Review – Corsley Festival Choir, Christmas Concert 2019

In the welcoming warmth of St. Margaret’s Church Corsley, Corsley Festival Choir conducted by Edward-Rhys Harry, performed a diverse and grand repertoire of music. An outstanding programme of music featuring Haydn - Te Deum, Pergolesi - Magnificat and Vivaldi - Gloria, captivated the receptive and appreciative audience. The clearly refined diction alongside an impressive dynamic range allowed the strong and balanced tone of the choir to embrace the resonating acoustic.


The supportive and plangent accompaniment of the Corsley Festival Orchestra Quartet and Daniel Robert Cushing on organ mirrored the eloquent phrasing and detailed articulation conveyed by an expressive performance. The choir were joined by soprano Jessica Robinson and Mezzo Soprano Olivia Gomez, both demonstrating a fine level of ability in supporting their powerful voices. This concert was an inspiring and contrasting evening of music exceptionally well delivered and organised by a truly remarkable choir.

Harry Frost
8th December 2019





Spring Diversity Concert Review

by Stephanie Collishaw

Sunday 12 May 2019

Conductor: Stephen Smith

Organist: Gerry Hoddinott

Corsley Festival Orchestra, Leader Daphne Moody


What a wonderful way to have spent a most beautiful sunshine-filled May evening listening to settings of songs from the British folk tradition followed by celebratory coronation anthems.  A packed St Margaret’s Church audience obviously felt the same way and came to hear Corsley Festival Chorus and Orchestra in their Spring Diversity Concert on Sunday 12 May.  Sadly this was to be Stephen Smith’s final concert with the choir after a highly successful nine years as their conductor.  The concert certainly did not disappoint and was a real celebration of Stephen’s, the Orchestra’s and Choir’s work together.

The Sprig of Thyme, a collection of eleven songs from across the British Isles and Ireland, is a fond recollection of and affectionate tribute to the art of folk song arranging by John Rutter.  Representative of the range of human emotions and experiences of love, loss, regret and hope, these songs demonstrated a range of orchestral and vocal writing beautifully played and sung by Corsley Festival Orchestra and Choir.

The song sequence started with a solid yet balanced blend of upper voices in The Bold Grenadier which was matched well by the male voices, carrying long phrases and sustaining them well.  At times understatement and good dynamic control provided effective contrast between the songs.  The quiet energy in Keel Row was captured effectively and kept ‘light’ enabling accurate cross-rhythmic sections.  The choir demonstrated tangible enjoyment of these delightful song-settings with a good balance across the voices.  By contrast, the more challenging and darker mood of The Willow Tree was encapsulated by the basses with intonation well-controlled and supported beautifully by the orchestra with effective lilting interplay between the instrumental and vocal sections. 


The Sprig of Thyme, from which the song collection takes its name, began with a rich and beautiful viola solo woven throughout the song and matched well by the sopranos who sustained the long vocal lines with control.   Again, Down by the Sally Gardens began stunningly with oboe solo this time which set the scene for this familiar folk song in which the basses and tenors produced a rich yet gentle sound. The Cuckoo opened with a sprightly soprano solo which captured the mood of the piece well whilst the more declamatory sections continued the characterisation effectively – the lower voices supported this demonstrating good control.  The more reflective I Don't Know Where I'm Going responded well to Stephen Smith's precise direction during which the contrasting colours in the musical writing were captured beautifully by orchestra and choir alike.  Musical details dovetailed well in performance and a sense of space was created with subtle phrasing and rubato beautifully controlled.  Willow Song captured the falling melodic lines well but seemed less cohesive - listening between vocal parts was less secure here and the balance across the choir was not as assured as in other songs. 


The interplay between the viola and oboe in the arrangement of O Can Ye Sew Cushions set the tone for the song beautifully to which the choir responded well demonstrating warm vocal sounds which were maintained effectively throughout.  In The Miller of Dee the basses reflected the confident swaggering style of the song whilst keeping a light-hearted, humorous feel. The movement of the river was established and maintained in the strings for the final song, Afton Water, which was well contrasted with the much longer lilting phrases across the choir in different sections.  The choir recovered well after some slight timing slips, despite Stephen's very clear direction, and ended the first half of the concert with a beautiful and warm sound.  The audience’s obvious appreciation of this first half was clearly demonstrated.

The second half of the evening’s concert was truly celebratory in nature.  Handel’s four coronation anthems were composed for the coronation of King George II and Queen Caroline in 1727.  Stephen’s decision to perform them in non-chronological order worked extremely well for this evening’s concert.

Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened demonstrated masterly and well-articulated playing by the orchestra matched by a warm, yet energised, choral sound.  By stark contrast Let Justice and Judgement established a very different feel with sustained vocal lines throughout.  Reference in the Alleluia was clearly made with the opening section and the vocal parts stood secure and well-balanced to the end.  

In The King Shall Rejoice, the glittering orchestral writing was captured beautifully by the instrumentalists and the choir’s enjoyment of this piece was palpable.  This crisp performance was conveyed well and broader sections matched this too.  In the Exceeding Glad Shall He Be the vowel sounds were well-controlled and diction was mostly clear. Glory and Worship exhibited a well-sustained soprano line underpinned by the firm and confident lower vocal parts.  The fugato section demonstrated the movement in and between parts well, handled with control and precision.  In the Alleluia the choir quickly re-established themselves after a slightly tentative start and the interaction between the vocal parts was pointed well.

The anticipation of intervals in My Heart is Inditing was not always secure in the tenor and alto sections but gradually established, followed by the poised opening of the phrase King’s Daughters in the sopranos.  The echoed phrases in Upon Thy Right Hand worked beautifully if slightly marred by a little rushing in some vocal parts.  Kings Shall Be Thy Nursing Fathers established a full sound but the interplay between the parts could still be heard clearly.

Zadok the Priest provided a glorious note on which to end the evening’s concert.  The energy created by the orchestra throughout the introduction passed seamlessly to the choir who responded to the call.  The singing was precise and joyful.

As a fellow member of the audience remarked 'I am so glad I came this evening' – it was indeed the sentiment shared by us all.  Many congratulations to all involved in the evening’s concert.  Stephen Smith’s meticulous preparation, understanding and interpretation of the music was communicated throughout.  A ‘light programme’ it was not but the Orchestra and Choir more than met the challenges it offered.  It was a wonderful way in which to bid a fond farewell to Stephen.


Reviewed by Stephanie Collishaw