‘Fower Sovereygnes Reygnes’ - The Music of Thomas Tallis
St Georges Church, Kendal. Sat 10th March Levens Choir and Marian Consort Director: Rory McCleery
I might have stayed at home in the company of Father Brown, had I not been lured out by the combined forces of Levens Choir and the Marian Consort singing the music of Thomas Tallis. And what a rewarding experience it was, complete with its own musicological detective story.
Tallis composed at a time of religious turmoil, during the reigns of Henry 8th, Edward 6th, Mary 1st and Elizabeth 1st. He rolled with the tide, writing music to suit the latest religious and political outlook: for Catholic worship; the new Protestant Church; the English Prayer Book; the Catholics again, and finally, new Anglicanism. So, we were taken on a sublime musical journey as we listened to compositions which reflected these changes in style. Throughout, we were grateful to the erudition of Director Rory McCleery. His brief introductions were delightfully apposite, his programme notes masterly in charting our tour.
This was a memorable evening, the singing lovely throughout the richly varied concert, larger choral items being interspersed with works for the Consort alone. Levens Choir, each section strengthened by the soloists of the Marian Consort, produced a glowing, seemingly effortless tone, throughout the vocal range. The blending and balancing of voices was excellent too, even in the works for more than four parts, as for example in the magnificently sung Gaude Gloriosa, the highlight of my evening. The full sections in this work allow little let-up for the singers, with rests few and far between, but energy levels never faltered. The solo sections shone. Indeed, the eight voices of the Consort shone all evening, whatever they sang.
I struggled to find shortcomings. I might have wished for greater dynamic range on occasion or clearer diction on another? Did I detect some uncertainty at the opening of Sacrum Convivium? Perhaps this was the reason that when the audience demanded an encore, we were treated to a beautiful repeat performance, one which summed up the whole evening. A sacred banquet indeed!
I Got Rhythm Concert
Tuesday 4th July 2017, Kendal Town Hall
Levens Choir with the Queen Elizabeth School Jazz Band
Conductors: Ian Jones, Gareth Leather
It is greatly to Levens Choir’s credit that they rose to the challenge of the unfamiliar demands of jazz rhythms, accents and syncopations, to deliver, along with the QES Jazz Band, a memorable evening’s entertainment. It took the choir a number or two to get ‘in the mood’, but, perhaps showed the way by the Band, by the time we had ‘Skimbleshanks’ and ‘Swing Low’, there was even some swinging in the ranks! The tenor line in the former was delightfully articulated. The unaccompanied presentation of ‘Over the rainbow’ was characterised by a warm tonal colour and sumptuous blending of voices; Levens Choir on top form. Other highlights were ‘Ain’t Misbehavin’ and ‘S’Wonderful’, splendidly accompanied by Ken Forster, and ‘Summertime’ with a pleasing soprano solo from Faye Bowness.
We are all indebted to QES, Kirkby Lonsdale, for the musical opportunities provided there. Levens Choir are strengthened by many young voices from the school. A performance by six of them, with accompanist Olivia Smith, of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’ and ‘Super Trooper’ was lovely. And the school Jazz Band was a revelation. Filled with players confidently delivering solo passages on trumpet, saxophone and trombone, they really had got rhythm. They were driven along by their Director Gareth Leather on bass guitar and a brilliant percussion section who didn’t look old enough to be at high school. One wonders where their jazz instincts came from? Perhaps their mothers had visited New Orleans when they were still in the womb? The audience insisted the band gave an encore. We rocked out into the evening air to the sounds of ‘Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy’ all over again. Thanks and congratulations to all involved.
Dixit Dominus Concert
Saturday 22nd April 2017 at St Thomas' Church, Kendal
"An evening of exuberant music making by Levens Choir was enjoyed by a large audience in the wonderful setting of Lancaster Priory on Saturday. The standard of singing was high throughout the evening with the choir, under conductor Ian Jones producing both attractive melodic line and plenty of rhythmic attack. Levens are to be congratulated for encouraging so many young singers to join their ranks, gaining invaluable experience whilst adding a freshness of tone.
To begin the evening we enjoyed a lively piece by Gyorgy Oban, full of rhythmic excitement balanced by a typically Hungarian melody. Emily Robinson then performed the vocal gymnastics required by Vivaldi in his 'In Furore'. This was a skilled and confident performance, complimented by the musicianship of the orchestra under Roland Fudge, whose sensitive playing accompanied much of the programme. Kate Noble sang 'Bist du bei mir' by Stolzel with poise and control. The solos were interspersed by the choir's moving performance of Samuel Barber's Agnus Dei, more popularly known as the orchestral Adagio for Strings. Entries were confident and tonality secure in this more sustained piece.
The duet 'Laudamus Te' showed up a little incompatibility of the two solo voices, but this was more than redeemed in the beautifully judged singing in the De Torrente later in the programme. The first half ended with a Missa Brevis by contemporary Scottish composer, James MacMillan. This was a challenge well met by the choir. I especially loved the Sanctus with its lyrical tenor passage moving into a wonderful rhythmic crescendo.
The Dixit Dominus was a delight, with crisp articulation, and a good dynamic range. It positively danced along! The choir coped brilliantly with its considerable demands on their vocal agility, concentration and stamina. The audience was left breathless with admiration and delight."