On July 23rd a richly varied programme of music was performed by Congleton's Choral Society and Choral Academy to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the opening of Congleton Town Hall in July 1866.
To begin the evening of Town Hall celebrations in style, Congleton Choral Academy presented a short curtain-raiser concert of vocal gems from the golden age of music hall and other Victorian delights. The curtain-raiser began with a great visual hit as music director Christopher Cromar donned his black top hat to welcome the Academy singers on to the stage. The ladies and gentlemen all wore Victorian costumes, topped by the most amazing colourful hats in a range of shapes and sizes, each one different from the next.
The Academy singers clearly enjoyed themselves from the outset and their energy and enthusiasm grew as the singing continued. During the various 'drinking songs', they joyously waved tankards whilst singing with great enthusiasm, creating a great feeling of fun. The singers had put great effort into learning their texts, following the conductor and responding to his direction. Michael Wynne provided excellent accompanying support, enabling the choir to sing clearly and with great confidence.
I have not previously had the pleasure of attending a Choral Academy concert and it was delightful to see the broad age range of the singers, all working as a team and helping each other to produce the best possible result. Two of the Academy singers told me they had gained much from the experience of performing in this particular concert; the idea of dressing up had enhanced their confidence in looking and feeling the part as Victorians and they had enjoyed themselves immensely. Clearly there is a place here for every gentleman or lady who wishes to come along in future and find out more.
When Congleton Choral Society took to the stage for the Grand Anniversary concert I was impressed by the way the choir members entered in a carefully paced manner; and by how they sat and stood smoothly together between pieces. They were still and quiet before, during and after a piece, showing perfect discipline.
The singers put great energy into their performance right from the very start. The concert opened with Charles Wood's anthem Hail, Gladdening Light, which was sung unaccompanied. This beautiful piece, challenging to perform on a very warm summer's evening, provided a dramatic but sensitive start to the concert. Later an audience member said 'You could have heard a pin drop at the end of that piece ...' A very good beginning! Music director Christopher Cromar started this concert as he intended to go on, being there both to lead and support the choir in a variety of ways throughout.
Next came Sir John Stainer's cantata The Daughter of Jairus, telling the story of the raising of Jairus' daughter from the dead. Here we were introduced to the soloists for the evening, soprano Charlotte Richardson, tenor Nicholas Sales and bass-baritone Mark Rowlinson. Together with the Choral Society, they gave us a deeply moving musically enhanced word-picture of that poignant bible story, the singers expressing wholeheartedly the great hope that Jairus' daughter will rise again.
There was beautiful part-singing from the altos and sopranos of the choral society in the Chorus of Women, and from the tenors and basses in the Chorus of Unbelievers. Each section had its own atmosphere, growing as part of the whole, during which all performers paid attention to changes of mood and dynamic, singing with good knowledge of their extensive texts.
After the interval came John Henry Maunder's Song of Thanksgiving, a mighty work which became mightier still as all singers gave of their best throughout. Kate Cromar came forward from the choir's soprano section to join Charlotte Richardson and Nicholas Sales in the moving trio The Promise, which was particularly powerful. The final climax of the piece came with Let All The People Praise Thee, during which there was a huge sense of surround-sound from the choir.
Finally came Sir Hubert Parry's I Was Glad, a very fitting ending to the Grand Anniversary Concert and performed with energy of a quality that one might expect at the beginning of a concert rather than at the end. Music director Christopher Cromar, organist Michael Wynne, the soloists and the choral society members gave their all throughout the evening, and were rewarded at the close with a standing ovation from the audience.
Both watching and listening to this type of singing makes it very clear that there is a potential place for every keen and committed singer who might like to meet the challenge to learn and perform something new and exciting, and perhaps to move successfully out of a personal 'comfort zone'. If you haven't been to a concert before, why not come and try the experience?