Reviews of Scarborough Choral Society concerts




Spring Concert


Haydn’s ‘The Creation’

Westborough Methodist Church -13th May 2017


After recent excursions to some contemporary repertoire, Scarborough Choral Society returned to more traditional material with a stunning performance of Haydn’s Creation. Evelyn Halford conducted the choir, and The Orchestra of Friends, led by Tony Mason, with Frank James (continuo) and Clare Little (cello). The excellent young professional soloists were Sarah Ingham (soprano), Alexander Banfield (tenor) and Ben Lindley (bass).

Haydn wrote the work after hearing some of Handel’s popular oratorios. The words come mainly from Genesis, with part three drawing on Milton’s Paradise Lost.

Part one opens with the purely orchestral Representation of Chaos, which would have been controversial in Haydn’s day, and leads in to the depiction of the creation of light in a famous solemn chordal outburst. For each day, the soloists sing a recitative and aria, and the choir sings a chorus of praise. These, with the full orchestra, were handled with drive and rhythm, which propelled the music along, and the full climaxes of the well-known choruses such as The Heavens are Telling and Achieved is the Glorious Work, had great impact. The overall blend and balance was excellent throughout.

In part two the soloists had an important role in depicting the creation of the seas and rivers, and trees and plants. The effect of the soloists singing together was particularly remarkable. Here, Haydn’s superb examples of word painting for diverse creatures such as the eagle, the tawny lion, the insects, and the sinuous worm, were colourfully interpreted by the orchestra. The final chorus in section three brought the work to a thrilling conclusion.

The Choral Society is to be congratulated on a splendid telling of this story. Scarborough audiences are fortunate to have the opportunity to attend performances of this standard, and we look forward to Bach’s Christmas Oratorio in December.




Spring Concert


Haydn's 'The Creation'

Westborough Methodist Church -13th May 2017


After recent excursions to some contemporary repertoire, Scarborough Choral Society returned to more traditional material with a stunning performance of Haydn's Creation. Evelyn Halford conducted the choir, and The Orchestra of Friends, led by Tony Mason, with Frank James (continuo) and Clare Little (cello). The excellent young professional soloists were Sarah Ingham (soprano), Alexander Banfield (tenor) and Ben Lindley (bass).

Haydn wrote the work after hearing some of Handel's popular oratorios. The words come mainly from Genesis, with part three drawing on Milton's Paradise Lost.

Part one opens with the purely orchestral Representation of Chaos, which would have been controversial in Haydn's day, and leads in to the depiction of the creation of light in a famous solemn chordal outburst. For each day, the soloists sing a recitative and aria, and the choir sings a chorus of praise. These, with the full orchestra, were handled with drive and rhythm, which propelled the music along, and the full climaxes of the well-known choruses such as The Heavens are Telling and Achieved is the Glorious Work, had great impact. The overall blend and balance was excellent throughout.

In part two the soloists had an important role in depicting the creation of the seas and rivers, and trees and plants. The effect of the soloists singing together was particularly remarkable. Here, Haydn's superb examples of word painting for diverse creatures such as the eagle, the tawny lion, the insects, and the sinuous worm, were colourfully interpreted by the orchestra. The final chorus in section three brought the work to a thrilling conclusion.

The Choral Society is to be congratulated on a splendid telling of this story. Scarborough audiences are fortunate to have the opportunity to attend performances of this standard, and we look forward to Bach's Christmas Oratorio in December.

Mike Lester 




Christmas Concert

Westborough Methodist Church, Scarborough -17 December,2016

This very enjoyable Christmas concert provided a fascinating and well-thought-out programme of music ranging from mediaeval to contemporary, and in a wide variety of vocal styles. The Choral Society competently and confidently sang with an excellent range of tonal variety and expression to suit each individual carol. Conductor Evelyn Halford kept her usual tight control of her forces, and the choir was responsive to her demands. Accompanist Frank James played with his usual brilliant professionalism.

The first half consisted of traditional and more recently composed carols, starting with God Rest Ye Merry in which the congregation joined.

Of particular note were the traditional rhythmic Here We Come A-Wassailing, and the gentle Whence Is That Goodly Fragrance with its flowing melodic lines.

The two promising young soloists, soprano Izzy Harvey and tenor Mitchell Wright added variety to the programme with their solos.

The first half closed with two of the traditional carols that are still enthusiastically sung in the village pubs of south Sheffield and north Derbyshire.

A surprising omission from the printed programme was the names of composers and arrangers.

The main work of the evening was Bob Chilcott's highly enjoyable 2011 work On Christmas Night. It has eight settings of many familiar carol texts and tunes, which are intriguingly mixed with original material. The biblical readings between the carols were by Martin Dodgson.

Chilcott's delightful settings had some challenges for the choir, and many of the gentle passages in the quieter carols produced some lovely warm, sustained tone. Unfortunately in some of unaccompanied sections the pitch sagged slightly, and the men were outnumbered beneath the stronger female voices. There were also some demanding passages with complex modern rhythmic patterns which the choir managed confidently. This work is a welcome addition to the Christmas repertoire.

Mike Lester 


Spring Concerts:

Bridlington Priory 7 May, 2016

Westborough Church, Scarborough 14 May, 2016

For their summer concerts this year, the Choral Society, conducted by Evelyn Halford, presented a selection of English music ranging from the Tudors to the Windsors.

The concert opened atmospherically with Richard Penny singing the English folksong Greensleeves, associated with Henry VIII. The Tudors were then represented by four contrasting items, by William Byrd, Thomas Morley, and Orlando Gibbons.

We then heard Purcell, England's greatest seventeenth century composer, with a spirited performance of his popular verse anthem Rejoice in the Lord Always. This is in several sections, alternating the full choir with a smaller ensemble which used members of the choir. Amanda Wademan then sang Purcell's O Lead Me, and with Joanne Gibson, the duet Sound the Trumpet.

The three motets by Stanford were movingly sung, and they were greatly enhanced at Bridlington by the acoustics of the Priory which were unfortunately absent in the Scarborough performance.

The first half ended in splendid style with the Finale from Act 1 of Gilbert and Sullivan's Pirates of Penzance with all the solo roles being taken by choir members.

After the interval, we moved into the twentieth century with a solo song by Roger Quilter sung by Joanne Gibson and a lively part song, My Spirit Sang all Day, by Gerald Finzi. Benjamin Britten was represented by one of his folk song arrangements, Green Broom, and Vaughan Williams' Three Songs from 1951 then followed.

A short medley of Beatles songs was followed by a foot-tapping instrumental version of Noel Coward's I'll See You Again when regular accompanist Frank James was joined by Dave Pinkney (drums) and Bob Malinowski (string bass).

The Lamb by John Tavener, and Musick's Empire by Richard Shephard, specially written for the choir in 2012, brought this adventurous and very varied concert to a satisfying conclusion.

Mike Lester 

Christmas Concert :

Handel's Messiah

Bridlington Priory 12 December 2015

Westborough Methodist Church, Scarborough 19 December 2015

This year, Scarborough Choral Society gave two performances of Messiah, the first at Bridlington Priory, and the second at Westborough Methodist Church, Scarborough. At the Bridlington performance, Frank James, the choir's regular accompanist played the Priory organ, and at Scarborough the accompaniment was by a very competent small chamber Orchestra of Friends led by Tony Mason, with Frank James playing harpsichord continuo.

The performances were conducted by Evelyn Halford, the soloists being soprano Wendy Goodson, alto Kathryn Woodruff, tenor Michael Solomon Williams, and bass Ben Lindley.

There was singing of the highest quality from all the soloists. Soprano Wendy Goodson's clear, pure and effortless soaring sound was a pure joy in all she did, notably I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, and Kathryn Woodruff's pastoral alto aria He Was Despised was deeply moving. The tenor soloist opens the work after the orchestral Overture, and Michael Solomon Williams set the high standard with his beautifully controlled opening recitative and aria Comfort Ye. The high point from bass Ben Lindley was the stirring The Trumpet Shall Sound, in a thrilling duet with the high baroque trumpet stunningly played by Alice Godfrey.

The large chorus produced some fine, tightly-disciplined singing, both in the restrained, quiet sections, and also in the livelier choruses, which had excitement and rhythmic drive. They closely followed the conductor's clear and precise directions, and responded well to her intentions and demands. It was truly thrilling when the string and woodwind ensemble was joined by the trumpets and timpani for the jubilant Hallelujah Chorus and the final Amen, which brought the performance to an impressive, magnificent, and triumphant close.

A large audience enjoyed this uplifting performance of Handel's masterwork, the best locally for many years, and Scarborough Choral Society is to be heartily congratulated.

Mike Lester 



Spring Concert:

Westborough Methodist Church-Saturday 16 May, 2015

The Choral Society is to be congratulated on its bold, possibly unique choice of two contrasting Requiems for its spring concert.

The Requiem by Fauré was given a traditional treatment by conductor Evelyn Halford, using an accompaniment for strings, keyboard and harp by Harvey Brough. The baritone solos were beautifully sung by Ben Lindley and, as in Faure's original performance, the Pie Jesu was sung by a boy, Richard Penny from Bridlington Priory, whose strong, clear tone was a sheer delight. The choir produced a full, confident sound and responded well to the conductor's direction with a wide range of dynamics and expression. There were some problems with intonation, but the overall performance was effective and satisfying.

In the Requiem in Blue, dedicated by Harvey Brough to his brother who was killed in a motorcycle accident, the choir was joined by the Mini Manhattans trained by Sue Hartley, and an interesting mix of talented solo singers and instrumentalists. Harvey Brough, who co-directed the performance from the piano and sang tenor, was joined by Clara Sanabras (soprano), Em Whitfield Brooks (alto), Ben Lindley (baritone), Anita Aslin (harp), Mike Outram (guitar), Frank James (keyboard), Bob Malinowski (bass), Dave Pinkney (drums), and Richard Penny (narrator).

The sections of the Latin mass included a fusion of conventional four-part singing, folk, negro spiritual, jazz, and blues. It worked wonderfully well, with some of the musicians being given the freedom to improvise. We heard a slow but driving Agnus Dei that faded to nothing at the end, and an ethereal solo harp opening to the Bendictus. The Pie Jesu had a hypnotic, repeating bass riff, and in the final triumphal Lux Aeterna, the narration was from Spoonface Steinberg by Lee Hall.

The large and appreciative audience clearly enjoyed this different, but highly successful and enjoyable concert.

Mike Lester 




Christmas Concert

Westborough Methodist Church, 13 December 2014


The first half of the Choral Society's Christmas concert was a performance of a fresh telling of the nativity story by Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, with music by Sasha Johnson Manning. The choir was joined by young singers from Scarborough College and Bramcote School, trained by Becky Leeson and Martin Richardson. First performed in Manchester by local choirs, this revised 2009 version places narrative links between the verse-repeating forms of 12 new carols that range from jaunty dancing rhythms reminding us of the carol's dance origins, to a serene and flowing lullaby. The musical style is largely traditional, but there are the occasional surprising modern harmonic and rhythmic touches. Particularly effective were the items with soloists accompanied by the choir; Kathryn Irwin gave a very moving account of the Annunciation and Hugh Penny, at short notice, sung the baritone solos to great effect. The linking narrations were beautifully read by Martin Dodgson and Anthony Halford, with Dorothy Berry reading the poems.  

A jolly encore listed some of the presents that might be found under the modern Christmas tree. This new work could become a welcome addition to the repertoire of amateur choirs.


After the interval the congregation joined in with Christmas hymns, including some from the tradition of mass singing in village pubs around Sheffield and in Derbyshire. The choir also sang a short selection of carols covering a wide range from to the twelfth century to modern settings.

Although slightly depleted by illness, the choir was well balanced, and produced a good full sound, responding well to conductor Evelyn Halford's precise conducting. As always, Frank James accompanied on piano and organ in his usual magnificent style. 




St John Passion by J S Bach

Saturday May 10, 2014

Westborough Methodist Church, Scarborough

Following their 2011 performance of Bach's St Matthew Passion, this year Scarborough Choral Society chose to perform the more challenging St John Passion, written slightly earlier. They were supported by a fifteen-piece orchestra of Friends of the Society led by violinist Tony Mason. The continuo played superbly by Clare Little (cello) and the choir's regular accompanist, Frank James (organ) sensitively supported the recitatives and arias. The soloists were Michael Solomon Williams, Evangelist; Benjamin Linley, Christus; Wendy Goodson, soprano; Caroline Sartin-Smith, mezzo soprano; Edward Saklatvala, tenor; Quentin Brown, bass, and Matthew Walton, bass. The conductor was Evelyn Halford.

Michael Solomon Williams' dramatic and involving narration of the events leading to Easter was appropriately paced and held the whole work together. All the other soloists provided beautifully dignified reflections on the action. In their choruses and interjections, the choir took the part of the crowd and quietly meditated in the many calming chorales. The atmosphere of the brooding first movement set the scene and the chorus throughout effectively portrayed the changing mood of the crowd.

The most difficult part of the work is the conversational interplay in the second half between the Evangelist, Jesus, and Pilate. The chorus, who earlier hailed Jesus, have turned against him and become an angry mob calling for him to be crucified. This musically difficult and moving section which then leads on to the actual crucifixion was very sensitively handled, and the tension of the unfolding situation was sustained throughout both by soloists and choir.





All the performers, and particularly Evelyn Halford who kept a tight control throughout, are to be congratulated on their hard work. This was a thrilling, powerful and moving experience.

Michael Lester 



Christmas Concert 21 December 2013

Westborough MethodistChurch.


There was a large and appreciative audience to hear the Choral Society's Christmas Concert at Westborough Methodist Church.


The first half consisted of a selection of traditional Christmas carols, some of which can be heard sungin village pubs around Sheffield and in Derbyshire. Some familiar words are sung to different tunes, and some carols are unique to a particular village. One was accompanied by an instrumental trio of flute, viola and cello in the west gallery church band tradition. The audience joined in enthusiastically with well-known congregational carols.


The choir sang a wide range of carol settings from ancient traditional to 20th century including onesung in its original French with a solo by Ian Williams. Soprano Rachel Crawshaw sang solo verses in two other pieces. It was good to hear several unaccompanied carols sung confidently with good balance between the parts.


Christmas poems weregiven by Sheila Sylvester and Dorothy Berry.


In the second half, thechoir performed a Christmas Cantata This Joyous Night. This thirty minute work for solo voices, choir and piano by Alan Woods was first performed in 1999. The text includes poems by Maureen Murphy and Laurie Lee, with words from the New Testament. Penny Richardson, Denise Balmer-Bennett (sopranos), TimLucas (tenor), and Ian Williams, (baritone) sang the solo parts withconfidence, and balance with the choir was good. Particularly effective were Mary'sSong, Twelfth  Night, and the final Adoration. 

 The choir throughout responded readily to Evelyn Halford's clear but restrained conducting style,and the very professional, sensitive, and stylish accompaniments throughoutwere by Frank James at the organ. I now look forward tothe Choral Society's performance of the Bach St John Passion thatwill take place on May 10.



Scarborough Choral Society Concert

Westborough Methodist Church,11 May 2013


Scarborough Choral Society chose two well-loved favourites for their final concert of the season;well-loved by both singers and audiences. The conductor was Evelyn Halford, and the stylish accompaniment throughout was by a small orchestra of Friends of the Society led by Tony Mason, with Frank James, the choir's regular accompanist on continuo.

To open the concert we had a performance of Vivaldi's Gloria, which was originally written for an all-female choir, but was later rewritten for mixed voices. The very competentsoloists, Joanne Gibson, Amanda Wademan and Claire Woodhead were drawn from the choir. There was a good contrast here between the exciting movements with driving rhythms, and the gentle melodic sections which were sensitively phrased.  

After the interval weheard a stirring performance of Haydn's Nelson Mass of 1798, so named following Nelson's defeat of Napoleon at the battle of the Nile.This was performed with professional soloists Verity Parker (soprano), CarolineSartin-Smith (alto), Peter Auty (tenor) and Benjamin Lindley (bass). The workintersperses soloists and chorus throughout, and led by the soaring sopranoline, the choir was inspired to produce some thrilling sounds. The balancebetween soloists, orchestra and choir was excellent. This was an exciting and vibrant performance driven forward by brisk tempos, incisive and confidenttrumpets and timpani, and the superb singing of the soloists.  Haydn wrote some challenging high notes for the soprano chorus, and some flatness which had been evident in the Vivaldi was swept away in the excitement of this performance.

Evelyn Halford kept the performances moving, and had tight control of her forces at all times,resulting in a thoroughly enjoyable and uplifting concert, for which congratulations must go to everyone concerned.


Michael Lester  




7.30 pm December 15th 2012 at Westborough Methodist Church

In their final centenary concert, Scarborough Choral Society,conducted by Evelyn Halford, performed a wide range of seasonal music before anappreciative audience. There were some traditional Yorkshire carols and someestablished favourites in which the audience joined enthusiastically.

Some readings and poems were included, along with two contrastingand stylish solos by Sam Jewison, artistically accompanied by Frank James. Hugh Penny, a former conductor of the Choral Society conducted his own composition,the Bell Carol.

To conclude the first half of the concert, the choir was joined bya small string ensemble of friends led by Tony Mason for a moving performanceof the Fantasia on Christmas Carols by Vaughan Williams. The important baritone solo was sensitively and expressively sung by David Bowden, an old friend of the Society. This popular work, written in 1912, is based on a selection of traditional English folk carols.

The final choir item, Benjamin Britten's Ceremony of Carols,written in 1942, gave the choir its biggest musical challenge. The work consists of a number of short, modern settings of Middle English words. It was originally written for boys' voices with harp accompaniment, but was hereperformed in a four-part choral arrangement. The small solo sections were sung by members of the choir. Britten's sometimes dissonant harmonies and complexand unconventional rhythms were well handled, and there were moments of both thrilling excitement and gentle calm.

Evelyn Halford has an unfussy and simple style of conducting, butthere is no doubt that the choir is totally under her control at all times, and they respond readily to her intentions. Frank James, who accompanied throughout on organ or piano as required was, as usual, his self-effacing and technically brilliant self.

 Michael Lester


   Scarborough Choral Society's centenary concert, complete with splendid, specially produced programme, selected guests, a new commission and a mayoral presence was a stirring occasion topped by the choir's performance of Mozart's Requiem.
    This has always been something of a musical conundrum: the composer's dying work, but what is actually his and what is the work of well-meaning pupils?  Ultimately it does not have to matter. Accept what we are given and be grateful. Conductor Evelyn Halford agrees with this view and took an Enlightenment view in accord with its period of creation.  Movements were planned for their symmetry of construction. The emotional associations of a requiem were not allowed to distort their interpretation though the dominant key of D minor ensures a tragic background throughout.
    The opening 'Requiem Aeternam' thrived on the contrast between the solemn, march-like choral and orchestral introduction and the more urgent 'Et lux perpetua'  with which it is exchanged.  Solid singing but, when needed, sensitive.
   'Rex Tremendae' was built even more clearly on contrast, the choir being alternately forceful, declamatory, and warm and generous in the pleading passages.
    'Confutatis' off-set the passionate with the celestial.  Against the men's strong voices were the women's  lovely rounded lines  and a rocking orchestral accompaniment.
    Similar contrasting effects stamped the 'Dies Irae' but  over all the driven, descending string scales, the restless timpani and bold brass set the style with the choir punching through its message without losing control of phrasing. There was terror here to the breathless end.
   'Lachrymosa', the last music Mozart ever wrote, was sympathetically flowing and women's voices were especially heartfelt in their rising and falling lines.
   'Offertorium' moved along with light precision until the arrival, shared throughout the choir, of what is, for me, the most compelling theme in the whole work. Launched by the men and brass it has a marching, thrusting character ' 'Lead then to the holy light' is the English translation.  The whole came to an affectingly august conclusion.
     The closing movements continued to illustrate the flexibility and muscularity of the choir: tender on the one hand, forthright on the other. The fugal passages were generally efficiently handled as were the dynamics that gave such a rich sonority to the final pages.
   For several movements a quartet of soloists had a role in the piece. At their most moving in 'Benedictus' tenor Michael Solomon Williams was outstanding.
     The concert had opened with four choral works from across the centuries, 1727 to the present day. Vaughan Williams' 'Let all the World' is short and affirmatory and built on some quite stolid rhythms. Perhaps not the easiest opening work for a choir, it certainly cleared the throat and gave fair promise of what was to come.
    In Handel's 'Zadok the Priest' the rather sedate opening build of tension was dramatically  broken by the arrival of trumpets to join the choir in 'And all the People'. The effect was electrifying . Trilling trumpets and joyful 'Long live the King' each time helped set the celebratory mood as did the 'Amen Allelujah' ending.
    In 'Great is the Lord' Elgar uses only organ accompaniment. As ever, Frank James was dependable in the role. At the start the pulse caught was inimitably Elgarian though it was a little less secure in the following lighter section. A tenor soloist from the choir's own ranks added character with clear words and phrasing.  Not Elgar's best work for voices but chosen for the concert because it was written in the year of the choir's foundation.
  Richard Shephard's 2012 work  'Musicks Empire' ended the first half.  It sets words by Andrew Marvell. The orchestra was again accompanying and it says much for the composer and all concerned that its sympathetic handling always let the chorus and their essential words through. This is particularly important when the words are not in a modern idiom.  Articulation at times must have required concentration. The piece begins with orchestral colour suggesting a time before Music was born as the choir sings of 'jarring winds and hollow rocks.' The climax of a later verse was well managed with its references to 'Virgin Trebles and manly Base'  - vital to hear the words!  Orchestral fanfares broke across the choral textures thrillingly and towards the close treatment became more spacious, especially in the final verse where firm brass underscored the climactic words 'Heavens Hallelujahs raise.' Harmony and a flush of lyricism have been born from those earlier winds and rocks. The listeners near me were visibly moved!
    Overall the piece had colour, imagination and movement,  and to judge by the choir's  involved performance there is substance here too.
Certainly the new work was received enthusiastically by the capacity audience.
It is hoped that this evening celebrating the past 100 years of the Scarborough Choral Society also marked the beginning of its next centenary.



Scarborough Choral Society with Hunmanby Silver Band

A Country Christmas

Westborough Methodist Church, Saturday 17 December 2011

The audience who braved the icy weather on Saturday to hear the  Scarborough Choral Society's concert A Country Christmas enjoyed a performance which created a wonderful festive atmosphere, and included a wide range of seasonal items including Christmas music from anonymous mediaeval carols to contemporary offerings by Bob Chilcott and John Rutter. Of particular interest throughout the programme were the carols which are still traditionally sung with raucous enthusiasm in the villages and pubs around Sheffield and Derbyshire. The choir, of course, sang with much more refinement! In places such as Worral and Dungworth you can hear arrangements that are survivors of the old Protestant fuguing tunes in which the vocal parts enter imitatively in turn in the middle section as in a Handel fugal chorus. The words are sometimes familiar, such as While Shepherds Watched, but there are various tunes, some with choruses, and perhaps only associated with one village. The audience was invited to join in with some, and they did so with enthusiasm. Two of the carols were accompanied by a small instrumental ensemble which reminded us of the West Gallery tradition where the village band, using a motley collection of instruments, would accompany the singing in village churches before the introduction of organs. There were Christmas readings from Anthony Halford, Alwyn Nendick, Dorothy Berry, and Martin Dodgson, and solo and ensemble contributions from Roger Gibson, Joanne Gibson, Caroline Lester, Barbara Shaw, Lucy Stainthorpe, and Tom Swain. The choir also performed the haunting Adiemus from Karl Jenkins Songs of Sanctuary. Guests of the choir were the Hunmanby Silver Band conducted by Ernie Marsden who gave a medley of Christmas tunes, and joined with the choir in the very enjoyable Christmas Fantasy by Gordon Langford which was part of a resounding finale. The choir was conducted throughout by Evelyn Halford with her usual quiet authority, and the accompanist was the incomparable Frank James.

MICHAEL LESTER ______________________________________________________

J S Bach's Saint Matthew Passion Scarborough and Bridlington Choral Societies combined.

15 and 16 April 2011

To celebrate Holy Week, the choirs of the Scarborough Choral Society and the Bridlington Choral Society combined to give two performances of J S Bach's setting of the Passion of our Lord according to Saint Matthew. This monumental work was first performed on Good Friday, 15 April, 1729 in St. Thomas's Church, Leipzig under Bach's direction. The Scarborough performance in St. Mary's Parish Church was conducted by Evelyn Halford, and the Bridlington performance at Bridlington Priory was conducted by Alan Dance. The soloists were Michael Solomon Williams (tenor) Evangelist, Alex Jones (bass) Christus, Felicity Murphy (soprano), Claire Williams (contralto), Jamie Stark and Matthew Walton (basses) with additional contributions from Jessica Sinclair, Chloe Salvidge and Joanne Gibson. An Orchestra of Friends of the societies provided the accompaniment, with Hugh Penny (organ) and Frank James (harpsichord continuo). The performers had no difficulty adapting to the two different interpretations, speeds, and conducting styles, but the Priory, with its much larger spaces and more resonant acoustic solved some of the practical problems encountered at St. Marys, particularly with regard to the positioning of the two choirs and their ability to hear each other. The combined choirs made a full and satisfying sound, particularly in the chorales, and their interpolations added colour to the familiar but solemn story that was unfolding. On only very few occasions did the orchestra mask the soloists when they were singing quietly in the lower registers. The closing sections of the work were particularly poignant, and the final chorus In tears of grief brought the performance to a solemn and moving conclusion. The two societies are to be congratulated on this highly successful endeavour which has provided a fitting opening to Holy Week.

 Michael Lester _____________________________________________________

Scarborough Choral Society Concert

Westborough Methodist Church 18 December 2010

The audience for the Choral Society's concert, What Sweeter Music, on Saturday evening, who had braved the icy conditions, were rewarded with a varied and interesting programme of Christmas music. The first half consisted of The Christmas Story by the German composer Heinrich Schutz who was born exactly one hundred years before J S Bach. His method of telling the Christmas story using a narrator, solos and choral items was later developed and expanded by Bach in his Christmas Oratorio. Great credit in this performance must go to Roger Gibson (tenor) who sang the taxing part of the Evangelist whose sometimes lengthy and intricate recitatives linked together the episodes of the shepherds and the angels, the wise men, the high priests and King Herod. Individual solos were also well sung by Joanne Gibson (soprano) and Matthew Walton (bass). The performance was accompanied by a small well-balanced orchestra consisting of violins, flutes, cello and bassoon with harpsichord continuo. After the interval a selection of seasonal readings and carols ranged from mediaeval settings and arrangements of familiar carols by David Willcocks, through to new carols by modern composers such as Richard Rodney Bennett and John Rutter. Many were unaccompanied, and throughout the balance and intonation were secure. The two final items were light-hearted and obviously enjoyed by choir and audience alike. Evelyn Halford produced some excellent controlled singing from the attentive choir, and her conducting was, as usual, clear and direct. Readings were given by Anthony Halford and Martin Dodgson, and Frank James, the choir's regular pianist, accompanied with his usual effortless skill and mastery.

Michael Lester


Handel Messiah Westborough Methodist Church 24 April 2010


Scarborough Choral Society The Orchestra of Friends, Rebecca Robertson - trumpet, Frank James - continuo, Bethany Seymour  - Soprano, Edward. McMullen - Counter-tenor, Peter Davoren - Tenor, Louis Hurst - Bass, and Evelyn Halford - Conductor

That this performance drew a standing ovation from a large audience could be considered to say it all. It certainly says much but there remains room for some observations. First, how good it was to have the Orchestra of Friends and not to have to endure the eccentricity of the Westborough organ. Frank James was transferred to harpsichord; its special timbre added much. And then, interesting to have a counter tenor rather than a female alto as one of the soloists. Thought had indeed clearly gone into the sound of this interpretation. Of the fifty-odd numbers we heard, some twenty are for the chorus so it becomes a nigh impossible task to find something sensible to note about each one. Suffice it to say for now that the good qualities of the first chorus 'And the glory..' had not been dissipated when we reached the final one. Articulation was secure - even in less familiar choruses, words could be followed - and singing was fresh and tripped along neatly. There was good ensemble, sensitive dynamic range and, as later numbers proved, the men were not going to be outsung. In 'For unto us...' there was more drama and excellent contrast between the affirmative 'Wonderful...' and the almost skipping '..a child is born...' 'His yoke...' lacked a little attack but built up a head of real conviction; tenors and basses being major contributors. There was both fine combined and individual part singing here. 'All we like sheep...' was the closing chorus before the interval and cleverly caught something of the tragedy of the darker central section of Messiah. It had pace secured less by fast singing than by crisp consonants and clear vowel sounds. An uneven pick-up in 'He trusted...' was unfortunate, but again recovery was almost instantaneous, and the full-voiced, spiteful 'Let Him deliver him...' was well pointed. Emotional involvement was palpable. 'Lift up your heads...' made the best of the question and answer format. These were real interrogations and responses. There was bounce here, no hanging on to notes. Amateur singing of splendid quality. 'The Lord gave...' and 'Their sound is gone out...' are less well-known but had not been less well prepared. Both work to some extent on tempo contrasts that were well exploited and each offered some really solid blocks of sound - middle of the note, fully committed voices! 'Hallelujah...' was emphatic and decisive. Sopranos towered as they should. The pace was sensibly measured and controlled and strength came from sensitive management of dynamics. The long notes offset against the short phrases proved a heady mix. The final bars with all pitching in, trumpets and drums too, were rapturous, almost, dare one say it, volcanic and genuinely memorable. The soloists' contribution here must not be forgotten. Especially moving was 'Since by men...' where the quiet intensity the choir brought was riveting. It was in revealing contrast to their next chorus. 'Worthy is the Lamb...' brings us towards the close. The slow and sedate was modelled against affirmative joy. Full advantage was taken of the opportunities Handel thus provided and, had it not been for the glorious 'Amen' that was to follow, this could have crowned the concert. But it was the final chorus supported by full orchestra and soloists that gave me one of the finest musical experiences I have enjoyed in Scarborough in more than thirty years. Everyone was worthy. Fine conducting and, no doubt, preparation by the excellent Evelyn Halford. She can hardly be thanked enough for masterminding such a superb evening.. as a calm, strong keystone. The words for this, as for all the other movements, are taken from the Bible, but include none of the words of Christ. This then, is an extraordinary Requiem with no hint of the standard mass, one for, as Brahms himself said, all of humanity. The first section opens with the spare tones of the timpani and organ and indeed, this combination proved effective throughout, pointing rhythms and building melodic lines. Still, however true this is, I missed the luscious writing for woodwinds that is such a feature of the orchestral version. As throughout, in this first section the choir's diction was good. The various parts of the chorus were defined and here the darker male voices had the chance to concentrate the solemnity. The words to the grieving, they shall be comforted, supported by a rising organ figure rang gently across the choir as the movement came to a gentle close. Behold, all flesh is grass is the second section and it began with an ominous drum beat, in effect, a slow march, taken up by a quiet chorus. A sudden forte for timpani and organ introduces Behold! This exclamatory motif, which returns throughout the movement, was very well shaped and dynamic. The central section left the choir a little exposed but they coped better when the quicker tempo returned, the men struggling bravely against particularly strong sopranos. But this was, ultimately, stirring declamatory singing. The mood of returned quiet was though marred slightly at the conclusion. But there was plenty of drama here in this most demanding movement. The third features the baritone soloist. Gregory Batsleer's rich, dark voice was ideal for the part but diction was a problem and it was up to the choir to provide near exemplary pronunciation. The choir answers the soloist's supplications with delightfully soaring sopranos leading into a fugal section and female-dominated final bars. The central movement, the well-known How lovely are thy dwellings was effectively sung, the conductor establishing a lyrical appeal, especially in the slower sections. There were certainly trust and repose here but perhaps not enough joy. 'You now have sorrow? is the fifth section and it brought the soprano soloist into the work to tower with comfortable words over a quiet chorus. Despite singing at such an altitude Bethany Seymour maintained acceptable diction. There was sorrow in the voice but also hope and the choir responded with a hushed warmth. 'For we have here no abiding joy.brought back the baritone soloist but it was the choir that quietly opened a movement that will come to a thrilling climax. They were controlled and well-paced. The soloist's We shall be changed. was taken up sotto voce by the choir but soon the mood became more triumphant, more assertive and the choir sang their flourishing theme with full gusto. All voices poured much into this almost Handelian chorus but sopranos, in their enthusiasm, tended to overpower the others. The men and the contraltos though took their chance singing with commitment against a running organ figure. The whole ended with a totally affirmative, if somewhat unbalanced choral fugue. Gripping stuff! The final section, 'Blessed are the dead, begins with the chorus floating serenely over soft accompaniment. High work here for sopranos. Themes recall those of earlier movements. The darker mood struck by tenors and basses was dispelled by sopranos and contraltos rolling out promises of peace and love in some fine, sustained and lyrical singing. The men were, perhaps, at their very best here, clear voiced and with good control. This proved a successful movement with a well-judged conclusion. In all, this was more than a brave attempt at a tough work; at times it had a measure of romantic glow and warmth, but not quite enough. If there is a single point to make, it is that the singers might feel the words a little more. As appropriate, they might smile as they sing, or they might become more agitated. But, take nothing away; this was an enjoyable performance, one of character and persuasion. David Smart

David Smart



Brahms Requiem Conductor - Evelyn Halford Soprano - Bethany Seymour; Baritone - Gregory Batsleer Frank James - Organ; Paul Midgley - Timpani 4 April 2009 Westborough Methodist Church, Scarborough

Brahms' Requiem consists of seven choral movements, three featuring soloists. These meditate through the impact of death to the conviction that all shall be changed with the grieving and the dead themselves at peace. The origins of the work are rather complex, but there is no doubt it was prompted by the death of the composer's mother. This performance of the Requiem captured rather more than the gist of the piece: there were occasional moments of revelation, even moving intensity. Much of the music is potentially lyrical and meditative and at a slowish tempo so that at those times when it quickens and volume increases the conductor must make full use of the offered contrasts. Evelyn Halford was well aware of this and her choir responded strenuously, especially in the several fugal sections. Brahms seems to have conceived the work as an arch leading from grief to joy with the central How lovely are thy dwellings


SCARBOROUGH CHORAL SOCIEY Conductor: Michael Lester Rossini - Petite Messe Solonnelle Bethany Seymour - soprano, Cara Curran - mezzo soprano Peter Davoren - tenor, Michael Brunsden - bass Hugh Penny - harmonium, Frank James - piano Westborough Methodist Church 5 April 2008


This was the evening the snow and sleet came back but a more than respectably sized audience had made its way to the performance. The name Rossini always has pull even when coupled with a mass setting that is ?solonnelle?. But, being by Rossini, it just couldn't be too solemn, could it? Indeed, the elderly composer, writing only a few years before his death, had grave doubts about the tone of the work and included it amongst the 'sins of his old age'. It relies heavily on a quartet of soloists but although the word ?operatic? is often used of their contribution, it rarely sounds like anything from La Cenerentola or The Barber of Seville. Nor has it at all your typical sacred feel. The piece begins in character with choir intoning a sustained melody, Kyrie?over a cheery accompaniment from the two keyboards. Without the piano and harmonium the men of the choir were a little less reliable but the arrival of their female counterparts lifted things and the final section was sunny and elegant with well-shaped phrasing against the accompanists trotting rhythm. The Gloria was powerfully layered by the chorus, a real proclamation. This section though, leans heavily on the efforts of the soloists. As a foursome and in various groupings they were well-matched, an ensemble with no unwanted dominance. For the solo tenor, Peter Davoren, the introduction to Domine Deus, played on the piano with great flair by Frank James, is almost like something by Percy Grainger. The singer's approach was not lyrical but expository, catching the bounce of the setting well, leaping and bounding after the strong keyboard lead. The duet of the two ladies (Bethany Seymour and Cara Curran) was statuesque and measured as they echoed each other?s ?Miserere?, often over warm harmonium chords: well paired voices that left one keen to hear them individually. Quoniam is for bass solo. Michael Brunsden was the least fluent of the solo voices, a little gaspy at times with some loss of syllables at the ends of phrases. In consequence, the voice lacked the colour and variety of the tenor. The choir, back with Cum Sancto, had good, positive attack, the strong contribution of the men adding much to the overall success. There was air and lightness here and no lack of confidence in this the final Gloria section. The Credo caught the choir a bit under-powered for the acclamation but singers soon settled to some neatly articulated, delicate phrasing as well as strong dynamic changes in the sudden con forza ?Ascendit!?. Crucifixus gave us the soprano soloist again with a good sweeping line that, perhaps, given the subject matter, deserved a little more feeling. Et Resurrexit was marred at its opening but moved on to sing with quiet expression and sympathy as the drama unfolded. Et Vitam Venturi bubbled along happily for choir and soloists. There was great good cheer (awe not required!). Plenty of rhythmic drive compelled us into the fine, repeated Amens. Ritornello, a short interlude for solo harmonium, gave us a chance, however brief, to hear from Hugh Penny something of the instrument which together with the piano, accompanied the performance. In the Sanctus and Benedictus the choir?s melody flowed tenderly against the soloists? declamations, the quartet being well balanced throughout. O Salutaris for soprano soloist took both drama and lyricism in its stride giving us moments of real beauty. The Agnus Dei brought us the alto solo (at last!). There was no lack of tragic colour in this voice; it implored, begged, and the choir, totally in sympathy, added a hushed ?Dona nobis Pacem.? Together they brought a kind of resolution to offset the soloist?s supplications. In the final bars the choir mounted a stronger plea against the alto's "Miserere". This very fine singer and the choir at its intellectual best ended the concert with what was probably the single finest movement of the whole mass. Amongst the applause there were some very well-deserved  "Bravo!" calls. This had been a performance of real delight and pleasure. For many this was an introduction to a piece, a maverick if you like, but one with great, perhaps surprising, appeal. Mike Lester, with the assistance of a well-drilled and admiring chorus and in the active presence of two previous conductors of the SCS, could hardly have ended his tenure of the post more resoundingly.

David Smart          



Michael Lester conductor Frank James accompanist Catherine Sign - flute David Bowden - baritone Westborough Methodist Church 24-11-07

Scarborough Choral Society - and friends - gave us a busy concert of music associated with England, encompassing not merely the music of several hundred years, but also of differing sensibilities and attitudes. Purcell's O God, thou art my God ends with a strong tune familiar to churchgoers. By the time of its arrival, despite some less certain passages near the opening, the choir had gained in confidence and was producing a rich, even rounded sound. Given the august pace of the work, diction was never a problem. Two Handel 'Coronation Anthems' followed. The King Shall Rejoice with its steady tempo, allowed the choir to continue with its forthright, clear work but added expansiveness. In the faster fugue sections entries seemed precise and sopranos were particularly fine. Michael Lester gave plenty of pulse and was able to involve the listener. The keenly syncopated Hallelujah pages were lively. For Zadok the Priest Frank James moved from harpsichord to organ (one with rather a fairground quality to it, I thought). The contrast between the declamatory pronouncements and the rejoicing was well flagged, the ladies bubbling at times like merry brooks! The final Amen was given due weight and firmness. Stanford's Songs of the Fleet concluded the first part, the choir being joined by baritone David Bowden. In the opening song, the singers characterised well the undulations of the sea and the ever-present wind on the water, using pliant dynamics and good consonant control. There were sympathetic exchanges with the soloist. The second song brought in plenty of nautical rollicking - to an extent at the expense of the words. 'The Middle Watch' brings a reflective feel to the piece and performers caught well the changing sonorities. The protracted central section was particularly beguilingly sung. The fourth song, in sharp contrast, calls for wit and pace in its rather Gilbert and Sullivan qualities. But the final song returns to the mood of the third. There is a sense of regret with the soloist firm against the choir's chiming 'Fare Well's. Control was good and quiet held until the swell of the final pages which pulled out all the stops. Overall, a satisfying performance and at times, genuinely moving. Frank James' piano accompaniment was excellent. But it was Michael Hurd's Music's Praise that spot-lit Catherine Sign. She here lovingly caressed life into the basically naive, light-weight tunes which the composer provided. These were taken up by the choir which copied the contours of their gentle lilt. Together they wove a tapestry of some charm, melodies lapping gently against one another. The third of the three sections was performed with real lightness while the fourth was an extended slower passage of changing tempi creating a melancholy feel echoed in the flute. There was some loss of diction at times but the performance succeeded in creating an ever light-weight but charmingly lyrical atmosphere. The choir's final item saw them in a mainly subsidiary role in Vaughan William's arrangement of his Five Mystical Songs with baritone soloist. David Bowden's voice is a delightful, rich instrument capable of real changes of mood as we had already heard. Now he sang words by George Herbert. His eloquent, spiritual narratives were sometimes lost, as for example in the question and answer format of 'Love Bade me Welcome'. The mystical mood here is of religious ecstasy and Frank James caught this well in his restrained piano accompaniment. Throughout, the choir shaded their able soloist delicately, indeed, as in the third song, (wordlessly). Michael Lester had good control throughout of his forces, letting them break out boldly in the final 'Let All the World' for choir alone. The pianist's running octaves might have encouraged a little more drive in some bars. Flute soloist Catherine Sign took no part in this latter piece but her contribution to the concert with that of the resourceful Frank James, had been great. Together they had given a performance of Handel's Flute Sonata Opus 1 No. 4. The soloist maintained a fluid, limpid tone, bringing distinction to fairly conventional material. The Adagio was especially sweetly phrased and the final allegro sections were neatly characterised. In retrospect, this was an attractive evening of music-making. At its heart, the choir put in a sterling effort, entries and closings generally good, and at times generating real involvement for the ears. The men were often outshone by the ladies, but none can doubt their bravery and commitment. The value of their contribution should not be understated.

David Smart


SCARBOROUGH CHORAL SOCIETY Conductor Michael Lester Bethany Seymour (soprano) William Knight (tenor) James Ryan (bass) Westborough Methodist Church 31/3/2007

Charles Wood's St Mark's Passion from the early 1920s, mixes hymns for choir and Gospel settings for tenor (Evangelist) and bass (Jesus). The opening and closing hymns, which used the same material, were given real warmth and veneration. The choir also joined in the gospel sections not only providing individual voices in smaller roles, eg Pilate, Peter and the Maid who challenged him, but also conveying some dialogue and narration. The climactic Crucifixion section illustrated their strengths and weaknesses. The onlookers pose a question, 'He saved others' but the force of the jeering cynicism was lost in a rather pale enquiry. Moments later they were telling that Jesus 'gave up the ghost? with real hushed plaintiveness. ?? All six hymns were sung quite solidly, often with a respectful tread despite some fluffed entries and unsharp final syllables. Ensemble effects were though occasionally spoilt by individual voices, too prominent and off key. The choir's most memorable moment came when Bethany Seymour (to be soprano soloist in the second part) floated her clear, impassioned tones over a quiet, wrapt accompaniment. Of the two male soloists, I found tenor William Knight rather light and somewhat lacking colour though always clear and committed. James Ryan had rather less to do but his voice had a warmth and dramatic character. The two interacted well together. Mention must be made of Frank James who, from his solo prelude to sympathetic support of the choir, was exemplary. Percussionist, Paul Midgley, had been given a role by the resourceful conductor, and he was never more telling than in the Arrest of Jesus sequence. The latter had much more work to do in Rutter?s Requiem where he contributed to the sombre mood. This piece is modern yet not so. Rutter's tunes often hint at ones already known (mainly nineteenth century models), but the conductor and choir caught their gentle flow. Dynamics of 'Out of the Deep' were effective but 'Sanctus' and 'Agnus Dei' seemed to me the best movements, organ and timpani dove-tailing with good singing, the choir men perhaps at their best here. The 'Pie Jesu', Bethany Seymour as soloist, with its syncopation of 'domine', never quite manages to dispel the ghost of Mendelssohn. This, ultimately, fairly light piece, made nevertheless, a fitting climax to the concert, the ladies achieving a fine bloom on their voices at times, as they clearly relished the innocent lyricism.

David Smart