Who would have thought that, when eight men of Pendle founded a choir 125 years ago, it would still be going strong and giving pleasure to friends and supporters with a concert of the highest quality?.
For its anniversary concert the choir’s guests were a quartet of singers from Co-op Opera, an organisation whose purpose is to give young professional opera singers, in the early stages of their career, the opportunity to perform, something which is rare in a crowded and competitive profession.
On Saturday night we were privileged to hear four of the very best young opera singers performing in theUKtoday, Catriona Bell, Soprano, Sophie Yelland, Mezzo, Tom Lowe, Tenor, and David Milner-Pearce, Baritone, all directed from the piano and accompanied by Stephen Wilder.
The music they sang ranged from Valentin’s aria from Gounod’s Faust, sung by David Milner-Pearce, ‘Softly Awakes my Heart’ from Sophie Yelland, the trio from Cosi Fan Tutti, sung beautifully enough to melt the heart of all who heard it, particularly your reviewer, the Seduction Duet from Don Giovanni, and that was only in the first half.
The choir opened the concert with ‘With a Voice of Singing’ by Martin Shaw and, among others, joined in the operatic flavour of the evening with ‘O Isis and Osiris’, the ‘Anvil Chorus’ and the ever popular chorus of Hebrew Slaves ‘Speed Your Journey’ before joining David Milner-Pearce in a rousing rendition of ‘Toreador’.
In the second half both guests and choir let their hair down and explored the lighter end of the operatic spectrum. The choir opened with three Gilbert & Sullivan items, including a joint item with Sophie Yelland ‘When a Merry Maiden Marries’. What followed from the guest artists was a splendid selection of crowd pleasers among which were ‘You are my Heart’s Delight’ from Tom Lowe, ‘Cant Help Lovin’ that Man of Mine’ from Sophie Yelland, ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ from David Milner-Pearce and a truly amazing performance of ‘Glitter and be Gay’ from ‘Candide’ by Leonard Bernstein sung by Catriona Bell. It isn’t often that you hear a top Eflat sung inSt Thomas’, but this was achieved with great abandon. In fact the whole programme by the soloists was sung with tremendous skill and panache. These artists didn’t just sing, they had the artistry and technique to bring their arias, duets and trios to vibrant life. In this they were aided in no small measure by the superb support of their musical director and accompanist Stephen Wilder.
There was just one more surprise from the choir before the grand finale. Paul Mealor is a composer much in evidence of late, having written a piece which was performed at the recent Royal Wedding and the song made famous by the Military Wives. The choir gave a world premiere to a male voice version of ‘In My Dreams’, a song composed around a poem written home by a soldier in Afghanistan and arranged by the choir’s conductor Frank Smith. It went down well!!
The grand finale involved Catriona Bell, Tom Lowe, Stephen Wilder and the choir performed the Brindisi from La Traviata by Verdi and this brought the proceedings to a fitting (and rousing) climax.
It is an understatement to say that the audience and the choir were impressed by our guest artists – they were in turn moved, amused, entertained and downright awestruck by their talent and abilities. Look out for their names – it won’t be long before they’re headlining in opera houses round the world.