Review by Tim Mottershead
MUSIC from across the world resounded under one roof at Oldham Choral Society’s concert at the RNCM in Manchester.
The society was accompanied by the East Lancs Sinfonia conducted by Nigel P. Wilkinson, who began with Gershwin’s ‘An American in Paris’.
The opening conjured up a musical image of an American sightseer dodging the Parisian traffic, replete with car horns.
Gene Kelly’s film of the same name, which concludes with a ballet of the piece, gave added point to its inclusion in a programme entitled ‘The Spirit of the Dance’.
The orchestra featured a smaller than usual string section, but together with an intimate concert venue made the clarity of Gershwin’s orchestration all the more telling. The performance featured some charming solos, especially from the strings.
Next came the opportunity to hear the 80-strong choir, whose first item was Borodin’s ‘Polovtsian Dances’ from his opera ‘Prince Igor’.
For those who only know this work because of the popular song ‘Stranger in Paradise’, its inclusion was no doubt a pleasant and surprising choice.
This item occurs in the opening movement and featured the female singers in impressive voice.
A purely orchestral dance followed, succeeded by a full chorus where an upwardly stepping motif is counterbalanced by swiftly descending melody: music immediately suggestive of balletic leaps, and this exciting rendition certainly fired one’s imagination.
Material from the opening recurs for combined chorus, prior to a rousing conclusion.
The main event was, however, Carl Orff’s evergreen ‘Carmina Burana’. The work opens with the famous ‘O Fortuna’, whose sense of foreboding mystery and latent drama has featured in numerous TV and film settings.
Its telling and sudden change from quiet to loud rarely fails to surprise. Although an hour in performance, perhaps the work’s success is the fact it consists of 25 short movements and while some prove more memorable than others, all are enlivened by inventive orchestration, for example, extensive use of percussion expanded the range of sonorities.
Also, the brevity and sheer number of movements, bringing changes of tempo and style, including several dances for orchestra alone, all add variety which ensures the audience is constantly engaged.
The work also features soloists. Soprano Fflur Wyn delivered several arias, the high-pitched conclusion of her final one proved a particular highlight.
Baritone James Cleverton was rich in tone and clear in diction. His aria concerning an abbot being stripped of his clothes by his drunken companions was delivered with aplomb and obvious humour, despite its Latin text – quite an achievement.
Tenor Nick Hardy made a notable contribution in ‘Song of the Roasted Signet’.
This entertaining programme certainly didn’t leave the audience disappointed.
The choirs round off the year with a Christmas Concert in conjunction with Ashton Band at Oldham Parish Church on Friday, December 20.
They shall be singing a new carol called ‘Ring the Bells’. By purchasing the scores for this, they will be raising money for the homeless in Oldham.