On Saturday 7 October the Stamford Bridge Singers delighted a very appreciative and musical audience at Howden Minster by singing a wide variety of music loosely based on the theme of Hallelujah. The concert was intended to have “something for everybody”, and the well-chosen programme did not disappoint.
The bold opening chorus, Hallelujah from the Messiah, gave the choir the opportunity to use the acoustic of the Minster to full advantage, and allowed Geoffrey Coffin, the choir’s accompanist, to show the full range of the Minster organ. Haydn’s chorus from The Creation “The Heavens are Telling” was given similar treatment, and a good contrast was provided by the three soloists.
The choir showed its versatility by singing two very different unaccompanied pieces of church music; a setting of the Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis by the 17th century English composer Orlando Gibbons with intricate and subtle rhythms, and Locus Iste by Anton Bruckner with rich Austrian, Catholic harmonies. There was a further contrast provided by Three Revivalist Mission Hymns from a more low church, Salvation Army tradition. The tambourines could almost be heard as the choir sang “Hallelujah for the Cross”.
Eleanor Audet thrilled the audience with two beautifully sung solos, from The Creation and from Mozart’s Mass in C minor. She has clarity to her voice, especially at the top of her range and this was so well suited to the two arias. She returned to sing with the choir in Stuart Nettleship’s arrangement of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah. This piece, for double choir, involved a number of key changes, and very subtle changes in mood, and ends on a triumphant Hallelujah.
The start of the second half of the concert was a complete change in style, as the choir and two able soloists swung to the rhythms of George and Ira Gershwin. There were some very familiar tunes in this compilation: “I got plenty of nuttin’ “, “Swanee” to name a couple, as well as some more unfamiliar tunes. The choir and accompanist coped admirably with the jazz rhythms and there are plans in the following year to sing the whole set of these Gershwin songs with a jazz band. There was also a sneak preview of Stuart Nettleship’s English Requiem. The choir sang the Dona Nobis Pacem, (“Have all my heart”) from this work in progress and it is planned in the Autumn of 2018 to give the premier. This extract was a beautiful lilting walz like tune, with rich and sometimes unexpected harmonies. George Shearings’ collaboration with Shakespeare also had a real jazz feel to it and “Who is Sylvia” in particular showed the mellow and controlled side of the choir, with some very rich harmonies.
One of the choir’s members, Barry Cross, wrote a short piece of music inspired by a visit to war graves in Northern France. This was a very melodic setting to some very thought provoking words about the sacrifice made by so many during the First World War. Linked to this theme was Gustav Holst’s setting of Clifford Bax’s text “Turn Back o Man”, written in 1919. The choir built up to the rousing finale “Earth shall be fair and all her folk be one”. The evening finished with a stirring rendition, sung by choir and audience of the popular welsh hymn Alleluia, Sing to Jesus.
Stuart and the choir are to be congratulated for an evening of music, which indeed did have something for everybody.