Here are some recent reviews of our concerts
Baroque Concert Review
at The Church of St John the Divine, Horninglow, on Saturday 15th October 2016.
At 7.30pm about 200 people assembled in St John’s Church to perform and/or appreciate a Concert of Baroque music directed by Dr. Simon Lesley. All were welcomed by the Rev. Michael Freeman, vicar at St John’s, who was part of the small consort of instrumentalists (2 violins 1 viola, 1 Cello, 1 bass a keyboard & 2 trumpets). He also informed us that the magnificent Victorian Church building we were in was this year celebrating its 150th Anniversary. Three of the works being performed were by Vivaldi, a renowned Venetian violinist, composer and teacher. He was also ordained in the Church and became known as the “Red Priest”. Whilst Michael has no such title at present, he is clearly well qualified and informed us that his Church had just acquired the adjacent “Red Lion” pub so who knows….??
The concert opened with an instrumental work, the concerto for 2 trumpets by Antonio Vivaldi. The soloists were Andy Jennings and Dan Robertson. Vivaldi wrote little for Trumpets, but this work is a gem. In both Allegro movements, sweet phrases flow skilfully between the soloists and the consort instruments either in canon or in harmony. They are linked by a short wistful Largo. The soloists contrived to play both quietly and smoothly; as the phrases flowed between them they sounded almost as one instrument and at no time did they “muscle out” the small string consort when they got the tunes. An enjoyable piece, skilfully and sensitively performed and well matched to the acoustics of the building.
Vivaldi was followed by J S Bach (almost contemporaries); Simon Lesley played a Chorale and a Prelude on the Church’s Organ. Both works were delivered by instrument and player alike in a manner that enabled the simultaneous lines (3 or 4) to be readily distinguished and their intricate inter-weavings fully appreciated. I must admit that on many previous occasions I had regarded such music (and Bach wrote a lot of it!) as just introit or exiting accompaniment or fill-in. Not so. Thank you St John’s for having an instrument capable of such playing and thank you Simon for opening a box.
Back to Vivaldi, “Nullo in Mundo Pax”, from his Motet (in Latin), featuring a Soprano (Allison Taylor), violins, viola & basso continuo. “In this world there is no peace” – a wistful and unsettling work comprising a mix or aria & recitative. The conflicts are beautifully presented, the singing was precise, clear, clean and moving throughout and the consort provided good support and emphasis. It was very good listening, however, I did not get an impression that any moral (or political) anomalies had been resolved, nor perhaps did Vivaldi intend this.
Back a hundred years to William Byrd’s “Ave Verum Corpus” (composed ~1605, the “lyrics” are much older - so more Latin). It’s basically a hymn for use at the Sacrament. Its subtle polyphonic forms & temporal shifts are novel for the time and opened doors for the madrigals written by Byrd’s pupils & successors, who perhaps had other bodies in mind. The work was well performed by the full Choir who all made the most of Byrd’s wonderful writing and the hall’s vibrant qualities.
The Magnificat by Giovanni Battista Pergolesi rounded of the first half of the concert. It was written around 1735 by when “good tunes” could be enjoyed shamelessly in Churches all over Europe. The Choir clearly enjoyed it and so did the soloists (Allison & Jane Phinn in Movt.2 and Stephen Alliss & Peter Evanson in Movt 4) and all made the most of their opportunities to shine. The consort not only supported the Choir & Soloists well but also brought a bright dance-like bounce to the Finale. It was all well received by the Audience.
After the interval back to Vivaldi for his Gloria, - Choir, Soloists, Consort & Trumpets. Written 1715, this work was lost for over 250 years, but has now (rightly) become very popular with performers and listeners alike. The work spans a full range of emotions and provides imaginative pairings and interactions between solo singers, instrumentalists and Chorus; it is hard to believe it was written for a Girls School. Bringing (& keeping) the disparate musical parts together requires great skill, Simon Lesley managed this well and the result was excellent; it was noticeable that most of the players’ eyes were on him much of the time. Players, singers and soloists all seemed to enjoy themselves throughout but all deserve our praise too; we must all look forward to the promised Anniversary programme.
Spring Concert - 2016
A review by John Phillips
Animal Music from the Deep
Rolleston Choral Society
with the combined Choirs from Outwoods and John of Rolleston Primary Schools
St Mary’s Priory Church, Tutbury ~ Saturday 19th March 2016, 7:00pm
It is something of a special occasion when the celebrated Rolleston Choral Society launches another concert. They have a richly deserved reputation for devising ingenious programmes of music that introduce interesting pieces in exciting combinations. Despite being a pressed man, I continue to enjoy the musical voyages this enterprising choir makes.
A mighty catch was hauled into St Mary’s Priory Church. The place was teeming with an eager audience spilling over every pew and chair, floundering on steps and slithering down walls. The deck was awash with an excited audience, eager for stowage in the vast hulking hold of St Mary’s: an ark packed with a fortunate cargo - a community audience made up of people and families of all ages, ranging from tiddlers to old trouts, from minnows to manatees. So full, barely room for two more of any kind.
Conductor Simon Lesley captained the ship and steered a willing and able crew through an archipelago of diverse light classics; visiting Negro spirituals, gospel songs, jazz numbers, popular cantatas and comic pieces. Beautifully written language rippled through a delightful collection of choral works; inspiring choices for choirs combining the enthusiasm of sixty junior voices, superbly prepared by Jane Smith, and an experienced chorus of forty accomplished adults. This was such a happy and joyful combination. There was a wonderful rapport between the groups. At the end of each half the singing generations merged into one happy chorus. Together and separately they brought something special to a memorable occasion. This cleverly compiled programme infected all with an abundance of youthful fun; altogether making a tremendous school and community concert.
A skeleton crew of superb musicians provided very fine accompaniment for this musical cruise. A quintet thrilled us with excerpts from Carnival of the Animals (more of this later). With Robert Challinor on piano, Ben Markland on double bass and bass guitar, Tash Buxton on drums, Rebecca Lesley on clarinet, Jane Phinn on violin and Simon Lesley occasionally on keyboard. This talented group certainly floated our boat. It is a tribute to Rolleston Choral Society that they are able to attract so many fine musicians to their concerts. We are fortunate for being so close to this remarkable group.
This cool jazz ensemble gently piloted us through the shallows and then gradually towed us out into deeper water. First to dip their toes in was a colourfully shirted Rolleston Choral Society with Wade in the Water. This negro spiritual recounts Old Testament stories describing the escape of the Israelites from Egypt. Some claim that it contains explicit instructions for fugitive slaves, telling escapees to get off the trail and go down into the water, in order to throw the slavers’ dogs off their scent.
The second piece was Ain’t Necessarily So - George and Ira Greshwin’s popular song from ‘Porgy & Bess’ (1934) It continued the water theme, but in the words of the drug dealing character Sportin’ Life, this song expresses doubts about several statements in the Bible:
“..The t’ings dat yo’ lible
To read in the Bible
It ain’t necessarily so.” …
Sportin’ Life had difficulty in believing the story about Jonah living inside a whale:
“Fo’ he made his home in
Dat fish’s abdomen”
…. it ain’t necessarily so
These two opening pieces set the scene for the evening. We were treated to a series of Old Testament stories describing man’s relationship with God and animals, usually in a watery setting.
Rolleston Choral Society, informally dressed in brightly coloured, open-necked shirts, created a brilliant splash against the neutral background of the chancel apse. Brightly shone this rainbow chorus; their voices filled the church with a wonderful spiritual swing. Soaring notes curled against the sturdy arches of the magnificent Norman building. The Rolleston Choral Society set the mood for a memorable evening.
A wave of anticipation rippled through the nave as Rolleston Choral Society returned to their berth at the back, making way for the junior choirs. Until this change over, these young choristers had been partly hidden from view, being sat in the choir stalls facing each other. Casual ticks and flicks fluttered into a frenzy of animation as they lined up in the chancel, facing, for the first time, a packed audience stretching all the way back to the great west door. For many families attending this would have been their first glimpse of the young people they had come to see. At last their song birds were about to sing. So very fine they were too.
Under the direction of Jane Smith, the choirs of Outwoods Primary School (40) and John of Rolleston Primary School (20) merged as one; with school uniforms proudly signifying their place of origin – the navy blue of Outwoods alongside the maroon of Rolleston. Since January each choir had been rehearsing separately. Concert day was the first time the children had sung together. They gave a remarkably animated and confident performance of the popular musical Jonah - Man Jazz, written in 1966 by the English composer Michael Hurd. Every word of this delightfully witty pop-cantata was learned by heart and delivered with panache. Rousing choruses were linked by superbly spoken passages delivered by a team of very fine narrators. They reminded us of this familiar fishy tale, which described ancient misbehaviour in modern gospel-rock patois:
Nineveh city was a city of sin
The jazzin’ and a-jivin’ made a terrible din
Beat groups playin’ a rock and roll
And the Lord when he heard it said, “Bless my soul!”
Being a righteous man, an exception in ancient Nineveh, Jonah was chosen by the Lord to warn the citizens of dire consequences if they continued to misbehave:
For I will smite ‘em, ad infinitum
If they will not turn to me once more”
Feeling far from comfortable with this dubious honour, Jonah chose to run away to sea - not the brightest of moves when dealing with the Lord. A violent storm struck the ship, snapped the top mast and set the crew against the jinx that was Jonah. He was thrown overboard, but had the presence of mind to reach out to the Lord for help:
If you will only come and save me I will do as you command
Instead of treading water let me tread upon the land
No sooner said than done; a friendly whale was despatched:
It promptly swam right up to Jonah and its mouth was open wide
Before he even noticed it poor Jonah was inside.
This admirable mammal operated a speedy special delivery service and safely brought its precious cargo to Nineveh’s shore:
Whereat it gave a little shudder as its jaws were widely flung
And Jonah came a-strollin’ out upon its mighty tongue
Upon his return Jonah kept to his part of the bargain and, being a gifted preacher, managed to persuade the citizens to repent their evil ways. As a reward, the Lord refrained from smiting them and normal services were resumed:
But even though we have repented our dancin’ days ain’t done.
As the last notes drifted into the great cavern of the roof above a ripple of applause quickly swelled in volume and filled the space. The appreciation of a very responsive audience cascaded into a prolonged and well -deserved ovation. Like Jonah, we all had enjoyed a whale of a time!
Upon returning to the choir stalls the children hid their smiles but added to the fun by putting on a wonderful assortment of comical animal masks. The place had been transformed into a zoo, in preparation for the playing of six excerpts from Carnival of the Animals. Le carnival des animaux is a musical suite of fourteen movements by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Each movement is meant to describe a particular animal, usually by mimicking the sounds it makes or characterizing the way it moves or carries itself. The band played six of these, out of sequence, but in an order to suit the programme. The Swan was originally scored for solo cello with piano. However, on this occasion, Becky Lesley played this majestic piece on clarinet with Robert Challinor accompanying. The movement is warm and expressive, evoking the gliding grace of a contemplative swimming swan. This is one of the most well-known movements of the suite. In contrast, The Elephant consists of a brisk, but lumbering and clumsy waltz melody played by double bass (Ben Markland) and piano (Robert Challinor). Next The Cuckoo in the Deep Woods: a quiet, cryptic passage in the pianos (Robert Challinor & Simon Lesley) is continually interrupted by a humorous cuckoo-ing clarinet (Rebecca Lesley). Personages with Long Ears is scored just for violin (Jane Phinn); the sounds emitted here leave no doubt that these “personages” are donkeys – probably music critics! Kangaroos is scored just for the two pianos and consists of clipped, irregular phrases that suggest the hopping of startled roos. Royal March of the Lion – originally scored as the opening piece but placed at the end of the set because it involved the entire band - is very regal and grand, featuring a full, swaggering figure in the strings and fast running scales in the pianos that convincingly mimic lion roars. Bizarre it was to be hearing such wonderful music being played in front of a menagerie of animated pupils wearing animal masks. By their antics you could tell it was getting close to feeding time.
Before the zoo keepers were allowed to dish out any interval food two more comic songs from The Bestiary of Flanders & Swann were to be served. Without masks, the junior inmates lined up in front of Rolleston Choral Society for a return to the watery deep. Rolleston Choral Society bewailed the plight of the bottle-nosed whale with the flu – The Whale (Mopy Dick). A cacophony of crashing cymbals and percussive outbursts conveyed coughs and sneezes, the malaise of the miserable mammal. Then the junior school choirs joined in singing about another ailing juggernaut - The Hippopotamus - one of Flanders and Swann’s best-known songs, describes the pangs of a pair of hippos hungry for love:
The Hippopotamus was no ignoramus
And sang her this sweet serenade:
‘Mud, Mud, glorious mud
Nothing quite like it for cooling the blood!
So follow me, follow
Down to the hollow
And there let us wallow
In glorious mud’
A second tsunami of applause swept through the priory church and lapped for some time against the cool stone walls. A richly deserved ovation carried all souls to the shores of an interval; leaving them there to reflect on the pleasant force that had lifted them.
A rising tide gently raised and then floated a revived audience back to their seats for a second soaking, this time in an encounter with Captain Noah and his Floating Zoo - another cautionary Biblical tale, this time taken from Genesis chapters 6-9. Joseph Horovitz’s light-hearted oratorio was composed towards the end of 1970. Michael Flanders - master of musical satire - was given the task of setting words to it. The resulting blend of ten tasteful, jazz-inflected scores with the immensely witty libretto created a superb work that continues to appeal to listeners of all ages. The musical style of this cantata is unashamedly eclectic and exploits all well-known types of popular music to tell this ever-green story. I make no apology for describing, and quoting, at length the unfolding of this beautifully told story. Rolleston Choral Society delivered the piece so well. I was completely drawn in. Their very fine performance respected the text and gave weight to the words.
This popular work for unison or two-part voices and jazz accompaniment, primarily intended to be sung in schools, opens with a splendid storm, above which God can be heard muttering about the irritations he finds with mankind. In a profusion of fine solos and lively choruses we learn about the difficulty of living under hatches and the eventual drying out of the world. All ends well with a celebration of the end of the flood and God’s promise symbolised by the rainbow in the sky.
- The Lord looked down on the Earth
The work opens with God, in the form of James Taylor standing at the lectern, voicing his displeasure with man:
It should’ve been good what I made, but it turned out bad
There’s nothing but sinning, wickedness and violence there
Remind me to wash mankind right outta my hair
I’m gonna make it
rain and rain and rain and rain and rain
Seeing the good Noah and his family as his only hope God decides to start all over again, with their help.
Go Noah build me an ark of gopher wood
Make it forty foot long and seventy five feet wide
And three decks tall with a roof and a door in the side
When the ark is finished here is what you have to do
You fill it with animals – yes with animals – two by two
- The People of Fun City
Inspite of the constant mocking by the people of Fun City Noah went on building the ark.
Noah, Noah don’t do any more
You boat’s a laughing stock, ha! ha!
But Noah went right on building the ark and his hammer went knock knock knock
- Then Japhet, Shem and Ham
Noah and his family then load the ark with one pair of every animal imaginable – one male and one female
The ones you see down on the farm
The ones you see in zoos
All insects, birds and reptiles too
And line them up in twos
Male and female spotted cheetahs,
armadillos and anteaters
- It looks like rain
And then the heavens open - there is no hope for those exclude:
It looks like rain… in fact it’s really pouring.
It looks like rain…the ground has turned to mud.
It looks like rain, can you hear the river roaring?
I shouldn’t be surprised if it was going to flood.
The water’s ‘round my shoulders and I’m
- For the flood-gates of Heaven
But the Lord he remembered his promise
and the ark went floating free.
And the whole world went with it
as it sailed on the endless sea.
- Forty days and nights
Aboard the ark, forty days and forty nights of ceaseless rain:
And the rain’s steady drumming on the roof above my head.
The raindrops drumming overhead.
But the mood changes both dramatically and musically when the rain finally stops. Spirits begin to lift while the musical accompaniment shifts from percussive raindrop-like figures to a gentle swaying:
Oh the rain’s stopped drumming
Oh the rain’s stopped drumming overhead.
- For the Lord closed the flood-gates
The ark went peacefully floating
And the sea was calm and flat.
‘Till the Lord God brought it to rest at last
On the top of Mount Ararat.
- Father Noah please open the porthole
As the floodwaters subsided, Noah commands a terrified raven to scout for dry land. Following a short excursion the exhausted bird refused to make another flight. A dove was used instead and on the second attempt returned with an olive branch.
One more week, then off we sent it,
Waited all that day, and then
sent another dove to join it,
neither one came back again.
9. Then the Lord looked down
Shortly after, God commands Noah to emerge from the ark:
Come out with your wives and your sons and your daughters there.
And set the animals free and the birds of the air.
But dog and cat and ox and ass I give for Noah to keep.
With chicken, turkey, duck and goose and horse and goat and sheep.
And man shall sow and till the ground and fill it with increase
while spring shall follow winter round until the world shall cease.
10. Oh what a wonderful scene
The work closes with a waltz as God avows never to send another flood, a pledge confirmed by the newly created rainbow:
This is my promise to you
the rainbow overhead.
Violet, indigo, blue and green
Yellow, orange and red
You’ll see the rainbow in the sky,
you’ll know God’s words are true:
Go forth , increase and multiply
two by two by two by two by two by two by two by two
I am grateful to Rolleston Choral Society for bringing this delightful work to our notice. There were so many happy faces, both sides of the baton, enjoying such an enthusiastic and accomplished rendition of this stylish and witty cantata. The superb jazz trio (Robert Challinor – piano, Ben Markland – bass guitar and Tash Buxton – drums), brought tremendous expression to the pieces; imparting a superb feeling to all of the meteorological conditions. Theirs was a performance of biblical proportions. The musicians brought out the best in the choir; together they made a great crew.
To gaze upon a rainbow is an uplifting experience: in the context of what we had just heard, there was good cause to celebrate this happy day. And the water theme ran its course to the very end.
O Happy Day was the cue for the welcome return of the remaining members of the John of Rolleston and Outwoods Primary School choirs. O Happy Day, a gospel music standard, arranged by Edwin Hawkins, became an international hit in 1969. A tumultuous succession of repeated refrains celebrates the spiritual cleansing power of water:
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
When Jesus washed (when Jesus washed)
He washed my sins away (oh happy day)
Oh happy day (oh happy day)
The aberrations of a temperamental electric piano could not quell the spirited enthusiasm of a large, loud audience as it repeated with gusto the gospel refrains. When Simon asked if they wanted to sing it again or do the Hippo Encore instead the consensus was to sing them both! So it was done. There is no better way of ending than leaving your audience calling for more.
This remarkable spring concert shall live long in my memory.
O happy day!
Autumn Concert - 2015
Concert by Rolleston Choral Society and Friends at St John's Horninglow (Burton) on 17th October
About 200 people convened at St John's Church last Saturday evening. We were welcomed by Rev. Michael Freeman (the Vicar), who introduced the Singers, the Orchestral Players and the Society's Musical Director (and conductor for the evening ) Dr. Simon Lesley.
The first work - Requiem - was by the Bristol-born amateur Robert Pearsall, who moved to Germany in the 1820s. He wrote this work shortly before his death in 1856, but it has only recently been "discovered". Rolleston's Choristers gave us ten movements; all used sparse but effective instrumental parts, some featured solo singers from the Society's members. This performance revealed many delightful episodes and held the attention of all in the Church. The conductor, singers and players had all done their preparations well and applied themselves very well in the work's performance, I enjoyed it and I am sure Mr Pearsall would have approved too. The composer's English roots showed through. On the basis of this performance; this work merits more exposure in Britain's Choral Repertoire.
The second work too - Mozart's Kegelstatt Trio - provided novelty. Supposedly written in a Skittle Alley, it features a Clarinet (developed in Mozart;s time), a Piano and a Viola - both of which Mozart himself played regularly and reportedly well. For this concert, the respective parts were played by Rebecca Lesley, Karen Thompson and Michael Freeman - in a collar more appropriate to his Viola than his Church. This work is full of tuneful phrases that are spread across all three parts, allowing each player to show off the character of their instrument; which they achieved excellently.
The opening Andante started wistfully on the viola and this mood was developed nicely by the clarinet and piano. This was followed by a bouncy Rondo and a Trio full of triplet "runs" from the viola and piano, evoking memories of Burton's now defunct Ten Pin Bowling emporium. The Allegretto set off smoothly & cheerfully, but after a couple of dozen bars, the viola injected some darker themes which the Clarinet then challenged with brighter ones. With a little help from the piano, they all "made-up" and the disparate elements were all resolved (or parked) by the last three notes. The exposition was clear and accurate and ensemble playing was sympathetically handled throughout. Each movement attracted deserved applause (which it would have in 1790s).
Altogether, a worthy rendering of a very interesting work - well done all.
Following the interval, the players and singers assembled again and were joined by four soloist singers for Haydn's Nelson Mass. This work was written just after Pearsall was born and Mozart had died and after Haydn's famous trip to Britain.
The Nelson Mass is well known by all. This can make it hard for amateurs to tackle - if so it was not apparent in this performance.
Right from the moment Simon moved his baton, joy prevailed. Everyone was "on form", everyone was concentrating, everyone (performers and audience alike) were enjoying themselves. This was Haydn at its best; this was performance at its best. Throughout the eleven movements, all players and singers were caught up in it - there were smiles everywhere; from my pew I couldn't see Simon's face, but I can imagine he too cracked an occasional smile. Whilst it is unfair to single individuals out, I have to mention that all four soloists Allison Taylor, Caroline Summers, Mitesh Khatri & Jeremy Leaman (six if you include the violin obligato and percussion) contributed greatly to the outcome. The solo singers voices were all excellent and their deliveries accurate - but more important (to me) they fitted in and balanced so well together. I am sure this helped the Chorus "give their best" too,
I enjoyed every minute of it. I also felt that Church lent itself admirably to the occasion - I am sure a lot of preparatory work had gone in - it was worth the effort.
Vice President - Lichfield Sinfonia