Wetherby Choral Society ended an immensely busy season on a high note.
Members performed two outstanding and contrasting works - Purcell’s opera ‘Dido and Aeneas and Handel’s flamboyant psalm setting Dixit Dominus.
The tragic setting of Dido and Aeneas is widely acknowledged as the first true English opera but works exceedingly well in concert performance.
It is a work that demands much of all its performers; the moods created by subtleness in recitative, reflection and comment from the chorus and cleverly written mini-arias for the soloists.
The performance required a total of seven soloists and what a well matched group they were. Strong voices yet characterful and engaging throughout.
Jessica Broad sang with power and emotion with the famous lament, ‘When I am laid in earth’, most beautifully expressive.
Jon Stainsby gave a wonderful rendition as Aeneas. His warm, yet strong and lyrical baritone sound was ideal for the role yet only performing recitative presents its difficulties. Not so for Jon. His ability to shape phrases and colour words was excellent.
Sarah Ogden as Belinda was a superb match to Jessica. Her well rounded, bright vocal tone and her engaging stage presence enabled her dialogues with Dido to involve everyone in the performance.
Sarah Richmond as both the Second Woman and more significantly the Sorceress and clearly defined each part. Where one might picture a wizened hag as a sorceress we were presented with a young and attractive singer. Her skill as the Sorceress was in conveying the plotting to drive Dido and Aeneas apart and this was wickedness and wicked at one and the same time.
Tim Kennedy was a suitably drunken sailor, his very English tenor voice clear and diction superb, while from the choir Alex Cranfield and Heather Marsh sang the parts of the two witches in cahoots with the plotting Sorceress. HJ For more on the review www.wetherbynews.co.uk
and with Alex as the Spirit with well blended voices and colourful performance.
The Choir meanwhile had to reflect the moods of all the scenes which they did with great skill. From supporting Belinda to joining the cackling of the witches or from being drunken sailors to the beautiful final chorus ‘With drooping wings’ they rose to the task. The choir is sounding well balanced with each vocal part well defined and mostly with good diction. These bite sized chunks of chorus which last only a minute or so each are much more demanding than might appear at a superficial glance but they were assured throughout.
Dixit Dominus was written by Handel while a young man in Italy. This piece is his way of showing that he could do write in the Italian style better than the Italians themselves. It has to be the most difficult chorus piece he ever wrote and makes extraordinary demands on all the singers.
The soloists now reverting to minor roles as concert singers showed just what a happy combination of singers they were. The Orchestra, lead so well by Christine Brown gave great support to the choir. The continuo section of Margaret Bryan, Adrian Selway and John Dunford worked superbly well as a team to support the performance.
The whole of the evening’s performance would not have been possible without the superb musical direction of the Conductor, John Dunford who guided both singers and instrumentalists through the exciting and challenging programme.
But perhaps the honours belong to the choir who gave a spectacular, energetic and memorable performance. The exuberance and satisfaction they displayed in this breathtaking piece and at a pace demanding all their energy and concentration was palpable and from the comments and appreciation of the capacity audience it was clear that they should be justly proud of their achievements.
The town of Wetherby is so fortunate to have such a skilled group performing to such a high standard throughout the year. You would have to travel a great distance to hear better!