Concert Review

Saturday 27th January, Holocaust Memorial Day, we had the great privilege to be part of the audience at Christchurch for the Chelmsford Singers’ concert, commemorating this solemn and important day.

Under the direction of James Davy, the singers gave a powerful rendition of ‘Annelies’ by James Whitbourn. This 75-minute choral work for soprano soloist, choir and four instrumentalists (Elizabeth Drew, Marianne Olyver, David Burrowes and Tim Carey) has a libretto compiled from the Diary of Anne Frank. Soprano soloist, Samantha Hay, beautifully sang the poignant extracts from the diary with the choir bringing dramatic life to the tragic story of this remarkable teenager’s last years hiding in the secret annex. One memorable line, ‘One day this terrible war will be over, and we will be people again, and not just Jews,’ was written only a few months before her capture and murder by the Nazis. The energy, focus and clear articulation of the singers, combined with both dissonant and warm harmonies of the music, made this moment starkly moving and potent. The reaction of the audience at the end of the piece spoke volumes as to the impact of the evening – complete silence followed by rapturous applause.

‘Annelies’ was the culmination of an extraordinary programme, the first half consisting of works created during the Holocaust: three motets by Hugo Distler, who took his own life in 1942 in response to the horrors of the Nazi regime, and four movements from Olivier Messiaen’s ‘Quartet for the End of Time’, which was composed in a Nazi prisoner of war camp in 1941. The Distler was performed by the choir unaccompanied and set the tone of the evening with haunting and beautiful harmonies. The choir’s ability to create such a gentle and mournful sound was mesmerizing, particularly in ‘Selig sind die Toten’ (Blessed are the dead).

The Messiaen, a most unusual and challenging piece, was helpfully introduced by clarinetist Elizabeth Drew, making the following astonishing performance both accessible and captivating. The clarinet solo combined incredible mastery of technique with great sensitivity and power. The control of breath caused the audience to hold theirs in sympathy – it was one of the most remarkable clarinet performances we have ever experienced. The final movement, a violin solo of immense difficulty and intense beauty, was performed with such energy, enthusiasm and feeling by Marianne Olyver, that it made the perfect end to a thrilling first half.

This exceptional evening was introduced and carried so sensitively and appropriately by James Davy, allowing the audience to experience both deep reflection and express strong appreciation for this most fitting memorial. It was notable how much discussion and strength of feeling was expressed by the audience in the wake of the concert – many chose not to rise from their seats for some time and instead either sat in contemplation or talked at length with their partners about what they had just witnessed.

We both feel moved now to go and re-read The Diary of Anne Frank…and practise our instruments!

Charlotte Jones and Eve Starr

Extra -Curricula  Christmas Events for the Singers.

The United Brethren New Writtle Street Chelmsford.

A band of Singers’ Carollers were invited to entertain the Revellers and their families in the  garden of the UB pub in a giant decorated Tepee on the afternoon of Sunday 17th December. We were extremely well received, and the audience’s  participation increased as the afternoon wore on and their partaking of beverages had the usual effect.

Christmas Eve Morning The Sadie Nine Show BBC Radio Essex

At very short notice, a similar small group performed four carols live, broadcasting from the Studios in New London Road. The show was completely unscripted and our host, the ever exuberant Sadie, put everybody at their ease and it was a very enjoyable and exciting experience. James did an excellent job at selling The Singers setting out what we did and  what we could offer.

Vibrant Christmas Concert

The Chelmsford Singers celebrated Christmas at St Michael’s Galleywood with a vibrant feast of carols old and new, including arrangements by MD James Davy and long-time choir favourite Cecilia McDowall, whose A Winter’s Night brings new life to traditional carols in English, French, German, and Latin; the choir switched between languages with aplomb, enjoying the rhythmic intricacies and stylish effects of the work.
There were audience carols in number, with the sizeable crowd adding their voices lustily, especially in ‘While shepherds watched’, to the tune of ‘Ilkley Moor Baht ‘at’. Readings by choir members and organ solos by Chelmsford Cathedral Sub-Organist Sam Bristow gave extra interest, with Sam’s adept accompaniment a particular highlight on his first outing with the Singers.
Our conductor brought his usual repartee to proceedings, as well as some enjoyable arrangements of The First Nowell and O come all ye faithful.
As always there was something for everyone and it was good to see a large audience visibly enjoying the hard work that the choir put in, with a fresh and flexible sound and a real relish for the music.

Summer Concert Review

The Singers joined forces with Michael Horner and his trio for a concert of fresh arrangements of old favourites including The Teddy Bears’ Picnic, I do like to be beside the seaside, My love is like a red, red rose and arrangements of folk songs for choir and jazz trio by Bob Chilcott.

An enthusiastic audience filled St Andrew’s Church in Melbourne for this light summer event and went away full of good tunes, sumptuous singing and pre-concert chat and drinks, as Singers’ concerts are more than just musical occasions!

The choir sounded on top form with bright and fulsome blend, and tackled some challenging repertoire with aplomb; in ending with Bob Chilcott’s Irish Blessing we paid tribute to our departing accompanist, Matthew Kelley, as he completes two years with us and Chelmsford Cathedral.

Summer Concert

Saturday 1st July 2023 St Andrews Church, Melbourne, CM1 2DT

An evening of light music for a Summer’s evening performed by The Chelmsford Singers and the Michael Horner Trio featuring Jazz Folk Songs by Bob Chilcott and a feast of familiar tunes in varied arrangements – it promises to be fun!

Spring Concert Review

The Chelmsford Singers recently took a brief visit to the Bavarian Highlands courtesy of Edward Elgar who set poems by his wife Alice following a holiday in the area: the songs give the choir an excellent opportunity to show their range and skill and the Singers brought them off with style and panache, accompanied very capably by their accompanist Matthew Kelley. 

Attractive partsongs by Gustav Holst, setting largely unfamiliar texts, formed part of the programme along with imaginative folk-song arrangements by John Rutter, giving opportunities for each voice part to have solo lines and the other parts accompanied effectively and sensitively.

Two rarely-heard works by Armstrong Gibbs completed the choral offering: ‘How Happy the Lover’, a setting of words by Dryden in a pastiche contemporary style was followed by the ballad ‘Keith of Ravelston’ a dramatic miniature with demanding parts for the choir despite its brief length. Poems by John Clare and Arthur Shearly Cripps, read by choir members, offered a change of texture and organ solos by Amstrong Gibbs, played by James Davy, rounded out this evening of music for spring, sending the enthusiastic audience away with a light step!

Our next concert will be on Saturday 1 July, featuring music for choir and jazz trio including works by Bob Chilcott, John Rutter, and a feast of favourite songs in arrangements for a light-hearted Summer’s evening. Tickets available soon.

Happy New Year everyone !

We begin rehearsals for our Spring Concert on Tuesday January 10th 2023. Looking forward to seeing you all ! It’s really good to see how we are progressing as a choir and James, our Music Director, is really looking forward to working on new repertoire in the new year, when we will be learning and rehearsing secular works by Rutter, Holst, Elgar, and Gibbs.

Latest concert

After four years without a major orchestral concert to prepare for, the Singers gave a sparkling and joyous account of A Time to Dance, an hour-long cantata by Alec Roth featuring the Chelmsford Singers, Chelmsford Cathedral Choir, four outstanding soloists and the Chelmsford Sinfonietta. Coupled with choral works by Herbert Howells (A Hymn for St Cecilia) and J S Bach (the rarely-heard Missa in F) the most recent item on the programme was a huge hit with audience and performers alike, all the more wonderfully for being an unfamiliar to nearly everyone involved – the presence of the original bass soloist added a connection to the work’s first performance in 2012. A triumphant evening that opened with a brass fanfare by Benjamin Britten, and passed through choral and vocal movements with stunning instrumental solos, ended with all of the singers downing their scores to sing and dance in a celebration of the return of music-making after the strictures of the pandemic.

Christmas is coming . . .

The next concert that the Singers will host is a programme of Christmas music, celebrating Ralph Vaughan Williams in his 150th anniversary year, featuring his Fantasia on Christmas Carols, along with choral classics and audience favourites with something for everyone. Do join us for that if you can!

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