REVIEW: Choirs in harmony for another successful festival concert

Perfect harmony: choirs from Edinburgh and Swaledale delight and entertain

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By Betsy Everett

Swaledale Festival Concert at St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth
Swale Singers and Pentland Singers

This was the second coming together of these two choirs, established within five years of each other in the 1980s, to provide an exquisite evening’s entertainment in two different but complementary settings.

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In the spring of 2014 they sang Mozart’s Requiem in the majestic surroundings of St Mary’s Cathedral in the centre of Edinburgh: this time their main offering was Puccini’s Messa di Gloria, performed in the more intimate but no less lovely rural setting of St Andrew’s Church, Aysgarth.

It was a beautifully balanced and contrasting programme, the first half consisting of a selection of folk songs arranged by Gustav Holst, E.J. Moeran and John Rutter, the guest choir opening with four pieces from Rutter’s collection, A Sprig of Thyme, including W B Yeats’ haunting Down by the Sally Gardens, and by contrast the traditional Tyneside classic, The Keel Row.

The (unaccompanied) Swale Singers followed with songs from Norfolk, Wales and Cornwall. It was impossible not to compare the two choirs and to conclude that the home choir was, in this first section, the stronger of the two. This was almost certainly due to the weakened soprano section of the Pentland Singers, with only about a fifth of the normal complement of 25 able to make the journey to Yorkshire.

But it in no way detracted from the enjoyment of an amazing concert, made more so by the realisation that the two choirs had only the single afternoon prior to the actual performance to rehearse the Puccini which they performed seamlessly and with great commitment under the direction of the home choir’s Hugh Bowman. The tireless Hugh had travelled to Edinburgh two weeks previously to familiarise the Pentland Singers with what the singers agreed was a very different style of conducting from that of their own musical director, Michael Ferguson.

Between the two choirs’ offerings came an un-programmed and unexpected treat: visiting accompanist Ailsa Aitkenhead’s superb rendition of Chopin’s Ballade No 1 in G minor, Opus 23, left the audience almost breathless with admiration at the skill and dexterity of this recently graduated young pianist.

It would be a dereliction of duty not to mention the superb contributions of Greg Smith, organist, Richard Brickstock, baritone, and Paul Smith, tenor, none of them strangers to this enthusiastic dales audience and all adding immeasurably to the glories of the evening.