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Grantham Choral Society’s 60th anniversary concert was ‘very special’

60th birthday celebrations are very special, and the Grantham Choral Society's Sixtieth Anniversary Concert given at ChristChurch, Finkin Street on Saturday (November 18) was no exception.

Founded in February 1963, with a concert given as part of the Quincentenary celebrations marking the granting of the town's Royal Charter, the Choral Society has steadfastly continued since that time to make its presence felt with two concerts every year adding considerable value to cultural life of the town.

Rather than presenting an entire choral ‘standard’, the conductor, David Humphreys offered a selection of movements taken from larger works performed over its sixty year history.

The Grantham Choral Society performing.
The Grantham Choral Society performing.

Messiah, suitably enough, the perennial favourite of choirs throughout Britain for the last hundred years, was the choice in 1963 and was, again, the choice to kick-off this milestone anniversary concert.

All four sections of the choir (helpfully augmented by members of the Melton Mowbray Choral Society) were evenly balanced, nicely matched and uniform in tone and coped well with Handel’s intricate part-writing in the opening ‘And the Glory of the Lord’.

Commissioned by the Birmingham Festival in 1846, Elijah was for many years performed by gargantuan forces as the membership of typical English choral societies – in their mid 19th century Victorian heyday – could number many hundreds.

In 1963 the Grantham Journal’s critic noted that the choir was made up of about 100 voices (with around 700 in the audience). Sadly, membership has dwindled somewhat since its inception but the Society still put on a very creditable performance, capable of thrilling its audience as the two selections from Elijah showed.

Pianist, Robert Challinor, made much of the theatrical fortissimo, rolling bass figuration depicting swirling waters and the tenors and basses clearly relished the equally dramatic semitonal clashes of the declamatory entries in ‘Thanks be to God’.

A different, more soothing side, mellifluous and lyrical by turn, was evident in ‘How Lovely is Thy Dwelling Place’ from Brahms’s 1868 German Requiem.

Notable here were confident two-beat phrases set across triple time: these must have required attention and careful rehearsal by the conductor.

Three movements from Mozart’s 1791 Requiem gave the choir ample opportunity to show-off dramatic contrasts in tone-colour and dynamic from the majestic and awe-inspiring ‘Rex Tremendae’ to the mournful wailing of the ‘Lacrymosa’.

Menacing basses and tenors in sequential competition thrusted forward, forte, in the ‘Confutatis’ only to be confounded – quite literally – by the sweetness of the sopranos and altos at the ‘Voca me’.. This was very good choral singing and an altogether well-knit ensemble.

Roughly contemporary with Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s The Creation offers a halfway-house between the intricate polyphony of Handel and the big-sounds of Mendelsohn and Brahms, and had obviously been a Society favourite. This was clever programme planning and served both choir and audience well: one sensed members of the Choral Society were most at home here.

Philip Lank's anthem, Regina Caeli, composed in 1988 for the choir of St Wulfram's Church will have been unknown to most of the choir and - with a handful of honourable exceptions present at a performance in 1993 - was certainly unknown to the current audience. Philip Lank, in addition to being the organist and choirmaster at St Wulfram’s was founder and first Music Director of the Choral Society, thus the performance of his Regina Caeli on Saturday was a fitting double tribute.

The piece made for interesting listening, written in the mainstream idiom of the time, strongly reminiscent of Finzi and Walton.

It required considerable sustaining power from female voices (which it got), with sopranos soaring above lower voices moving in parallel chordal passages.

Unsurprisingly, but entirely appropriately, the concert ended with the 'Hallelujah' chorus, sung with gusto but, crucially, no loss of accuracy. What could be more fitting to bring the celebratory concert full circle back to where it all began?

The choir deserves a 'Hallelujah' too, for staying the course, sometimes against the odds, in such a stylish fashion. Well done.

Written by James Bone

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