of the beautiful Shepherds’ Farewell.
This escapism was uplifting for the festive season. But The Armed Man, who called after the interval, reminded everyone that Christmas and every day after will yet again bring danger, death and strife from conflict for many thousands of people, 18 years after Jenkins first saw his plea for peace performed.
Review by Phil Dennett
Spring Concert: 21 April 2018 - Stormy oceans, earthquakes and fires in Burgess Hill (Mendelssohn Elijah)
The dramatic cry of “Help, Lord!” from the members of Burgess Hill Choral Society heralded the drama that was about to unfold in the performance of Mendelssohn's ‘Elijah’ given on the 21st April. This has become the composer’s most performed oratorio since its first performance in Birmingham in 1846. Despite its popularity, it continues to offer many challenges to choirs, soloists and instrumentalists as they attempt to unfold the dramatic account of Elijah’s life as described in the Old Testament.
This performance at St Andrew’s Church had assembled soloists capable of meeting the composer’s demands and an orchestra that could mostly provide effective support throughout the performance. The singers of Burgess Hill Choral Society provided dramatic impact to the oratorio’s narrative but with an ability to offer a sensitive contribution in quieter sections of the work. The louder fugal sections for chorus were less successful in the acoustic of this church and did occasionally result in lack of unity with the orchestra during faster tempi. However, this is a demanding work for a chorus and the audience could not have failed to be impressed by the rendering of ‘He watching over Israel’ which was the highlight of the evening. The small orchestra made an effective contribution to the performance. However, there were times when the woodwind section was too prominent and covered the sensitive singing in some of the solo items.
The soloists had the vocal qualities to do justice to this work. Clare Tunney and Frances Gregory preformed their arias effectively, with Frances providing the right levels of intense emotion in ‘O rest in the Lord’. Joel Williams used his impressive tenor voice most effectively throughout the evening. His rendering of ‘Then shall the righteous shine forth’ was beautifully sung and with total adherence to the composer’s intentions revealed in the score. The role of Elijah presents a huge challenge for baritones. The part demands an ability to deliver the drama in the soloist’s taunts before the ‘Baal' choruses and to also embrace the tender and often poignant arias found in later parts of the oratorio. Kieran Rayner sang the role with a voice well able to deliver the narrative in this work. It would have been an advantage had a greater range of expression and volume been applied to his singing in the dramatic sections that occur at the heart of this work. However, his final solo, ‘For the mountains shall depart’, deserves special mention since it was very impressive indeed with expressive, sensitive singing throughout this difficult number.
As ever, Michael Stefan Wood gave clear direction to all performers in this challenging work. He should be congratulated for performing these large-scale major works in the choral repertoire with amateur performers in the local community. On 8th December he will perform works by Karl Jenkins and John Rutter with Burgess Hill Choral Society – a date to note by all music lovers.
Review by Viv Nicholas
Christmas concert: 9 December 2017
Burgess Hill Choral Society entertained a full house in St Andrew’s Church last Saturday with an interesting and varied Christmas programme. As is traditional, the audience was given the opportunity to exercise their vocal skills in between the choral and orchestral pieces. They were given their cue by the first contribution from one of four exciting young soloists: soprano Nardus Williams singing solo the first verse of Once in Royal David’s City. Musical Director Mike Wood BEM, celebrating 30 years of leading the Choral Society, ensured that we were kept on our toes.
An unaccompanied, punchy rendition of Gaudete (brought to a wider audience – certainly to us – by Steeleye Span) was followed by Alan Smith’s haunting setting of the 15th century carol ‘There is no Rose’ (pub. Oxford Christmas Music 2006). This concert was dedicated to the memory of Alan, the organist at St Andrew’s and Composer in Residence to the Choral Society from 2008–2011, who died earlier this year.
The first half ended with a performance of Bach’s popular cantata Wachet Auf (‘Sleepers Awake!’). Nardus Williams was joined by mezzo-soprano Frances Gregory, tenor Joel Williams and baritone Robert Garland in the solo recitatives and duets. It is good to see the Choral Society showcasing such an array of young talent. All four soloists are generously supported by the Josephine Baker Trust. The Burgess Hill Concert Orchestra provided subtle accompaniment, with leader Richard Sutcliffe and oboist Clare Worth tackling particularly challenging solo parts with aplomb.
After the interval, the Concert Orchestra had the chance to shine in Albinoni’s Double Oboe Concerto. Soloists David Hollingum and Clare Worth blended their tones beautifully. The brilliant final movement was taken – successfully – at a challenging pace.
The choir then entertained us a cappella with James Helme Sutcliffe’s modern (1988) arrangement of ‘Sleep, sleep little boy’, a gentle piece with exquisite harmonies.
Haydn’s ‘Nelson’ Mass began with a stirring Kyrie, featuring Nardus Williams’s liquid tones with strong support from the brass and the choir and excellent dramatic contrasts. In the Gloria all four soloists combined well. Qui Tollis was contemplative, with nice interplay between the baritone and soprano and the choir. Throughout, there was a strong sense of musical direction from Mike Wood, with deft handling of changes in tempo.
Burgess Hill Choral Society’s next concert at St Andrew’s Church on 21 April 2018 will feature a performance of Mendelssohn’s Elijah. We’re looking forward to it.
Review by Richard Light and Jacky Hilary
Spring Concert: 1 April 2017 - Hats Off to Burgess Hill Choral Society
St Andrew’s Church was packed for the performance of Handel’s “Messiah” by the Burgess Hill Choral Society on Saturday April 1st 2017. Accompanied by the Burgess Hill Concert Orchestra (leader Richard Sutcliffe) and with four fine young soloists from the Royal College of Music it proved an evening to remember.
Under the dynamic baton of conductor Michael Stefan Wood BEM the performance was taken at a cracking pace right from the start with the Orchestra on top form in the opening Sinfonia. Tenor Stephen Mills created a most atmospheric realisation of “Comfort Ye my people” and his singing throughout the evening was resonant and expressive. The opening chorus “And the Glory of the Lord” was a sign of the fine things to come from the Choral Society being sung with great rhythmic vitality and good precision in articulation and text. The bass Kieran Rayner made a big impact with his first recit., followed by a most expressive performance of “But who may Abide?” from mezzo soprano Kamilla Dunstan. The Choir responded with some excellent work in the famous choruses “And He Shall Purify” and “Unto Us a Child is Born” and the balance with the orchestra was very well managed by Maestro Wood throughout the evening. The first appearance of soprano Louise Fuller as the shepherds approached Bethlehem was suitably dramatic, making good use of her vibrant tone and operatic experience to convey the famous story.
Particularly impressive was the ending of the first half with three demanding choruses in a row – “Surely” followed by “And with His Stripes” into “All We Like Sheep”. The Choir kept up their energy and discipline here and the fugal voicing was excellent, and the shaping and colouring that they achieved is of great credit to the vision and expertise of their inspirational conductor.
After some refreshment the second half of the evening continued in a similar vein, sustaining the rhythmic buoyancy and expressive communication that had been established right from the beginning. Soloists were again in fine voice and the dark power and drama that the bass Kieran Rayner achieved in both his famous arias was most impressive, accompanied in “The Trumpet Shall Sound” with fine playing from 1st trumpet Andy Baxter. The Hallelujah Chorus was suitably uplifting and hats off to the Choral Society for maintaining their discipline and energy right to the end, drawing a standing ovation from the captivated audience.
So a splendid 70th birthday concert from Burgess Hill Choral which must be one of the finest they have given. I look forward to their Christmas concert on December 9th featuring Haydn’s “Nelson Mass” alongside carols for Choir and Audience – and if that’s too long to wait, why not join them in St Andrew’s Church for a Come-and-Sing day of Mozart’s Requiem on Saturday 20th May led by Mike Wood.
Review by Richard Haslam
Christmas Concert: 10 December 2016
Burgess Hill Choral Society and its companion Concert Orchestra gave a large and expectant audience a real treat with its pre-Christmas jamboree in St Andrew’s Church on Saturday December 10th.
A very varied and exciting programme began with the first of four congregational carols, sung with vigour and gusto, the choir popping their descant on top, leading to the Willcocks arrangement of Tomorrow shall be my Dancing Day which featured the excellent baritone Daniel de Souza, then a modern carol by Nick Nye and Simon Austin which took a humorous swipe at Isaiah 11.
These were an hors-d’oeuvre to Mozart’s beautifully succinct Coronation Mass whose relative brevity still gave the choir rich pickings in lovely choral writing, their evident enjoyment clearly conveyed to the audience. Mozart gives the four soloists more ensembles than solos, and pairing soprano Josephine Goddard’s fluent, lyrical singing with Lauren Morris’s rich and mellow alto, Benjamin Durrant’s full tenor line with Daniel’s pure baritone, then all in full ensemble, were a joy to hear.
Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker Suite started the second half and the brass warmed up beautifully in the March and the strings set the audience swinging with their Waltz of the Flowers after that magical harp cadenza caught us all spell-bound.
Further delights were in store. Rocking was beautifully sung by Josephine over a nifty arrangement for humming choir and strings, followed by the evening’s challenge piece: Rutter’s Gloria. With the ghost of Walton hovering above the very dramatic brass and percussion opening, the choir launched into the Gloria with energy and purpose. Their clear diction and commendably maintained rhythmic drive were testament to the excellent work in preparation and execution by their maestro conductor, Mike Wood, whose precise and authoritative direction spurred them on. The lyrical contrast of Josephine and Lauren’s duet in the Miserere section was then shattered by some of the more difficult passages in the Quoniam, which the choir ably negotiated, leading to a harking back to the character of the opening which appropriately rounded the work off in style.
This was a thoroughly diverse and enjoyable evening which also raised funds for St Peter & St James Hospice.
Review by Simon Austin
Spring Concert: 23 April 2016
Burgess Hill Choral Society chose Haydn's Creation for their St George's Day concert in St Andrew's Church, and it was clear from the first extraordinary bars of The Representation of Chaos that we were in for a very special evening. Late in life Haydn was introduced to the works of the great Baroque composers, and the dazzling fugal choruses of The Creation breathe the same air as Messiah and Bach's B minor Mass.
It was greatly to the credit of the 70-strong choir and large orchestra that they showed not only the agility, finesse and clarity that this work requires, but also the sense of excitement and joy which imbues it. They were helped by the generous acoustics of St Andrew's Church, as well as by the brisk tempi, the excellent orchestral playing, and the tight and unfussy control exercised by the conductor, Michael Stefan Wood.
The three young soloists acquitted themselves splendidly, especially the tenor Peter Aisher, who shone in that great paean of the Enlightenment, 'In Native Worth'. This was the aria which was sung impromptu to Haydn by a French soldier in 1809, drawing tears of emotion down the old man's face.
Congratulations too on the fine new building on the north side of the church, and the comfortable new seats. Such physical comforts greatly enhance our musical enjoyment.
Review by Nick Milner-Gulland
Christmas Concert: 12 December 2015
We were welcomed back to St. Andrew’s Church after its refurbishment for Burgess Hill Choral Society’s Christmas Concert on Saturday December 12th. It was lovely to walk through from the Rider hall in the warm and dry and the removal of the choir stalls has given a great feeling of space. It was certainly the warmest I have ever been in St. Andrew’s and the lighting is much improved too!
The concert was a delightful mix of carols for audience and choir with the two main highlights being Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols and Karl Jenkins Gloria, all accompanied by the superb Burgess Hill Concert Orchestra (leader Richard Sutcliffe) under the evergreen baton of Maestro Mike Wood BEM.
Highlights of the first half were a lovely arrangement for choir, orchestra and baritone soloist Nicholas Morton of Past Three a Clock coupled with an unusual setting of While Shepherds Watched. The choir sang with great rhythmic energy and excellent diction here and an impressive range of dynamic colour, accompanied most sensitively by the orchestra. This was followed by one of my favourite Christmas pieces, the Carol Symphony by Hely-Hutchinson. This is a real showpiece and the orchestra rose to the challenge with fine playing from all sections, from the rhythmic lilt in the strings, crisply articulated woodwind, haunting harp playing and vibrant brass and percussion, leading to a most exciting realisation of this wonderful piece. The tricky tempo changes were superbly managed by Maestro Wood who drew out all the differing moods of the piece with great skill. The first half ended with an atmospheric performance of the Vaughan Williams Fantasia on Christmas Carols. From the expressive cello opening to the resonant and communicative singing of soloist Nicholas Morton backed by some fine singing from the choir, this was a real treat. So nice to hear it with full orchestral backing too.
After mulled wine and mince pies we all joined in enthusiastically with Good King Wenceslas before the choir treated us to Down in Yon Forest and Here we Come a-Wassailing sung with good energy and effective balance. This led us into the main event of the evening, the wonderful Gloria by Karl Jenkins. This is a real challenge for any choir and Burgess Hill rose to it with great energy and commitment. It was narrated with great presence, clarity and imagination by Hannah Summers, and Nicholas Morton gave a most resonant and expressive performance of the one solo in the piece, I’ll Make Music. But hats off to the choir for their excellent delivery of the Hebrew parts of the text and some committed and colourful singing and we all enjoyed joining in with Psalm 150! Congratulations to the Orchestra for playing with such confidence and aplomb throughout and if, towards the end, the brass section did overpower proceedings a little, it nevertheless was a most exciting and colourful performance, bringing the evening to terrific climax.
I look forward to the Society’s Spring Concert on April 23rd when they will perform Haydn’s Creation – not to be missed!
Review by Richard Haslam
Spring Concert: 25 April 2015
On Saturday April 25th Burgess Hill Choral Society and Concert Orchestra were hosted by The King’s Church in Burgess Hill in performances of Brahms’s German Requiem and Beethoven’s Symphony Number 6, the Pastoral, under the expert direction of Michael Stefan Wood.
Burgess Hill Concert Orchestra, under their leader Richard Sutcliffe, gave a very creditable rendition of the Beethoven, with the lighter spirit of this symphony well conveyed in the pastel orchestration and subtle dynamic changes of the first movement, the persuasive woodwind dialogues of the second then the dramatic attacca transitions through the ‘thunderstorm’ of the fourth, with its timpani thunder claps and brass rumblings and the emerging reconciliation of the last movement’s ‘Shepherd’s song’.
The Brahms is a deceptively challenging work, bravely tackled by the Choral Society in German, where the melodic lines and phrasing sit better than in translated versions. The choir were well drilled in pronunciation, diction and hard-consonant endings and made a very good fist of the work. Particularly impressive were the many fugal passages, some with tricky entries, and the numerous tempo changes, all seamlessly managed through attention to Maestro Wood’s clear direction. The alto and tenor voices deserve special praise as the inner parts in this work are exacting and they were up to the mark throughout. The basses held the texture together well and, despite wavering a little towards the end, the sopranos managed the exposed top line pretty well. Highlights were the grand climax to the second section with its insistent, pounding timpani triplets underpinning the texture and the lovely contrasting fourth with its soaring flute line inspiring the choir’s sensitive response.
Nick Forrest sang the two baritone solos. His somewhat careful performance, with fine peaks in the higher register, seemed a little uneven in delivery. The last section Brahms added, the fifth, is believed to be dedicated to the memory of his mother and was beautifully crafted by the soprano Gemma Summerfield with her effortless, ethereal, floating arc inspiring the choir’s emotional empathy.
Choral societies have been a cornerstone of communal music making for many years and it is good to see younger members coming through the ranks. In Michael’s capable hands this reviewer trusts to see the musical enjoyment and camaraderie offered by this group continuing for many years.
Review by Simon Austin
Christmas Concert: 13 December 2014 - Christmas is here!
Those lucky enough to be in Burgess Hill on Saturday night were treated to a feast of Christmas music in a packed St Andrew’s Church. Not only were there carols galore but also two more substantial pieces, Fauré’s Requiem and Saint-Saëns’ Christmas Oratorio. For the Burgess Hill Choral Society, which has recently scaled the heights of Verdi’s Requiem, this programme held no terrors, and both pieces were sung with sensitivity and (generally) assurance; the quintet of young soloists from the RCM sang superbly, particularly the baritone Timothy Nelson, whose Offertorium and Libera Me were highlights of the evening.
The choir was at its best in the quieter pieces – Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Pearsall’s In Dulci Jubilo and Tavener’s The Lamb, where their warm expressive tone and good blend were heard to excellent effect. Sometimes a stronger attack was needed, and the basses seemed underpowered, but these are modest criticisms.
Another highlight was the première of Simon Austin’s attractive Concertino for Treble Recorder performed by Douglas Brion. This young man played with an assurance and musicianship which belied his 17 years, relishing the jazzy harmonies and teasing rhythms, and the delightfully soupy slow movement. His intonation and fingerwork were immaculate. The instrumental ensemble were not always precise and the piece might have benefited from an accompaniment of solo strings.
At the helm as always was the flamboyant Michael Stefan Wood, who received a warm ovation from the delighted audience. One final comment: sitting on a hard chair for nearly three hours is a challenge for this member of the audience, however delightful the music. Send them away wanting more!
Review by Nick Milner-Gulland
Spring Concert: 26 April 2014
The Requiem is Verdi's most dramatic work which, combined with the most glorious melodies, has led to it being labelled Verdi's finest opera! Certainly this work is where opera meets oratorio resulting in one of the best loved works in the choral repertoire.
A truly impressive force numbering around 140 performers took part in this memorable concert. Burgess Hill Choral Society was augmented by singers from Brighton Chamber and Brighton Orpheus Choirs and accompanied by Burgess Hill Concert Orchestra (leader Martin Palmer). Four soloists, all with glittering operatic CVs, completed the line-up.
The mood of drama and mystery was established straight away by the choir with well judged dynamics, sensitive phrasing, clear diction and secure intonation. The Dies Irae movement describes the Last Judgement and this is where all the forces came into their own. The terror and doom were brilliantly conveyed by the orchestra and choir at full throttle. One would have to concede victory to the orchestra in the loudest sections but the choir gave them a good run for their money! The large brass section was displayed to stunning effect as the last trumpet reverberated around the church, the stereo sound being thrillingly produced by the strategic positioning of the instruments. The exhilarating Sanctus led to the haunting Agnus Dei with its very testing intonation challenges, all of which were safely negotiated by soloists and chorus alike. The playing of the wind section was especially beautiful here. And so to the final movement, Libera me, a very tricky fugue which was rendered perfectly and with excellent dynamic contrasts by the very impressive choir.
The soloists were Ruth Kerr (soprano), Thomasin Trezise (mezzo), Nicholas Ransley (tenor) and Timothy Dawkins (bass). The soprano sang effortlessly, soaring above both choir and orchestra, although one could have wished for more dramatic intensity in the final movement. The mezzo possessed a velvety tone which was a joy to listen to. The tenor's voice was pleasing if a little underpowered at times, and the bass had a sonorous, powerful delivery. All four brought out the operatic nature of the writing perfectly. The conductor Michael Stefan Wood produced a wonderful evening of music, his clear expressive direction bringing out the very best from the assembled forces, resulting in a performance which gave immense pleasure to the capacity audience.
Review by Christine Colbourne