• December 2022:  Haydn ‘Nelson Mass’, Vaughan Williams ‘5 Mystical Songs’
  • May 2022:  Bach: St Matthew Passion
  • December 2021: Handel’s ‘Messiah’
  • November 2019: Gjeilo, Haydn, Bach
  • December 2018: St Nicolas
  • March 2018: ‘Sea and Sky’
  • November Concert 2017: ‘Entente Musicale’
  • Summer Concert 2017: In the Mood
  • Spring Concert 2017: Opera Choruses and Puccini ‘Messa di Gloria’
  • Summer Concert 2016: Songs for Summer
  • March concert 2016: From Sea to Sky
  • June concert 2014:  The Armed Man and the Gallant Knight
  • Spring concert 2014:  Bach Magnificat and Mozart Solemn Vespers
  • November concert 2013:  Rossini Petite Messe Solenelle
  • June concert 2013:  Carmina Burana and Rio Grande
  • November Concert 2012:  Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater
  • November Concert 2010:  Handel’s Messiah by Candlelight
  • Summer Concert 2010:  Around the World in 80 Minutes
  • Spring Concert 2010:  Brahms Requiem & Symphony
  • Family Christmas Concert 2009
  • Summer concert 2009:  Stars & Stripes
  • Spring concert 2009:  St John Passion
  • Easter 2009:  Devotional performances of Stainer’s ‘Crucifixion’
  • Summer concert 2008:  Pastime with Good Company
  • Spring concert 2008:  Chichester Psalms, Miserere, Armed Man
  • December concert 2007:  Bach – Mass in B Minor
  • Summer concert 2007:  An Evening at the Opera
  • Spring concert 2007:  Handel & Purcell
  • Christmas concert 2006:  Mozart Requiem, Schubert Mass in G
  • May concert 2006:  Beethoven & Vaughan Williams

Haydn ‘Nelson Mass’, Vaughan Williams ‘5 Mystical Songs’, Mozart ‘Laudate Dominum’: 3 December 2022

A cold pre-Christmas evening was lit up on 3 December 2022 at St Martin’s Church, Dorking, by an entertaining concert by the Brockham Choral Society, supported professionally by their familiar companions, the small, but perfectly formed, British Sinfonietta and four high quality soloists, Sally Carr (soprano), Lauren Macleod (alto), Graham Cooper (tenor) and Oskar McCarthy (baritone).

To settle the audience the first item was Mozart’s well-known and loved aria, Laudate Dominum, sung beautifully in her restrained but crystal clear soprano, by Sally Carr, herself, like the orchestra, well known to Brockham Choral Society groupies. Hardly had the audience settled on their hard pews than the musical director, Cole Bendall, launched the orchestra into a brisk rendering of the familiar Mozart Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.  It must be tempting to any orchestra to move on to auto pilot to play this oh so well-known piece, but the Sinfonietta attacked it con brio and I suspect that many of the audience were still humming its hypnotic strains as they retired to bed last night.

The next item was a shrewdly chosen interruption of the 18th century to celebrate Dorking’s own great composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, the 150th anniversary of whose birth we have celebrated this year. The programme consisted of five songs, sung by the mellifluous baritone, Oskar McCarthy, supported discreetly by the choir. The recital ended with the familiar Let all the world in every corner sing, which allowed the choir more fully to pay their tribute to Dorking’s great musical son. The rapt attention of the audience during this section of the programme testified to the wisdom of including it.

Finally, came the item we had been waiting for, performance of which had been postponed due to the lockdowns and Covid – the glorious and triumphal Nelson mass by Joseph Haydn. It does not matter that its popular association with the Battle of the Nile is a historical fiction. The mass is good enough to celebrate that great victory, or indeed the even greater Battle of Trafalgar. At last the choir came fully into their own, combining with the orchestra and soloists in a memorable performance. All played their part, from the quasi-operatic and deeply moving Agnus Dei, sung by the soloists only, through the virtuoso but fiendishly difficult solos reeled off effortlessly by Sally Carr, to the final jubilant  and emotionally intensive choruses which allowed the choir full throttle. For those who know the Mass it was such a pleasure to hear it sung so triumphantly and joyously in Dorking. I hope that others went away convinced of its greatness and wanting to hear it performed again.

It was a great evening – but just one minor carp. It would have been helpful if the programme could have provided some notes, however brief, on the items other than the Haydn Mass; and if they had been listed on the programme in the order in which they were performed.

Brian Unwin:

J S Bach: St Matthew Passion, 21 May 2022

For its 70th Anniversary Concert on Saturday 21st May, Brockham Choral chose J.S. Bach’s major choral work, the St Mathew Passion.

Musical Director Cole Bendall amalgamated the combined forces of double choir and ripieno, orchestra and soloists with confidence and competence. Several cuts had been made in this performance, in German, to ensure that the work would end at a reasonable hour.

As stated in the programme notes, Bach conceived the work as a religious opera with great emphasis on the drama of the Passiontide story. This was amply demonstrated by David Walsh as the Evangelist. With his delightful clarity of tone and expressive interpretation his narration was unmistakeable in conveying the meaning and atmosphere of the story even though the text was in the German language, chosen by Brockham as the edition true to the original composition.

Unfortunately his fellow male soloists did not match his capabilities, either in vocal quality or in dramatic presentation. James Kennedy in the key role of Christus was lacking richness in his lower register and failed to convey the authority and dignity necessary to give this characterisaton its authenticity. Bass Michael Langden, portraying some of the lesser roles, was lacking in confidence and vocal impact, at times being almost inaudible. And tenor Joel Heritage, charged with presenting arias that expressed feelings and commentary on the narrative, was clearly having considerable problems with his solo items though no explanation was forthcoming as to the cause.

The female soloists fared better, though Sally Carr performing the soprano arias had a shrill tone that was not always pleasing. Mezzo-soprano Ellen Smith, undertaking the majority of the female arias, sang with warmth and sympathy, much in keeping with their textual content, and her duet with soprano Lorna Murray was particularly effective.

So much for the individual performances; when joined by their eighth member, mezzo-soprano Alicia Pettit, and performing in ensemble as the Reid Consort they were a competent second choir in the choruses.

And members of the Surrey Youth Choir provided delightful contributions in the ripieno lines of the choruses in Part I.

Orchestrally the performance was well-served by The Covent Garden Sinfonia, thoroughly professional as expected, apart from a first few uncertain bars at their commencement.

And now to the Brockham Choral choir itself. Presented with the challenging task of this great work, and in German, they were secure and solid in all that was demanded of them. Augmented lines of tenors and basses were strongly present. The sopranos performed notably when required, and with the altos, provided lush tones cementing the whole. The chorales were sung with vocal richness and depth of feeling, and the dramatic interjections when the choir took on the role of crowd in the action were crisp and powerful. Their contribution was a worthy component to what was most successful in this performance.

Cole Bendall was in secure command throughout the evening and even with complete coolness restarted a false entry early on after a few bars, with so little interruption that all flowed on with the audience hardly aware that an error had occurred.

We look forward to the Autumn Concert when the major work will be Haydn’s Nelson Mass

Fred Harrison

Further review from Alison Jesson

The choir had obviously worked extremely hard to master the music as well as learning to pronounce all the words in German, although in my very personal opinion it would have been more dramatic if sung in English.

Their powerful first entry in Kommt, ihr Töchter showed a confidence that continued throughout the entire performance. Although the choir was smaller than usual this did not affect their output and all parts were clearly listening to each other.

Although some choir members told me afterwards that they were aware of a number of mistakes that had been made, neither myself or my companion noticed anything which sounded dubious. The only obvious mistake was in the first half when the first few bars of a chorus sounded very wobbly. However very sensibly the musical director stopped the singing and then restarted it and this time the entry was perfect.  It was clear that almost everyone was watching the conductor and didn’t  have their heads buried in their scores!

The highlight for me and several other audience members I spoke to, was the performance by David Walsh as the Evangelist. I could listen to his voice all day and according to one of his fellow Reid Consort players, David clearly has an outstanding future ahead of him. James Kennedy as Jesus, also sang with passion and excellent diction.  Ellen Smith had a beautiful voice which she projected well to the audience

It was good to see the Surrey Youth Choir joining in with enthusiasm. For some of the younger members I gather this was their very first public concert and those who I spoke to before the concert were very excited to be singing with such an excellent choir, orchestra and soloists.

The Covent Garden Sinfonia were outstanding especially the solos by some of the individual instruments, namely the cellist and flautist.

Overall this wonderful concert was a fitting performance for the 70th anniversary of Brockham Choral and long may they continue to make music together.

Alison Jesson

Handel’s Messiah; Performance by Brockham Choral Society on 4 December 2021

Although composed astonishingly in only three weeks in 1741 Handel’s Messiah was not performed in a church – if Westminster Abbey can be so described – until 1784, a wait of over forty years. It almost seemed as long since Brockham Choral Society, owing to the restrictions imposed by  Covid, had last appeared before us in the familiar setting of St Martin’s Church, Dorking. Their performance of the Messiah on 4 December 2021 was therefore eagerly awaited by a packed audience, themselves also starved of live choral music since the pandemic began. The church was full well before the scheduled starting time and the expectations of the audience were matched by the eagerness on the faces of the choir as, after months of Zoom and socially distanced rehearsals, they took their places under the magnificent St Martin’s chancel arch.

The Messiah is always a winner – the greatest Oratorio Handel composed and arguably the greatest musical masterpiece ever composed in England. The Brockham choir, under the discipline and precise direction of their new Music Director, Cole Bendall, whose first concert with them this was, did it full justice. They had no option, since they were supported by the instrumental brilliance of the internationally renowned Academy of Ancient Music, which has pioneered the employment of period-specific instruments, and a quartet of truly high class soloists. The tenor, Joshua Baxter, set the scene with an effortlessly smooth and mellifluous rendering of the opening recitative, “Comfort Ye”, followed by the joyful lyricism of “Ev’ry valley shall be exalted…”;  the experienced mezzo-soprano, Judy Louie Brown, moved us with her emotionally rich lower register, which perhaps reached its climax in the famous “He was despised and rejected of men”, joining with Joshua Baxter in the unforgettable duet “O death where is thy sting?” (making us wish that Handel had composed more oratorio duets); and the soprano, Charlotte Bowden, gaining confidence as the performance progressed,  thrilled us with aria after aria. Last but not least, with his powerful dark-edged voice, and outstanding enunciation, the bass, Arthur Bruce, showed complete command of breath-taxing aria after aria, sailing with authority through the helter-skelter  “Why do the nations…”  and, combining with the two virtuoso period trumpeters, Robert Vanryne and Philip Bainbridge, in a stirring and majestic rendering of “The trumpet shall sound…”

But however brilliant the orchestra and the soloists, the evening depended on the choir.  They were in magnificent form, making up for months of frustrating cancellations and isolation. Though heavily outnumbered by the accomplished sopranos and altos, the men, strategically placed to the front of the staged seating, held their own, relishing the chance to contribute to each demanding chorus. As in every performance of the Messiah in this country the choral summit was reached in a gloriously explosive rendering of the Hallelujah chorus, in which, as tradition has it, the audience stood and some even joined. It was a wonderful and memorable evening which makes us all, Covid willing, look forward to the promised performance of Bach’s St Matthew Passion on 21 May 2022.

Brian Unwin

November Concert 2019: Gjeilo, Haydn, Bach

After the damp and  gloomy climate of recent days, both meteorological and political,  a  welcome period of relief and reflection was provided by Brockham Choral Society’s enterprising winter concert at St Martin’s Church, Dorking, on Saturday, 30 November.  For those accustomed to negotiating mazes and solving puzzles, the concert programme revealed an intriguing mixture of new and old,  both the novel and the familiar. The well- rehearsed Brockham choir were in good voice  throughout and professionally accompanied by the high class British Sinfonietta String Ensemble, and by soloists Miranda Rogers, Roy Rashbrook and Richard Bacon.

The concert opened with steady and controlled performances of  J S Bach’s familiar Chorale, Zion Hears the Watchmen’s voices, with its well- known opening hymn, followed by his Cantata 61. They then gave us a beautifully modulated rendering of Joseph Haydn’s Little Organ Mass, movingly guided along to its conclusion by Richard Moore’s restrained organ solo at the beginning of the Benedictus, in consort with a crystal clear rendering of  the soprano solo  by Miranda Rogers. This Mass is an early Haydn composition, but it gave us a foretaste of the glorious Nelson Mass which we are promised for the choir’s Spring concert on 28 March, 2020 – an enticing prospect indeed.

Following the interval the orchestra came into their own with a beautifully blended performance of the familiar quasi-Albinoni  Adagio for organ and strings, in which the leader, Jamie Hutchinson’s, sweetly rendered violin solo was outstanding. For many, however, the  highlight of the evening was a performance of the unfamiliar Sunrise Mass for chorus and string orchestra by the contemporary young Norwegian composer, Ola Gjeilo, now resident in the United States.  Although following the conventional four main movements of the Mass, the music revealed the strong influence on Gjeilo not only of  great classical predecessors such as Bach, Brahms and Britten, but also of a variety of contemporary  American film and popular music composers, not excluding the mesmeric minimalist school of Philip Glass.  Maintaining a  spectral spirituality in outward form, and employing the traditional Latin text, the Mass, with both power and sensitivity,  gradually guided us along an essentially secular and human journey to a restrained emotional climax,  concluding with a Credo of dignity and beauty. New to a Dorking audience, the Mass deserves wider performance and exposure and great credit  must go to the Brockham choir and their acting Music Director, John Bawden for introducing us to it and performing it with such skill and sensitivity.

Brian Unwin

December 2018: St Nicolas by Benjamin Britten

On 1 December a packed attendance at St Martin’s Church, Dorking heard – for many of them possibly for the first time – a performance of Britten’s early cantata, St Nicolas. Appropriately, since Britten had composed it in 1948 for amateur musicians, except for the tenor solo and a small string ensemble, it was performed by members of the Brockham Choral Society and the junior section of  the Farnham Youth Choir (FYC), both under the direction of Patrick Barrett, with the support of the British Sinfonietta String Ensemble.

The cantata tells the legendary story of the life and travels of St Nicolas, who became Bishop of Myra in Palestine and performed many “marvellous works”, including the miraculous restoration to life of three boys who had been killed, “pickled” and served up on an inn menu. To guide us through this saintly life’s journey Britten’s music progresses through a  striking variety of instrumentation, vocal style and musical feature, with the personal narrative of the Saint himself interspersed  with contrasting choruses, of differing balance, sonority and texture, by the two choirs. The weight and gravity of the experienced Brockham adult choir contrasted with the vibrantly fresh response of the eager young voices of the FYC sopranos and altos. The substantial role of Nicolas as an adult was sung from the pulpit movingly and magisterially by the Welsh tenor, Rhys Batt, in an outstanding performance of which Peter Pears himself would have been proud. To complement this we were treated to the piercing vocal purity of a solo performance by Oliver Beresford as the young Nicolas, and by Jaya Passingen, Evelyn Keys and Molly Hunter as the three resurrected “boys”. Accompanying the choirs, soloists and accomplished string ensemble throughout on a single piano Brockham’s Marion Lea and Farnham’s Susan Holmes brilliantly maintained the rhythm, atmosphere and pace of the narrative, not least in the storm scene which almost brought the wind and rain of the cold December evening right into the church itself. As a fitting and more familiar finale, and in no sense an anti-climax, the cantata finished with a combined choir-audience rendering of that old-favourite hymn, “God moves in a mysterious way”, accompanied resoundingly by Ben Giddens on the organ.

After the interval both choirs combined in a welcome Christmas programme of well- known carols, in which the audience were allowed to participate and try to maintain the basic tune as the choirs soared into their respective descants. To allow the audience to draw breath Brockham choir also entertained with less familiar renderings of Away in a Manger, the Candlelight Carol and The Holly and The Ivy, while the FYC juniors displayed their vocal and physical agility in three two-part songs by Benjamin Britten.

It was a very successful evening, displaying the virtuosity of two well -rehearsed and contrasting choirs in an important but less familiar  work, and with due respect to the first class professional performers, showing  why Britten’s confidence in writing for amateur musicians was fully justified.

Brian Unwin

March 2018 Concert: “Sea and Sky”

“Cover’d all over with visible power and beauty,” goes one of the lines in the fourth movement of Vaughan Williams’s A Sea Symphony. That phrase could just as easily be applied to the magnificent performance we were treated to, in a packed St.Martin’s Church in RVW’s home town of Dorking. The evening started with two perennial favourites from the RVW canon: Fantasia on Greensleeves and The Lark Ascending, both well received by the audience. The latter saw a transcendent performance by the young violin soloist Natasha Petrovic, from the Yehudi Menuhin School, with assured backing from The British Sinfonietta. Perhaps, from an audience perspective, Natasha could have been brought back for another curtain call, and maybe, a few words could have been said about her musical education to date and her performance that evening.

Patrick Barrett, conducting A Sea Symphony for the first time, brought a surprisingly assured and mature understanding to the musical substance of Vaughan Williams’s settings of Walt Whitman, with the sea’s potent symbols of life and experience. That terrific opening, with the chorus shifting from B flat minor to a radiant D major on the words “Behold, the sea itself”, was simply electrifying. Full-throated singing from the Brockham Choral Society created the imposing wall of sound needed and then went on to provide a wide range of expressive singing with huge enthusiasm, whatever RVW threw at them.  Choosing to set words from Whitman’s Wonders, the poet’s humanist message on the value and validity of all of creation clearly appealed to Vaughan Williams, who produced a skilfully finessed dialogue between the pair of soloists, the choir and the orchestra, with plenty of colour added by harp and tuned percussion.

As for the soloists, baritone Steven Page was on customarily intelligent form, providing super clear diction throughout, and coming into his own in On the Beach at Night Alone; soprano Claire Daniels, too, sang with heaps of passion and drama, her thrilling top B towards the end of the first movement riding the massive swell in a way that suggests an irresistible current. The final fade out to the depths of the sea was incredibly moving, with the audience holding their breath forever before breaking out with thunderous applause.

‘A total triumph’, ‘Deeply compelling’, ‘Utterly professional’ were some of the accolades offered, particularly for the Choir’s performance. The superbly honed choral contribution testified to the many hours of painstaking preparation, of separate section rehearsals, and Patrick’s boundless enthusiasm and exacting standards. Well done to all concerned!

John Washtell, March 2018

November Concert 2017 – ‘Entente Musicale’

Bonjour tristesse, adieu tristesse…’ For Remembrance Day, BCS treated us to a performance that encompassed the full panoply of human emotion – from tender love songs to a rustic nonsense ‘patter song’, from the depths of pain and anguish to peaceful resignation at the end of the Burial Mass.  This opening concert of the 2017-18 season, entitled ‘Entente Musicale’, saw BCS undertake an ambitious programme of French themed choral music, culminating in the Durufle Requiem. In this, they were supported by two longstanding friends they were pleased to welcome back as soloists –Janet Shell (mezzo) and Meilir Jones (bass).

The evening opened with a welcome speech by musical director, Patrick Barrett, delivered in most assured and fluent French. This set the tone for the evening and an example that the choir did their best to follow! The first part of the programme was a confection of choral pieces that showcased the choir’s versatility, lightness of touch and controlled melodic lines. A very assured ‘Cantique de Jean Racine’(Faure) and a beautifully modulated rendition of Durufle’s ‘Ubi Caritas’ showed how well BCS is developing under Patrick’s direction. The choir’s rhythmic control and excellent French diction was best displayed capturing the warmth and humour of Passereau’s ‘Il est bel et bon’, with the constant repetition of nonsense syllables suggesting the clucking of chickens (or perhaps the gossiping of wives!).

The buzz in the interval evidenced this, with many comments also highlighting the performance by the two soloists of four chansons, three by Faure and one by Poulenc.  Meilir Jones’ effortless and rich baritone was ideally suited to the elegiac ‘Automne’, whilst Janet Shell’s beautiful account of the other three was an object lesson in breath and volume control, with the high, floated, pianissimo note at the end of the Poulenc transporting the audience to another plane. Special mention should be made of the piano accompaniment of Marion Lea, a true non pareil, not least in the rippling notes of Faure’s ‘Mandoline’.

The second part of the programme was devoted entirely to Durufle’s Requiem, in the version written for choir and organ only. Duruflé himself explained: “This Requiem is not an ethereal work which sings of detachment from human concerns. It reflects, in the unchanging form of Christian prayer, the anguish of man faced with the mystery of his final end.” This more human approach to the Requiem, leaving out the full Dies Irae, accentuates the aspect of forgiveness. This certainly came across in the choir’s execution of this challenging music – tranquil moments were juxtaposed with vibrant, fast paced passages soaring high in the register. The shifting metric patterns transposed from Gregorian chant were handled with confidence, and throughout, the choir showed great commitment and stamina. Paul Ayres’ very sympathetic organ accompaniment  supported the choir throughout but never threatened to swamp them.

So, an ambitious programme that has set a very high standard for the year to come. No doubt, with the Christmas concert in December, followed by Vaughan Williams’ ‘Sea Symphony’ in March, BCS will yet again rise triumphantly to the challenge!

John Washtell, November 2017

Summer Concert 2017:  In the Mood

To a packed audience in St.Paul’s Church Dorking, Brockham Choral presented a sparkling café style concert entitled ‘Jazz – In the Mood’, to conclude the first full season under their new and dynamic young conductor Patrick Barrett. For one night only, the church was transformed into a cross between a ‘speakeasy’ and the fabled Café du Monde hard by the levee in New Orleans. To the popping of champagne corks, all it needed was the raw tang of bootleg liquor or the rich smell of frying beignets to transport us all back…in lieu of this, the ‘customers’ tucked into their sumptuous picnics.

Introducing a range of jazz and swing classics from the 1920s through to the 1950s, the programme included works by Duke Ellington, Cole Porter, George Gershwin, Fats Waller and others, featuring hit songs from the films and shows of the period. After a spirited opening which set the tone for the whole evening, the choir demonstrated that they clearly HAD GOT the swing, but at the same time maintaining a rhythmic precision, and producing a sound that at times evoked muted brass instruments. The highlight of the first part of the show was probably ‘What a Wonderful World’, which featured a solo by the peerless Anne Mitchell.

The second half of the programme rose to even greater heights. The choir performed with wit, humour and real control in such difficult sections as the wordless backing to the soloists in ‘Summer Time’, in texturing the gorgeous harmonies of ‘Autumn Leaves’, and in the syncopated rhythms of ‘Ain’t Misbehaving’. In all of this, they were supported by the incomparable accompaniment of Marion Lea, who contributed her own solo – a touching rendition of Gershwin’s liquid tones of ‘The Man I love’, which proved a great hit with the audience.

Sandwiched between the two parts of the choral programme, the audience was treated to a real café style performance by Greensand Jazz. Supported by the soaring tones of Tony Earnshaw’s saxophone, and with Mark Sayer on keyboards, singer Claire Malcolmson showed what a consummate performer she is, regaling us with a set that included classics such as ‘Cry me a River’ and ‘Fly me to the Moon’. Unfortunately, she was slightly under- miked, which made it a little difficult to hear at the back of the church. A sad note was sounded with the reminder that one the founder members of Greensand Jazz and another BC member, David Ord, had passed away just a few weeks earlier, and that a concert in his memory would be held in October.

All in all, this concert was a triumph for all concerned. It is clear that the choir has really developed a verve and joie de vivre in their music making under the effervescent direction of Patrick, which was well suited to this latest musical offering. Roll on September, when the fun and games…sorry, the serious stuff starts again!

John Washtell, June 2017

Spring Concert 2017:  Opera Choruses and Puccini ‘Messa di Gloria’

On 18 March a packed audience at St Martin’s Church, Dorking enthusiastically applauded  the first Spring concert by Brockham Choral Society under their new Music Director, Patrick Barrett. For Patrick, who received his first musical education at Trinity College, Dublin, it could not have been a happier occasion, with St Patrick’s day celebrations the day before and the Irish rugby team  ending  England’s record breaking run only minutes before the concert began.

In contrast to the solemn atmosphere  of his first concert the preceding November, which was dedicated to Remembrance Day, the programme this time was joyously operatic throughout. It comprised a selection of well- known opera choruses followed by Puccini’s shamelessly operatic Messa di Gloria, composed  at the age of eighteen as a graduation piece and now a favourite with audiences everywhere, although hidden away after its first successful performance in 1880 and never performed again during his lifetime.

The choruses, all desert island favourites, ranged from the inspiring Chorus of Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s  Nabucco,  the anthem of the Risorgimento,  to the softly beautiful  and haunting Humming Chorus from Puccini’s  Madame Butterfly.  Cleverly interspersed were the Habanera from Bizet’s Carmen, sexily sung, especially in her rich lower register, by the choir’s own Anne Mitchell; and as stirring a rendering by Luke Churchill and Meilir Jones  as Dorking will ever have heard of that wonderful  duet  Au fond du Temple Saint  from Bizet’s Pearl Fishers. The choir rose to the occasion throughout,  attacking the rousing  pieces with precision and punch, sympathetically sotto to accompany the betrayed Butterfly’s sorrow,  and obviously enjoying themselves  – none more so than in their chattery opening background “noises off” to introduce the Lucia di Lammermoor Wedding Chorus, which would have done credit to the ENO chorus at the opening of Jonathan Miller’s Rigoletto.

Although the second half of the concert, Puccini’s Missa di Gloria, was an ostensible reminder to us of the sacred solemnity of our ecclesiastical  surroundings, it was in fact largely another operatic romp, full of the Verdi and Rossini that had inspired its teenage composer.  The conductor skilfully drew out the variety of mood and dynamics of the piece,  from the fugal energy of the Cum Sancto  Spiritu to the haunting lyricism of the Et Incarnatus, while the choir positively revelled in the thunderous beat of the unforgettably dynamic Gloria, and Luke Churchill and Meilir Jones almost outperformed their Pearl Fisher’s duet with a movingly beautiful rendering of the final Agnus Dei, leading to the suddenly quiet and gentle close. It was a memorable performance and evening, with a full choir on top form and their well- rehearsed efforts enormously enhanced by the high quality of the soloists and the accompaniment of  the outstanding British Sinfonietta.

Brian Unwin, March 2017

Summer Concert 2016:  Songs for Summer

Summer concert 2016 022The Brockham Choral ‘Songs for Summer’ concert heralded the start of Summer with a colourful programme featuring John Rutter’s ‘The Sprig of Thyme’ and ‘Feel the Spirit’ aided and abetted by the superb voice of mezzo-soprano Janet Shell.

TheSummer concert 2016 028 Sprig of Thyme provides delightful arrangements of many well known traditional songs from the British Isles, and the choir’s lovely and gentle rendition triggered childhood memories of when many of these songs were commonly sung in the classroom and playground.

Summer concert 2016 008Janet Shell’s interest in family history led her to discover two stories relating to her family: she wanted to honour the memory of her great uncle who died in WW1 and her 2nd cousin who was killed in WW2 so she treated us to some wartime favourites including ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ and ‘Roses of Picardy’. We could have listened to her beautiful voice all evening and we were not to be disappointed, as after the interval she joined with the choir in a most moving performance of ‘Feel the Spirit’, a cycle of seven spirituals. One can only imagine the horrendous life endured by the African-American slaves but their faith shines through in these arrangements interpreted so wonderfully by the soloist, choir and orchestra.

A big thank you to Joanna Tomlinson who did a first rate job as MD, to Brockham Choral, Janet Shell, Marion Lea (pianist) and  the Chameleon Arts Chamber Orchestra, as well as those hardworking folk behind the scenes for giving us a most memorable, musical experience.

Helen Dixon, June 2016

March Concert 2016:  From Sea to Sky

Performing under the baton of their charismatic but temporary conductor, Amy Bebbington, the Brockham Choral Society entertained a full St Martin’s Church in Dorking on 12 March to an imaginative programme of choral works and songs by Surrey related composers, linked to the theme of Sea and Sky.

The concert began with an explosively spirited rendering, to vigorous organ accompaniment, of Hubert Parry’s familiar anthem “I was glad”, originally composed for the coronation of Edward VII in August, 1902. With their attention now suitably stimulated, the audience were then able to relax and enjoy Charles Stanford’s reflective motet, Justorum  Animae, followed in lighter but evocative vein by his quintet of nautical songs, entitled Songs of the Fleet. Inspired by a visit by the author of the words, Sir Henry Newbolt, to the Channel Fleet, these took the choir and the audience on a journey from setting sail at dawn for an uncertain future, via a brisk Sou’Wester and the Middle Watch, to a moving farewell to those of their comrades who had been lost at sea.  The choir sensitively matched the rapid changes of mood and weather out at sea, and their performance was enhanced by the brilliantly dextrous and accommodating piano accompaniment of Marion Lea and the magisterially beautiful baritone of their soloist, Mark Nathan, whose  be-hatted rendering of The Little Admiral was among the highlights of the evening.

The second half of the concert began with a restrained performance by choir and organ of John Ireland’s familiar Greater Love Hath No Man, and two Songs of Farewell by Hubert Parry. These were, however, but a prelude to the speciality of the evening, a first  performance of Ian Assersohn’s humanist anthem, Dwell on the Beauty, and his tone poem, High Flight, inspired by verses written by an American Spitfire pilot, John Gillespie Magee,  as he took his machine up to an exhilarating 30,0000 feet. The choir showed admirable versatility and technique in mastering these unfamiliar contemporary works, no doubt helped by the fact that the composer had assisted at some of their rehearsals. The concert then ended, appropriately, with Five Mystical Songs by Dorking’s own house composer, Ralph Vaughan Williams, set to the words of five poems by the metaphysical poet, George Herbert. Combining well with the organ, played by Alexander Chaplin, and with their outstanding soloist,  Mark Nathan, the choir ended in the manner in which they had started with a whole-hearted rendering of the triumphal hymn of praise, Let All the World in Every Corner Sing

The  evident appreciation of the audience proved what a success this mixed but theme-related programme had been, despite perhaps some feelings that a more substantial and traditional work might be more appropriate for a choral society of this kind. It enabled the choir to demonstrate their versatility and technique, even under the baton of an unfamiliar conductor, and also made us look forward to their next concert in June.

Brian Unwin, March 2016

 June Concert 2014:  The Armed Man and the Gallant Knight, Dorking Halls.  Rating ¤¤¤¤

Choral society’s double header success is owed to Joy

Two major works were shoe-horned into one concert with the first, A Gallant Knight, being a world premiere of a specially commissioned piece.   Certainly it was an ambitious undertaking by the Society, but they are known for innovation and taking on big challenges.  Booking the Dorking Halls on a Saturday to help make this a truly special occasion was a key part of that process.

The libretto of The Gallant Knight, which recounts the traditional story of St George slaying the dragon, was created by choir members Tony Earnshaw and Alison Jesson, both having successful professional track records.   The music was composed by Malcolm Archer, now well established as a composer.

The story features George as the true-born son of English gentry slaying the dragon that lurks in a dark forest, causing grief to the local community.   With choir on stage, the action took place around the orchestra – tenor Matt Spillett taking the key role as George, well supported by Ciaran Yeo as the King and a convincing dragon played by Alex Roose.   The inevitable finale is the betrothal of the hero to the King’s daughter Sabia, performed by Alexandra Stevenson.  Joy Ridley directed well, which was not an easy task in the space provided.   Young children from Powell Corderoy and St Joseph’s Primary Schools screamed convincingly at the menacing dragon and rejoiced loudly as George wins his fair lady.  Big screens also helped the audience to follow the action.  It was a worthy premiere in every respect.

After the interval, choir and orchestra returned for Karl Jenkin’s The Armed Man supported by the film created by Hefin Owen, which was shown on the screens.  This work in 13 movements captures the menace and horror of war, emerging into the sunshine and dream of eternal peace.  The music is original and thought-provoking.

Conductor Paul Provost, with the Chameleon Arts Orchestra and choir members dressed in black, each with a red rose, produced a masterful version of this demanding work for which all can be proud.  Brockham Choral Society at their best.

Simon Ames

Published 13/6/14

 Spring Concert, 5 April, 2014: Bach ‘Magnificat’ and Mozart ‘Solemn Vespers’

Brockham Choral Society returned to traditional form with a rousing performance of J S Bach’s ‘Magnificat in D’ (BWV 243) and Mozart’s ‘Solemn Vespers’ (K 339) on Saturday, 5 April at St Martin’s Church in Dorking.  As an amuse bouche between the more spiritual halves of the liturgical sandwich,  the talented Chameleon Arts Orchestra also gave a spirited con briorendering, under the firm directing hand of Andrew Phillips, the choir’s Musical Director, of Mozart’s evergreen ‘Eine Kleine Nachtmusik’ (K 525).

The Bach ‘Magnificat’, a precursor to his greater masterpieces of the future, burst into life with its brilliant trumpet-led orchestral introduction.  This was quickly gathered up by the choir in the opening chorus of the Magnificat anima mea dominum, with the tenors and basses in full throttle on the front rows.  Thereafter the choir and the quartet of accomplished soloists juxtaposed in moving passages, culminating in the magnificent combined Gloria at the close.  If the soprano, Ruth Provost , perhaps lacked a little power and projection in her opening Et exultavit, she combined sweetly with Eleanor Minney and Romey Criswick (from the choir) in the later hauntingly beautiful trio, Suscepit Israel.  Both Jamie Hall (bass) and James Atherton (tenor) sang their  parts with great resonance and authority and left us regretting that their roles were not more extended.

The ‘Solemn Vespers’, Mozart’s final composition before leaving Salzburg Cathedral to pursue his career in Vienna, gave the now increasingly confident choir a more dominant role. Combining from time to time with the four soloists – above all in the Beatus Vir (Psalm 112) – in a work which in some respects presages the genius of Mozart’s later operatic glories,  they excelled themselves in the robust and energetic grandeur of the final Magnificat.  The soloists all contributed commandingly throughout, with Ruth Provost now coming into her own in the lingering and luxurious passages of the simple but beautifully constructed Laudate Dominum.

We often look to Brockham Choir for innovation and expanding our musical experience.  On this occasion the Choir were back on top form with a clear home win in more familiar traditional territory, which the full attendance clearly much appreciated.

November Concert 2013: Petite Messe Solenelle

 A Personal View

I greatly enjoyed the Rossini “Petite Messe Solenelle” – it was a very fine performance with a most informative and very welcome short talk by Musical Director Andy Phillips beforehand.  The balance was excellent, the diction musical and clear and it sounded as though the choir were really enjoying their singing, the sopranos producing a truly lovely tone.  It was sung with real verve and we all enjoyed it greatly.

I also very much admired the firm and supportive playing of Marion Lea on the piano.  I am told that Andy Phillips smiled as he conducted – and I imagine that the reason was that the choir was doing what he wanted!

I am told that the mezzo soloist said you were the best choir she had ever sung with – and, on the basis of Saturday’s showing, I am not surprised.  Well done – it was a really good concert.

Peter Slot, November 2013

Summer Concert 2013: Carl Orff’s ‘Carmina Burana’, and Constant Lambert’s ‘Rio Grande’

A packed audience gave an enthusiastic reception to the ambitious triple bill presented by Brockham Choral Society on 8 June 2013 at the Dorking Halls, under their Musical Director Andrew Phillips.  The performance combined the  professionalism of invited soloists, dancers and the percussionists of the Chameleon Arts Orchestra, with the well-drilled enthusiasm of the Brockham choir, who were in fine voice.  The choice of programme was daring, each item posing great challenges to soloists and instrumentalists alike, but also giving the choir itself ample opportunity to contribute energetically to the atmosphere, vivacity and humour of the occasion.

The first piece, Constant Lambert’s The Rio Grande, was scored for a percussion section and a concerto-like solo piano, with a second piano replacing the original orchestral scoring. Inspired by a Sacheverell Sitwell poem, the whole was composed to capture the exotic and colourful atmosphere of Latin American life on the banks of the great Rio Grande river as it makes its majestic way down to the sea.  Marion Lea, the choir’s regular accompanist, dazzled the audience with a brilliant display of prestidigital virtuosity in the piano solo, with support from Adrian Sutcliffe on the second piano, and hauntingly evocative interventions by the choir.

The second piece, almost a light relief, was The Carnival of the Animals, by Camille Saint-Saëns, well known to British audiences through the witty verses written by Ogden Nash to accompany the fourteen movements, each depicting a different animal species.  On this occasion, the orchestral part was represented by a piano duet (fluently played by Andrew Phillips and Adrian Sutcliffe) and the verses declaimed with impeccable clarity, timing and good humour by Fred Harrison.

The main event of the evening was of a completely different order – a performance of the bizarre cantata, Carmina Burana, composed by Carl Orff from a selection of 12th and 13thcentury poems attributed to irreverent scholars and students wandering from one European university to another.  Written mainly in mediaeval Latin, with a sprinkling of Middle High German and Old Provençal, it seeks in strident tones to portray through music, words and movement the activities, experiences and emotions of students of every age, from drinking to dying, gambling to gluttony, frolicking to fornication, and en passant to celebrate in pagan fashion the joy of the return of Spring.  As such it is hugely demanding on the most experienced of singers and instrumentalists, each of the soloists being required to hit extraordinarily high notes well beyond the normal range.

All the soloists – Elizabeth Roberts (soprano), Stephen Douse (tenor) and Andrew Mayor (baritone) – sang and acted with compelling conviction and virtuosity.  Stephen Douse in particular made many of the audience fear for his own survival in his screechingly high aria representing the terminal cries of a dying swan being roasted on a spit.  With the orchestration, as in Orff’s original version, relentlessly maintained by the Chameleon percussionists and by Marion Lea and Adrian Sutcliffe on two pianos, the overall effect of sustained and dissolute pagan anarchy was dramatically enhanced by the gravity defying dancing of the Lizzy Chong Dance Ensemble.  The Brockham choir, whose mastery of the Latin and other texts surprised not a few, contributed loudly and lustily and with obvious skill and enthusiasm whenever the score allowed them to join in the act.

It was an impressively triumphal evening – one of their most successful concerts ever – which made many new friends for Brockham Choral Society and showed once again what a high standard can be achieved by our local music societies, even when tackling the most difficult and demanding pieces.

 Brian Unwin, July 2013

November Concert 2012: Karl Jenkins – ‘Stabat Mater’

St Martin’s Church, Dorking

A packed audience in St Martin’s Church, Dorking, on 24 November 2012 was privileged to hear a rare performance of Karl Jenkins’ exciting Stabat Mater by the Brockham Choral Society and the Chameleon Arts Orchestra, with organist Simon Dinsdale. The Society chose to dedicate the performance to Maude Haycock, choir member for over forty years, who sadly died on 16 November shortly after her 92nd birthday.

This modern setting of the ancient Latin poem about Mary’s vigil by the Cross was given its première in Liverpool in 2008 and is increasingly becoming an established part of the choral repertory. This magnificent performance will certainly further that process.

The work demands a choir that, in addition to holding its own with a virtuoso orchestra based primarily on percussion, woodwind and brass, and containing a variety of ancient and less familiar instruments, can also respond sensitively to the quieter movements that reflect the deep sorrow of Mary and the other witnesses at the Cross. The well-rehearsed Brockham choir responded to this beautifully. While holding their own in the more robust orchestral passages, they sang softly and sensitively in the more solemn movements of the piece, not least in theSancta Mater and the Are you lost out in darkness? where the restrained interplay between the choir, the soloist, the organ and the orchestra were hauntingly moving. This provided all the greater contrast with the final explosive bars of the Paradisi Gloria, which left the audience stunned.

The choir were fortunate to combine with such an accomplished orchestra and with the mezzo soloist, Janet Shell, whose performance matched her distinguished pedigree. Her clear and vibrant voice effortlessly spanned an extremely wide range, extending from orthodox Latin oratorio to Arabic incantations which for a moment transformed St Martin’s into a temple in the Holy Land.

It was another highly successful evening for the Brockham choir, whose willingness to take on and introduce their audiences to less familiar works is an outstanding feature of this ambitious Society, led by Musical Director Andrew Phillips, and the performance on this occasion was enhanced by his pre-performance talk and illustrative readings from the text by Fred Harrison.

Reviewed by Brian Unwin

November Concert 2010: Handel’s Messiah by Candlelight

 St Martin’s Church, Dorking

 The concert was a complete sell-out, a fine result for this enterprising Society whose purpose to provide fine music has been enhanced with special theatre-style lighting for the stage and, for this occasion, an array of coloured candles that flickered gently all along the window galleries. An enchanting scene.

Those who enjoy Handel’s greatest oratorio often say that they cannot get enough of it. This turned out to be a performance that could satisfy any appetite. BCS brought dignity and style to the setting, elevated meaning to the inspirational beauty of the words and music. This was Andrew Phillips, the Society’s Music Director, at his best in baroque.

Angela Kazimierczuk (soprano) balanced the fast-moving aria ‘Rejoice Greatly’ with the tender and emphatic ‘I Know That My Redeemer Liveth’ with fine skill and clarity. David Bates’ role as counter-tenor embraced the robust ‘O Thou That Tellest Good Tidings from Zion’ with the humbler ‘He was Despised’.

Paul Bradley was masterful in the recitative tenor role. Jamie Hall was a convincing and authoritative baritone, notably with the aria ‘Why Do The Nations So Furiously Rage’ which calls for command and presence.

Amongst the ranks of the Chameleon Arts Baroque Orchestra, Philip Barratt, Organist and DoM at London’s Savoy Chapel, played the key continuo role at the delightful hand-made chamber organ with masterful, flowing ease.

Perhaps the finest of the chorales produced by the choir was their powerful and inspired rendering of the mighty Hallelujah Chorus. Overall, the entire performance was a significant achievement, well rewarded with a standing ovation.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

Summer Concert 2010: Around the World in 80 Minutes

St Paul’s Church, Dorking

Traditional melodies from around the world, augmented with the creative harmonies at which Brockham Choral Society (BCS) excel, were at the heart of the society’s summer concert.

Subtly interjecting the Flower duet from Delibes’ Lakme to indicate take-off, the audience were musically whisked around the world starting with the seasonally topical CountryGardens by Percy Grainger.

The journey touched down briefly in Austria, Germany, Italy, Spain & Portugal, Africa,Australia, New Zealand Latin America and the USA.

Highlights included an entertaining contribution from the young Spanish mezzo-soprano Graciela Rodriguez, an accomplished performer. This combination for the Italian song Santa Lucia was outstanding. Memorable choir showpieces were the hauntingly beautiful Maori song Pokarekare Ana and the spiritual Shenandoah.

Centrepiece was a premiere of a set of comic choral pieces by emerging English composer Guy Turner, a BCS commission with the help of the BBC Choral Ambition scheme. The five sections of Travels with my Pigeon brought a variety of tuneful melodies descriptive of pigeons in Europe, the final Bavarian pigeon giving Fred Harrison a perfect opportunity to add a guttural narration as from the Munich Oktoberfest.

Review by Simon Ames

Spring Concert 2010: Brahms Requiem & Symphony No 4

St Martin’s Church, Dorking

Another well-prepared performance by this enterprising society, on this occasion devoted exclusively to the higher profile music of Johannes Brahms.  The score for his Symphony No 4 in E minor demands a big orchestra – and impressively there were 45 musicians on the platform.

The opening movement (Allegro non troppo) is serene, making way for a strident horn introduction to the second. A sense of gaiety dominates the third movement (Allegro giocoso) while the finale returns to a baroque form with brass and woodwind making the running in the stately and sonorous eight-measure theme. The closing statement returns to an emotion of tragedy. It was a top class performance by the orchestra.

The second half brought the composer’s mighty German Requiem for solo voices, choir and orchestra. Naomi Harvey sang the soprano role, Julien Dubreuil as baritone, both being busy international recitalists.  Brahms took 11 years to complete this work, much of it reflective on the death of his mother three years before he finalised it. The seven sections of the celebrated work differ from other requiems because it is not a Mass for the Dead, more a work of solace for those who remain.

Naomi Harvey was elegant with her delivery of the fifth section “Ye now have sorrow but yet I will again behold you and your heart shall rejoice”.  In the sixth section, Julien and the choir were serene with their rendering of “We shall all be changed in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the sound of the last trumpet”.

The big sound from the orchestra together with a supreme performance by choir and soloists produced a lofty performance enjoyed and appreciated by a large audience. Musical direction by Andrew Phillips was masterful.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

Family Christmas Concert 2009

St Martin’s Church Dorking, 5 December 2009

Brockham Choral Society (BCS) hosted an entertaining family Christmas concert at St Martin’s Church, with fine contributions from Alberti Brass and visiting guest organist Simon Dinsdale from the Royal Memorial Chapel at RMA Sandhurst.

A delightful feature of the programme of carols and Christmas music were performances by young children from Dorking’s Powell Corderoy Primary School, St Joseph’s Catholic Primary School and St Martin’s Church of England Primary School accompanied at the piano by BCS director of Music Andrew Phillips.

Actress Virginia McKenna OBE contributed to the concert with a Reading entitled The Barn by Elizabeth Coatsworth, following it with an inspired appeal on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust, the charity by the Society for support.

The choice of music and the performance of the choir, well complemented by smartly-dressed young children in their school uniforms singing Christmas songs with smiling enthusiasm, made this a heart-warming occasion in the true spirit of Christmas. Bravo.

Review by Simon Ames

Summer Concert – Stars & Stripes

St Paul’s Church, Dorking: May 30 2009

Brockham Choral Society proved last year that venturing into the field of popular music for their summer concert attracted a different and augmented audience. This year, they chose an American theme for their May programme – a selection of well-known music by Copland, Loesser, Berlin, Rodgers, Gershwin, Kern, Bernstein – and more.

On stage the choir looked spectacular – the ladies in red, white and blues shirts, the gentlemen with ingenious stars and stripes bow ties. This lent colour and character from the outset.

With music provided by the Chameleon Jazz Trio and Marion Lea at the piano, the choir embarked on a journey through classic American musical theatre with a fine sprinkling of spirituals from the south. Highlights included the outstanding harmonies of Aaron Copland’s Long Time Ago and James Erb’s delightful arrangement of Shenandoah that was sung unaccompanied. Their Medley from Guys & Dolls included Luck be a Lady Tonight and the jaunty I Love You – a Bushell and a Peck.

A rousing performance of Irving Berlin’s Alexander’s Rag-Time Band was delivered with style. Even the tenor and bass die-hards, more used to singing classical mass, were getting into their stride by now. The sentimental Deep Purple by Peter de Rose briefly lowered the tempo, then on to the famous You’ll Never Walk Alone by Richard Rodgers, which had the audience foot-tapping and humming along with the famous melody. Conductor Andrew Phillips sang a mellifluous tenor solo role in addition to conducting for Wonderful World, followed by the choir doing full justice to Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’.

The closing set piece was the West Side Story Suite that gave the choir a fine opportunity to sing through the changing moods of Tonight, Tonight, I’m So Pretty, Maria, I Want to Be in Americaand Somewhere A Place For Us. It was a well rehearsed and triumphant finale, bringing well-deserved and appreciative applause.

The audience were offered some US-style refreshments during the interval – a nice touch from a thoughtful society. The Chameleon Trio were excellent musicians, though the big numbers that the choir delivered from American musical theatre needed some brass and extended percussion to complement their commendable efforts. Andrew Phillips’ multi-tasking role as narrator, conductor and solo tenor was larger-than-life and engaging.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

J S Bach – St John Passion

St Martin’s Church, Dorking, 28 March 2009

Photos by Ed Criswick

The BCS billed their performance of Bach’s St John Passion as ‘a dramatic presentation, with theatrical lighting and screen projection’. The evolutionary idea was well executed, bringing a full audience and adding significantly to the success of the occasion.

Gallery lighting focussed on soloists or choir at key moments according to the music, often with subtle colour variations. A huge screen mounted above the choir projected a changing selection of famous images matching the story – the arrest, trial and crucifixion of Jesus. The high, vaulted spaces of St Martin’s Church lent authenticity, adding to the drama of the powerful music.

The role of the Evangelist, who narrates the story in a series of recitatives, was convincingly delivered from the pulpit by James Atherton. Andrew Mayor brought a fine, responsive balance as Jesus while the rich, deep voice of Dingle Yandell added gravitas to the dilemma that faced Pontius Pilate. Andrea Haines, soprano; Barnaby Smith, counter-tenor and Charles MacDougall, tenor, eloquently sang other parts.

The chorus speaks for the crowd, the soldiers, priests and populace who react to the heightening drama. The soaring chorales were delivered by the choir with great effect, a pointer to studied preparation and concentrated work in rehearsals. One chorister mentioned during the interval that ‘Andrew has worked us very hard’ and agreed that singing at this level was immensely satisfying.

The Chameleon Arts Orchestra produced an enchanting baroque sound, notably Stephen Bullamore who seldom rested from organ continuo.

Andrew Phillips as the Conductor and the Society’s Music Director captured the vitality and eloquence of Bach’s great work in a commendable way. This was Brockham Choral Society at their best.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

Devotional Performances of ‘The Crucifixion’ by John Stainer

The choir gave three performances of Stainer’s “The Crucifixion” over Easter 2009 – at St Mary Magdalene Church, South Holmwood, on Palm Sunday; at Christ Church, Brockham, on the following evening; and at St Barnabas Church, Ranmore, on Easter Saturday. The photograph was taken at St Mary Magdalene.

Summer Concert 2008 ‘Pastime with Good Company’

St Paul’s Church, Dorking, 17 May 2008

Photo by Simon Ames

A musical journey in song spanning 500 years was the theme for the Society’s Spring concert, held at St Paul’s Church in Dorking, where the modern seating and staging are valuable assets for organisers and audiences alike.

Pastime with Good Company was the title of the opening number, the choir processing to the stage as they sang, accompanied by a small woodwind group and a single drumbeat. They had chosen one of the rare songs composed by King Henry VIII – no less. This toe-tapping introduction set the pattern for an illustrious evening of good music and entertainment, the carefully chosen songs ranged from the 500-year-old monarchy up to the modern works of Lloyd Webber.

Three English folk songs by Vaughan Williams were sung unaccompanied, including the delightfulLinden Lea. With Marion Lea at the piano, the choir continued with Ireland’s Londonderry Air and the bonny banks and braes of Loch Lomond. Baritone Andrew Mayor ascended the pulpit to deliver in fine style the Five Mystical Songs of Vaughan Williams, the choir contributing strongly for the well-known hymnal Antiphon – Let all the world in every corner sing. After an excursion into Victorian England with Barnby’s Sweet & Low and Sir Arthur Sullivan’s mournful The Long Day Closes, Andrew Phillips put down his conductor’s baton and joined with Andrew Mayor for a rousing duetWatchman – What of the Night.

The music of Noel Coward was a natural choice for a choir of this calibre and inventiveness and their delivery of the lilting London Pride was a delight. Coward’s Words & Music was superbly brought to life by Anne Mitchell in a mini-cameo singing I’m Mad about the Boy, her attentions directed towards an unmoved, self-preening Fred Harrison.

Paul Halley’s distinctive songs of the 1960’s included Soldier, Soldier and The Bailiff’s Daughterwere positive inclusions, the programme finishing with a selection from the CATS production by Andrew Lloyd Webber. The finale that brought rapturous applause was the bouncy Jellicle song.

A really thoughtful contribution to customer relations was the glass of sparkling rose on arrival and strawberries and cream during the interval, offered to all in the audience, Bravo!

The choir was well prepared; Andrew Phillips’ musical direction was energetic and effective. Marion Lea provided top class, reliable piano accompaniment, as she always does.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

Spring Concert 2008

  • Bernstein ‘Chichester Psalms’
  • Allegri ‘Miserere’
  • Jenkins ‘The Armed Man’

St Martin’s Church, Dorking, 15 March 2008

Photo by Simon Ames

BCS, an illustrious concert trendsetter, chose for their March event an intriguing balance of old and new music.

Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms were composed for the 1965 Southern Cathedrals Festival. Young Adam Vidler sang the treble part of Psalm 23 in the Hebrew text with high confidence, the choir capturing the vivid settings of the remainder with effective support from organist Oliver King and harp accompaniment.

Next, to Allegri’s ethereal masterpiece Misere mei Deus, written for the 17th century choir of the Sistine Chapel. This performance was clearly well rehearsed and benefited from Andrew Phillips’ fine interpretation.

The main work of the evening was The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace by the Welsh composer Karl Jenkins, commissioned to mark the passing of ‘the most war-torn and destructive century in human history.’ Conductor Andrew Phillips followed the composer’s concept with an ensemble of nine musicians; organ, piano, two trumpets, flute and cello blending well with three percussion and the power of the choir. The result was masterful.

The opening march-like L’Homme Armé reflects the tramping of military men. The gentle and liftingKyrie contrasted well, then the dynamism of the Hymn before Action based on Rudyard Kipling’s thunderous words bringing a resounding performance from the choir. The exuberance of the trumpet fanfare that heralded Charge! was perfect, the choir making the best of John Dryden’s dramatic poetry. The thought-provoking Angry Flames featured the poem of Togi Sankichi who witnessed the effect of the Hiroshima A-bomb. Other memorable sections were the prayer-like Agnus Dei with its lilting organ introduction, the tender and flowing Benedictus that heals the wounds of survivors of war, and Tennyson’s Ring out the Thousand Wars of Old, a rousing choral finale that saw the choir at their best.

Musicians and choir captured the colour and drama of this high quality modern work. Oliver King, regular organist at Wellington College and the Chameleon Arts Orchestra Under Andrew Phillips’ precise direction complemented an outstanding performance from a well-trained choir.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

December Concert 2007: J S Bach – Mass in B Minor

St Martin’s Church, Dorking, 8 December 2007

There can be no doubt that Bach’s Mass in B minor presents a huge challenge to any choir or choral society. It is a colossal compendium of choruses and arias which demand great understanding of style and considerable vocal and instrumental technique. It is a musical Mount Everest. In their recent performance in St Martin’s Church, Dorking, the Brockham Choral Society, under the calm and authoritative direction of Andrew Phillips only partly met these challenges. There were a number of instances of faulty intonation, insecurity of ensemble, and uncertain entries. Despite these problems it was clear that the choir had worked extremely hard in rehearsal. The great homophonic choruses of the Sanctus and Hosanna were solidly performed with weight and grandeur. The opening chorus of the Gloria had pace and verve and the concluding Dona Nobis Pacem had finely graded dynamics providing a majestic conclusion. The choir were ably supported in the solo arias by the team of soloists, Hannah Bradbury, Catherine Hopper, Matthew Venner, Joseph Timmons and Simon Whitely. The musicians of the Senesino Players provided skilful and sensitive accompaniments and continuo. The three trumpet players were outstanding.

Summer Concert May 2007: An Evening at the Opera

St Paul’s Church, Dorking, 19 May 2007

Photo by Simon Ames

The Brockham Choral Society (BCS) turned its erudite attention briefly away from their regular performances of sacred and secular music to bring a concert devoted mainly to well-known opera choruses. They also added a most welcome dimension to the occasion by inviting the award-winning Belgian choir Cantabile Ghent to share the evening, bringing with them their own special selection of harmonies in the cappella style.

Introduced by Gill Jarvis, Brockham Choral launched the evening’s programme with a fine rendering of Donizetti’s Chorus of Wedding Guestsfrom his opera Lucia di Lammermoor. Fred Prego sang the tenor solo with dash.

The choir did full justice to Dido’s Lament and the final chorus from Henry Purcell’s only opera Dido & Aeneas written in 1684.

After the warm-up period, they moved up to the more ambitious Soldiers’ Chorus from Verdi’s opera Il Trovatore delivered with a driving enthusiasm under their new conductor Barnaby Smith.

Cantabile Ghent are tutored by Jan Vuye one of Belgium’s best known organists and music directors. He has honed the skills of his 30-strong choir at a high level, as was evident from their introductory sequence of Five English Folk Songs composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams, sung unaccompanied with commendable sharpness. The selection included The Dark-eyed Sailor, The Lover’s Ghost andThe Wassail Song. Jan Vuye switched from rostrum to piano for a further cycle of Four Songs for Sailors by the 20th century composer Sir George Dyson delivered with fine diction and admirable technical skill.

The busy programme brought BCS to the stage again for The Bell Chorus from Pagliacci by Leoncavallo, then Barnaby Smith left the rostrum to become a solo singer, demonstrating his fine counter-tenor style with Dove Sei from Handel’s Rosalinda for which Louise Hughes added a serene solo violin to complement Marion Lea’s piano accompaniment.

A highlight of the first half was Anne MitcheIl, superbly dressed for the part, singing the mezzo-sopranoHabanera from George Bizet’s well-known opera Carmen with powerful support from Brockham Choral.

After the interval, Cantabile Ghent returned with a series of delightful songs in French by Debussy and Ravel, then a further selection with Brockham Choral that brought The Chorus of Enchanted lslanders from Handel’s Alcina, a majestic delivery of the Priests’ Chorus from The Magic Flute by Mozart, another counter-tenor performance by Barnaby Smith of Handel’s Where’er you Walk fromSemele, concluding with a most convincing performance of The Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves from Verdi’s opera Nabucco. BCS delivered all the crescendos and powerful innuendos of this famous chorus. It was received with acclaim.

For the joyful finale, Brockham Choral joined with Cantabile Ghent to produce a remarkably well-rounded performance of Richard Genee’s Italian Salad, described as ‘a musical jest in the form of the Finale to an Italian opera’. Between them, they effectively mastered the fast-moving harmonies and clever Italian script under Barnaby Smith’s baton. It was received by the audience with extended applause – great credit to both choirs as joint rehearsal for this clever set piece had been naturally limited.

The popularity of this music drew a larger audience than usual and there may be a pointer here. The contribution of Cantabile Ghent under their accomplished director Jan Vuye was a notable feature. Accompanist Marion Lea at the piano was a class act all of its own and Louise Hughes impressed with the violin. Barnaby Smith is energetic, knowledgeable and enterprising and it was a wise choice to appoint him as BCS director.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

Spring Concert March 2007

  • Handel
    • Dixit Dominus
  • Purcell
    • Rejoice in the Lord
    • Come Ye Sons of Art

St Martin’s Church, Dorking, 17 March 2007

Photo by Simon Ames

The outlook is changing at Brockham Choral Society. Their springtime concert saw the introduction of their youthful new conductor, 23-year old Barnaby Smith who began his career in music as a chorister at Westminster Abbey. In a rapidly developing career, he has established himself as a conductor, notably with the award-winning Voces Cantabilis, also as a choral and concert soloist and operatic performer. Barnaby brings the Senesino Players to provide the orchestra, a group of young musicians who have recently graduated in the profession. I predict some exciting BCS concerts ahead under the new arrangements.

The concert opened with an orchestral composition by Handel, the Concerto Grosso in G major, Opus 3, No 3. The baroque sound from Senesino was pure delight, bringing this invigorating piece to life in a splendid way. Opus 3 includes music that Handel had used for earlier clavier works, the oboe playing a dominant role. It was a regal opener.

The music of Henry Purcell, a 17th century English composer of a decade or two earlier than Handel, introduced the young soloists for the evening. For the anthem Rejoice in the Lord Alway, Matthew Venner sang the alto part, Charles MacDougall as tenor and Dingle Yandell, bass. The anthem benefits from a simple but strident harmonic structure, delivered skilfully by soloists, choir and Senesino with superb baroque sound.

More from Purcell followed, an Ode for a Royal birthday called Come Ye Sons of Art. Two sopranos joined the concert platform, Catherine Backhouse and Susannah Vango, both with impressive career CVs. After a striking Introduction, the piece comprises seven separate sections for soloists and choir supported by the baroque sound. This was baroque at its best. Rupert Gough at the harpsichord made a fine impact for this 300-year-old composition for a ceremonial occasion.

The main work of the evening was Handel’s Dixit Dominus, a regular favourite with many choral societies. It was written in 1707 when the composer was only 21 and working In Rome. The work has exuberance, a sustaining splendour that was superbly captured by the soloists and choir. Though slightly down on numbers through seasonal colds and flu, the 60-strong choir proved to be well rehearsed with firm choral entries and quality power when called up.

Barnaby Smith has made a very bright start with BCS. At the rostrum, he demonstrates a mature style, plenty of body language to direct his singers who clearly are very happy to be tutored by him and to have the musical accompaniment of the young and highly professional Senesino Players.

Reviewed by Simon Ames

Christmas Concert 2006

  • Mozart
    • Requiem
    • Laudate Dominum
  • Schubert
    • Mass in G

St Martin’s Church, Dorking: 9th December 2006

A concert devoted principally to the choral works of Mozart and Schubert, a farewell occasion for Christopher Dawe after nine highly successful years as the Society’s Musical Director and Conductor.

The full programme began with Henry Purcell’sChaconne in G Minor for strings, one of this English composer’s most celebrated works. Guildford Oriana orchestra gave a sparkling performance of this unusual work in which the ground bass is a five-bar theme repeated no less than 44 times.

Soprano soloist Rachel Nicholls brought out the best of the awe-inspiring music of Mozart in Laudate Dominum, the setting of Psalm 116 from the Vesperae Solennes de Confessore, K329. Rachel recently won the Most Outstanding Student of the Year prize at the Royal College of Music and it was a delight that she was present to sing with the BCS.

Franz Schubert’s Mass in G Major followed, written when the composer was just 18 years old in 1815. Rachel was joined by tenor Hugh Hetherington and baritone Roderick Earle, both top flight performers, for this relatively restrained work that is more secular than religious. The choir delivered a fine, pure sound for the opening Kyrie and the Gloria that followed, continuing with vigour to the closing, memorable Agnus Dei with its chromatic harmonies that provide the base of the poignant soprano solo part, sung superbly by Rachel. The work was an excellent choice and the choir delivered a well prepared performance.

After the interval, the main work of the evening was Mozart’s Requiem in D Minor (K626) bringing the three soloists back to the platform, now joined by Serena Kay, mezzo-soprano. Mozart wroteRequiem shortly before his death in December 1791. At the time he was racked with pain, yet he worked with a passion and intensity that is strongly reflected in the work.

After the subdued Kyrie with a fine solo section from Rachel, the choir produced a controlled and powerful Dies Irae. The brass introduction to the Tuba Mirum, was poignant, leading into an eloquent sequence with the four soloists. The choir navigated superbly through Rex Tremendae to the serene and flowing Recordare and towards the stately Sanctus. Together with the orchestra and the top flight soloists, this was the Society’s choir at their very best.

BCS Chairman Reuben Suckling closed the evening with an appreciation of the progressive role that Christopher Dawe had played over 9 years in the Society’s musical life and for their enjoyment of singing good music to a high standard.

Review & Photo by Simon Ames

May Concert 2006

  • Beethoven
    • Mass in C
    • Calm Sea & Prosperous Voyage
  • Vaughan Williams
    • Toward the Unknown Region
    • Wasps Overture

St Martin’s Church, Dorking: 20 May 2006

Conductor Christopher Dawe’s choice of Vaughan Williams and Beethoven for this early summer concert by Brockham Choral Society could be called a ‘daring pairing’. But, in fact, there was a linking theme of eternal mysticism in the main works of these two revolutionaries. Beethoven’s early Mass in C stresses ‘the life of the world to come’ while Vaughan Williams’ Toward the Unknown Region is an agnostic’s setting of humanist Walt Whitman’s verse on ‘the ties eternal, time and space.’

The sprightly Guildford Oriana Orchestra preceded the Mass with Beethoven’s A Calm Sea and a Prosperous Voyage, as a warm-up cantata for the floating-yet-potent Brockham voices. They effectively expressed the opening ‘single syllables’ style of the cantata, and then managed the explosive link from the calm sea passage to the prosperous voyage with ‘the bright sun prevailing’ line.

In the Mass itself, the choir almost stole the show. After the muted Kyrie came their jubilant Gloria outburst and the presto passages for combined orchestra and choir. The Credo came over penetratively, especially in the church setting with the light of evening ebbing from stained glass. The numerical strength of sopranos (“valiant” as the conductor called them later) and mezzos meant that they tended to outsing the male voices acoustically if not musically. The whole choir is now a powerful entity; responsive, refined and not too ladylike.

All four soloists had purity of line and tone, with Alison Bishop, the soprano, shining. Amy Sedgwick gallantly stood in as the mezzo at 24 hours’ notice, while Jonathan Grey and Vojtech Saralic sang tenor and baritone. Perhaps the quartet could have benefited from a little more passionate projection, but by the Benedictus they did reveal real feeling.

The orchestra opened with the summery overture, The Wasps, by Vaughan Williams, with its twin buzzing and meadowlike themes coming together nicely in counterpoint at the conclusion.

Toward the Unknown Region showed the choir in sensitive mode and mood: minor key, ethereal, timeless. The contrast came with “Then we burst forth” as a typical RVW flourish at the climax. Bertrand Russell as a young don introduced the composer to this Whitman verse at Cambridge, and they were also contemporaries there of the poet Rupert Brooke in this Edwardian era.

Altogether a programme and performance for the discerning concertgoer; with credit to the Brockham choir, the cultured Guildford Oriana Orchestra and Christopher Dawe who conducted with clarity and eclat.

Review by John Frayn Turner