Spring Concert – April 8, 2017

Riding Mill Choral Society has grown from strength to strength under the talented direction of Sarah Robinson and masterly piano accompaniment by Robert Laws. Their concert on 8th April confirmed their ability to rise to new challenges.

The programme commenced with Vaughan Williams’ Serenade to Music. Robert’s sensitive playing and Louise Khazaee’s beautiful violin introduction, with some lovely soprano lines from Liesl Allcock, enhanced by the well balanced choral voices, ensured a memorable performance.

The rest of the programme was devoted to Leonard Bernstein, interspersing parts of West Side Story with the Chichester Psalms. This is a moving but challenging work, sung in Hebrew and with some difficult entries and cross-rhythms.  The choir accomplished this well and it was enhanced by two gifted young musicians, with Sioned Slee’s beautiful, note-perfect soprano lines and Dominic Neeson’s sensitive percussion playing and impeccable timing.

West Side Story provided some contrasts between lyrical, heartfelt solos and duets, and energetic choral work. The choir were well in command of the music and there were some lovely solos and duets from Sam Smith (Maria) and William Tyson (Tony) with Louise Khazaee providing the voice of Anita and the choir supporting the final peaceful rendition of Somewhere.

Other small solo parts were performed ably by Linda Lord, Nick Lord, Bill Marley and Michael Pritchard.
As usual, it was a full house and enthusiasm for the next performance was palpable.

Sylvia Chainey

Choral society wins the day with spectacular concert – December 19, 2015

A capacity audience at the Riding Mill Choral Society’s Christmas Concert on December 19 was given a real treat – a mix of great choral music and Christmas carols.

From the very start the choir impressed. It looked immaculate as members walked in. Before the interval we heard two pieces. The first of these was an arrangement of Psalm 100 by Mendelssohn, Jauchzet dem Herrn alle Welt (Make a joyful noise unto the Lord, all ye lands). Sung a capella, the music started exuberantly with a loud chord on C-major, each voice picking up on a different note. This was masterful. One was aware that immediately the audience was brought to attention. Here was a choir in full control, and all in tune with one another, beginning a concert of some complexity with confidence and accuracy. A masterful performance of a less well-known work.

Then we heard Fauré’s Requiem. This wonderful piece, one of the best known of all requiems, is often performed with greater zeal than tonal accuracy demands. Not on this occasion, however. The choir was in complete control of the music under Sarah Robinson’s direction. The two parts which stood out for me were the Offertorium and the Pie Jesu. In the Offertorium the baritone (Hexham’s Michael Ronan) was sublime in the tonal phrasing of his solo. Equally the Pie Jesu, arguably one of the most famous parts of the requiem, was sung beautifully by the youngest of the choir members, 13-year-old Sioned Slee, from Riding Mill. The whole requiem was quite stunningly presented to us and each member of the choir thoroughly deserves praise.

After the wine and mince pies during the interval the choir embarked on performing Christmas carols. Some were much less well known than others, but these, and the carols sung by everybody, put people into the right mind and heart for Christmas. At the interval, and again at the end, those there were commenting on the performance. Typically it was said that this was the best ever heard from the choir. And in my recollection it was! Timing was excellent, sympathetic handling of the music was so beautifully worked out, and tonal accuracy just impeccable.

Sarah Robinson has developed this already fine choir. Members have responded so well under her direction and the success of this first concert with Sarah in charge bodes extremely well for the future. As ever, the able and professional support, from Robert Laws, accompanist, was just great.

George Proud

Christmas Through the Ages – December 13, 2013

Riding Mill Choral Society did themselves and their audience proud in their presentation of music for voices and brass from the fifteenth century until the present day.

Right from the start there was a sense of confidence and style – in the way the silver-grey highlights in their dress picked up the silver decorations in the hall; in the beautifully clean, precise singing; in the electrifying energy of the brass quintet, The Mill Ensemble; or indeed in the unpredictable and interesting programming. The conductor, Alastair Lord, told us near the start that ‘the idea was to intersperse brass and choir,’ and so, after every few items the brass played alone: Wachet Auf, Panis Angelicus, and lesser known items such as the Galliard from Samuel Scheidt’s seventeenth century Battle Suite, or the twentieth century Have Yourself a New Orleans Christmas, which ranged from luscious soupiness to exuberant jazz.

Alastair Lord was himself the arranger of three items: the opening traditional Gaudete, the New Orleans tribute, and Irving Berlin’s poignantly corny White Christmas which was dedicated to the memory of Bobby Turner, much loved and much missed as a stalwart member of the Tenor Section. There cannot have been a single performer or member of the audience who was not thinking of Bobby as we heard the familiar lines which were ‘one of his favourites’: I’m dreaming of a white Christmas / Just like the ones I used to know

But neither Bobby nor Alastair Lord, nor the Mill Ensemble were the sole stars of the show. There was Leah Goldie, who startled us all with the strength and precision of her soprano in the extracts from Handel’s Messiah. There was Robert Laws, accompanist, whose sensitivity and sure sense of rhythm gave the choir admirable support. Above all, there was the Choral Society itself, founded in 1958 and thus a ‘long-established part of Riding Mill village life’. They sang with rare unity and assurance, and with vigour or delicacy, humour or yearning, according to the context – and always, they made us rethink the meaning of the words.

The biggest challenge for the choir, said Alastair Lord, was the huge variety within the programme. The challenge of the programme was to find the right balance, of carols that may be well-known but are little sung outside a choir, the lesser-known, and those that everyone welcomes as an old friend. The communal old friends were Good King Wenceslas, O Come all ye Faithful, Hark the Herald and In the Bleak Midwinter (the Holst tune). Lesser known items included the fifteenth century There is no Rose and the exquisite fourteenth century Irish carol Angelus ad Virginem (‘The choir love singing in Latin,’ joked Alastair Lord). Well-known but difficult were Ding Dong Merrily on High and the Coventry Carol. Chronological in structure, the programme finished with two choir items which may not have been known to many. Santa Baby had us all mentally snapping our fingers along with the choir, while the penultimate All I want for Christmas made a stand against materialism with its ‘…all I want for Christmas is you.’

It was a superb evening, full of grace and humour, right through to the thanks given by Canon Alison White, as President of the Society, to everyone who had contributed to it.

William and Elizabeth Radice

Queen’s Jubilee Concert’s crowning glory – March 8, 2012

Officially, the celebrations for the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee started in Leicester on March 8, but who would deny Riding Mill Choral Society their place in the history books too? The first Diamond Jubilee choral concert in the land, with a gracious letter from Sandringham, a capacity audience and the flags of England, Scotland and Wales – as well as the Union Jack – adorning the hall , all to prove that Her Majesty was there in spirit, even if she could not be there in person.

The festivity of the occasion was crowned by the news that the reason for holding the concert early was the imminent marriage of the conductor of the choral society, Alastair Lord. Could Leicester match that Royal events require meticulous planning and preparation, and this one was no exception.

The choice of Handel’s three coronation anthems in the first half, and Haydn’s Nelson Mass in the second, was inspired, and the practice that must have gone into learning such demanding music was impressive. We learnt from the programme that Haydn’s mass was given the nickname Nelson after the Battle of Trafalgar, but Haydn himself catalogued it as his Missa in Angustiis, mass for times of distress. It thus gives the listener much to reflect on as well as many glories to enjoy. The work calls for a close integration between choir and soloists, and there was none of the disjunction one sometimes feels between a well-rehearsed choir and soloists brought in for the performance itself.

John Scott (tenor) and Martin Wheeler (bass) were positioned among the tenors and basses of the choir instead of at the front, and this made the transitions – such as the bass solo Qui Tollis leading into the choir’s Miserere Nobis – particularly effective and moving. Great technical demands are made of the soprano and alto soloists, and Katie Innes and Linda Lord rose to them fully, standing at the front singing higher than the choir where necessary, but never too dominantly. Both choir and solo entries were precise, and Alastair Lord’s vigorous conducting ensured that sustained notes were always given their full value – crucial to the achievement of a warm, rounded sound in the rather dry acoustic of the parish hall.

Zadok the Priest, with which the concert began, provides one of best openings to any concert but also one of the trickiest. The long and mysterious lead-in (superbly played, as always, by Lisa Hardy) and the choir’s explosive start are so sublime in their effect that the second section, And all the people rejoic’d can sound weak and the final section, God save the King! can sound banal. But not in this performance. Central to its success – and in the other two anthems that followed – was a deep commitment to the words. It is not often one goes away from a choral concert with the words running through one’s head quite as much as the music. ‘Upon thy right hand did stand the queen in vesture of gold’; ‘Kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and queens thy nursing mothers’ and ‘Thou hast prevented him with the blessings of goodness, and hast set a crown of pure gold upon his head’.

How lucky we are that Handel, naturalised as a British citizen in 1727, enriched our language with such music, making coronations and jubilee concerts inconceivable without his genius.

William Radice

Delightful concert lifts the spirits – February 2010

It is delightful to have Riding Mill’s recently refurbished and extended village hall fully in use again.This concert by the Riding Mill Choral Society was postponed in December because of the weather. Hearing part one of the Messiah outside its traditional season made one look ahead to the Passion and Triumph that are the subject of its later parts. It’s extraordinary how much Handel was able to encompass in a single masterpiece.

Under their conductor Alastair Lord – whose gestures are incisive and effective but never distract attention from the music – the choir rose very well to Handel’s demands. Fugal passages as in And he shall purify, the vigour of For unto us a child is born, and contrasts such as that between Glory to God and the quieter And peace on earth were very clearly delineated. We were fortunate too in the soloists: Robert Seaton (bass) showing his skill in the complex figurations on ‘shake’ in ‘Thus saith the Lord’, and Anna Foster (soprano) achieving total ease and sincerity in the sublime air, He shall feed his flock like a shepherd.

For the taxing recitative and air at the beginning, Comfort ye, my people and Every valley shall be exalted, the choir called on one of their most distinguished stalwarts, Robert Tully (tenor). Like Frank Sinatra, Mr Tully has several times announced his retirement, and then enchanted us yet again. But he says that this time really is his last, and he seemed determined to pull out every stop, singing with a strength and intensity that no one in the audience will forget.

The choral society has an excellent accompanist, Dr Lisa Hardy, who was not only flawless in the Handel but also gave us playing of orchestral delicacy in Fauré’s much loved Requiem, which filled the first half of the programme. This music never fails to touch the heart, and Mr Lord and his singers entered into it deeply, with fine attention to dynamic contrasts. Admirable too were Mr Seaton’s solo at the start of the Agnus Dei, his wide range rising effortlessly to the high notes, and the boy-like purity of Ms Foster’s tone in Pie Jesu.

Altogether this was a concert to lift the spirits and send us away with Handel’s assurance that ‘His yoke is easy and his burden is light’.

William Radice