All For Your Delight - Saturday 24th October at St Helens Town Hall
A GREAT CONCERT
Alan Free, conductor and “owner” of the St.Helens Sinfonietta for all of its 18-year existence, is for this year only (filling a gap) the conductor also of the St.Helens Choral Society. On Saturday 24th October, these two key musical organisations, amateur choir and professional orchestra, gave a concert together for the very first time – and what a concert! The rich and beautiful sounds of great music thrilled a large audience, and the climaxes threatened to raise the roof of the Town Hall (recently assaulted in a less welcome way).
The major work in the programme was the inspired choice of the Choral Society: John Rutter’s wonderful Magnificat, virtually a choral symphony using the words ascribed by St. Luke to the mother of Jesus, alongside other devout texts. But put aside any thought of “church music” – this work draws on all the resources of a modern composer and combines them in a brilliant frieze of glorious melody, exciting rhythm and glittering orchestration. At this concert there were 50 singers, 40 players and a splendid soloist, Victoria Little, prepared to give their all – and a conductor who knew how to bring out that “all”. The choir had worked hard to master this complex 45-minute work. They sang like angels and got round the tricky corners without seeming to notice them. Their “gentlemen” are few in number, but you wouldn’t have known it with your eyes shut. The professional musicians, under Alan Free’s authoritative direction, were on top of the job from the start of the one brief combined rehearsal that was possible.
John Rutter has said that much of his inspiration for the Magnificat came from the processions of the image of the Virgin Mary regularly held in Spain and Italy, so there was a sort of link to the purely orchestral first half of the concert. The main work was Tchaikovsky’s Italian Caprice – the result of a holiday which the composer seems to have spent noting down Italian tunes. This is another thriller. The melodies are superb and their presentation compelling, from the deeply impressive opening through the charming string of “popular” tunes to the colossal excitement of the final riotous tarantella. The playing was tremendous.
Before it, we heard Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance Overture, and as a gentle contrast to all the excitement The Banks of Green Willow by George Butterworth, killed at age 31 in the First World War. (Not entirely gentle, actually; in 1913 he seemed to have some premonitions.)
Over many years the St.Helens Choral Society, the Sinfonietta and Alan Free have fought the good fight for live classical music in St.Helens. The many who ignore it all may never know how their lives might be enriched. But happily there is a following, and the Town Hall has been host to some fine musical events in recent times. This concert, titled All For Your Delight, was perhaps the greatest triumph yet.