Saturday, June 21, 2008


The Waltham Singers in Chelmsford Cathedral


We are the music makers -” sang the impressive combined choirs of the Waltham Singers and the Schlosskirchenkantorei Weilburg.

Their joint concert in Chelmsford Cathedral followed a successful event in Germany last month.

It was a model cultural collaboration. Mendelssohn and Elgar, two late flowerings of the European Choral tradition. And to begin, a celebratory blast of Brahms: the Academic Festival Overture, a heady blend of fun and formality, played with powerful panache by the Salomon Orchestra under the precise baton of Andrew Fardell.

Andrew had conducted the Mendelssohn Psalm 95 back in Weilburg, but it was their director, Doris Hagel, in charge in Chelmsford. This was a rich, tuneful performance, with a soprano soloist from each choir, and tenor Andrew Wicks, especially eloquent in the Seine Stimme, the voice of Our Lord crying in the wilderness.

Elgar's Music Makers is a very different piece. Andrew Fardell saw it safely from the sweeping orchestral opening to the dying dreams of the final bars. Some of the detail was lost in the soaring sound, but quieter passages, such as the Breath of Our Inspiration, were impeccably phrased. As in the Mendelssohn, the choirs merged beautifully to form a wonderfully satisfying sound. Mezzo Margaret McDonald has a voice well suited to Elgar, especially effective in the No Vision Amazing sequence.

The Cathedral was, rightly, packed for this unique event, the brainchild of Sabine Nussey, who started her singing career in her home town of Weilburg before moving to Essex and the Waltham Singers.

This was the review of the Weilburg concert which appeared in their German newspaper - with thanks to Sabine Nussey for the translation

Music Unites the Incompatible

Symphonic Concert of the ‘Alte Musik’ is a German/English co-production

The regional administration of the protestant church celebrated its 50th birthday in style; with a great symphonic concert in the series ‘Alte Musik im Weilburger Schloss’. There were only two items on the programme, but they were quite something.

One reason for that was the two choirs: the Kantorei of the Schlosskirche Weilburg and The Waltham Singers from Chelmsford in England, one of the best mixed choirs in Great Britain. Their musical directors, Andrew Fardell and Doris Hagel, took turns in conducting a large choir of about 90 singers.

The other reason was the two pieces, which couldn’t have been more different. On the programme were Psalm 95 by Mendelssohn and Elgar’s The Music Makers. These two very diverse pieces were united not only through soloists, choir and orchestra, but mainly through their subject matter: the praise of the creator. In Mendelssohn it is the praise of God, in Elgar’s Ode the praise of the creative spirit, the Music Makers. [….]

And thirdly, the diverse voices of the soloists and the brilliant playing of the orchestra made the concert a lasting experience. […..]

The evening began with Mendelssohn’s psalm, conducted by Andrew Fardell. Heiko Börner´s pleasant voice was convincing in the tenor part of the first movement, and the collaboration between choir and orchestra was faultless. In the third movement, the soprano duet by Doris Hagel and Dorothee Zimmermann produced an enjoyable sound.

The choir’s precise diction – the German singers had to sing in English, the English ones in German – their sound full of nuances and differentiated phrases was very much appreciated. The singers mastered the fugue in movement four with bravura, and tenor Heiko Börner shone in movement five with his expressive interpretation.

The highlight of the evening was Elgar´s difficult, but wonderful piece The Music Makers, which demanded the highest standards from choir, orchestra and soloist. It demonstrated that this composer should not be known by his Pomp and Circumstance alone.

This was the moment of truth, not only for the combined choirs, but also for the orchestra. Here woodwind and brass united with the strings to produce a balanced sound. On the whole, Elgar´s piece was characterised by changes of tone and dynamics, and alternating piano and forte passages for the choir as well as the orchestra. Very bright here the voice of Ralph Mangelsdorff, whose interpretation of the dramatic as well as the lyrical passages left nothing to be desired.

The German-English choir were worthy partners and mastered the difficult piece convincingly. There was long applause for all the participants, who are going to repeat this concert in Chelmsford in a few weeks.

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