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REVIEW: Ilkley And Otley Choral Societies 'A Sea Symphony'

(c) Robin Stubbs

Ilkley And Otley Choral Societies with Leeds Symphony Orchestra performed Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony in two concerts, in both St Chad’s Church, Far Headingley (4th) and St Margaret’s Church, Ilkley (11th).

Chris Skidmore review for Ilkley Chat:

"The adventurous programming of the combined Ilkley and Otley choirs continued this month with performances of Vaughan Williams’ first symphony. This piece for chorus, soloists and large orchestra to a text by Walt Whitman was first performed in Leeds in 1910 and it was in Leeds that your reviewer heard it. As always the work made a huge impression on its listeners if only in its symphonic breadth and the scope of its ambition. Whitman’s famous boast – ‘I am large, I contain multitudes’ - is matched by the music which, though anchored in the ocean, stretches to embrace the soul’s journey through life.

"The concert began with a performance of Mendelssohn’s Calm Sea and Prosperous Voyage overture – a difficult piece which even its composer described as at the start stirring ‘sluggishly from the passage with heavy tedium’ and which in this performance never quite got going. There followed three vocal pieces with an oceanic theme sung by the Ilkley Chorus’s choral scholars. The Leeds Symphony Orchestra recovered their form and were excellent and supportive accompanists. The best of these were baritone Charles Murray’s performance of Drake’s Drum by Stanford and the most perplexing was the choice of tenor Tom Coyle to sing Sabbath morning at sea from Elgar’s Sea Pictures, written for mezzo-soprano, which never convinced.

The second-half performance of A Sea Symphony really did convince and constituted a real triumph for both choirs and orchestra. Well trained by choral director, Jennifer Sterling, and guided very ably by conductor, John Lyon, the voices attacked this difficult score with great gusto and good attention to rhythm , soring over the orchestra at times producing a thrilling effect. They also brought a convincing quiet intensity to the second movement. Inevitably there were understandable lapses in passages where the high tessitura of the parts took its toll but overall the choral singing was of a high standard. Charles Murray excelled as the baritone soloist, reaching over the orchestra to capture the audience’s attention. Elizabeth Hardman (soprano) gave a good account of her solos but again one felt the high tessitura was punishing. Top marks must go to the Leeds Symphony Orchestra whose playing of this complex score was exemplary."


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