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Congleton Choral Society, Congleton, Cheshire, UK

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No: 515851

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From The Congleton Chronicle, Thursday 25th July 2013.

Road to Heaven
Reviewed by Gwen Jones, recently retired MD of Biddulph Male Voice Choir

'Road to Heaven' paved with stars

Where and when did this wonderful event happen? Well, anyone who went to St Peter's Church, Congleton last Saturday evening (13th July 2013) will surely know.

Who were responsible for such joy?

The Congleton Choral Society.

A large audience was privileged to hear music by two great English composers, Requiem by Bob Chilcott and Feel the Spirit, a cycle of seven greatly loved spirituals arranged superbly by John Rutter.

Requiem , a lyrical and reflective work, was dedicated to the composer's niece, Samantha, who died aged 23 years, while Chilcott was still writing the piece. His fine sense of melody and rhythm is evident in the whole work, which began with the Introit and Kyrie. This section involved the chorus and the tenor and soprano soloists, Stuart Overington and Andrea Tweedale; immediately the gentle quiet singing and flowing rhythm set a pattern for the whole work.

The tenor soloist again featured in the Offertorio, with the chorus and balance between choir and soloist very effective.

The Pie Jesu, beautifully simple and very emotional, gave the soprano soloist something to really cherish and it was indeed a lovely rendition.

In the Sanctus the sopranos in the chorus really excelled. Here was a movement with driving irregular beats, and some dance-like patterns. The number of top 'A's sung by the sopranos in the choir was really splendid and perfect in pitch, well done!

After the quietness of the Agnus Dei came the only movement with an English text, Thou Knowest Lord the Secrets of our Hearts, from the Book of Common Prayer.

The work ended with Lux Aeterna, with the soprano soloist singing the last four bars most movingly.

After the interval, we were treated to a performance of Knoxville, Summer of 1915 by the much-revered American composer Samuel Barber, who died in 1981. The soprano soloist Andrea Tweedale was accompanied on the piano by Christopher Cromar, the conductor of Congleton Choral Society.

As a complete change, the Choral sang John Rutter's superb arrangements of seven of the best-loved spirituals. Feel the Spirit is a delightful work and has a distinct Anglo-American thread running through it.

It received its premiere in Carnegie Hall, New York, in June 2001. The mezzo-soprano part which features greatly in this work was written especially for Melanie Marshall and the work was conducted by John Rutter himself. Who sang the solo part for us last Saturday? None other than Melanie Marshall herself. What a joy!

The opening spiritual Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho, full of energy, made a fine opening, followed by Steal Away. This was a very moving performance by Melanie and the chorus. The balance was excellent, as it was in I Got a Robe, with its great fortissimo ending.

Every Time I Feel the Spirit showed the versatility of the choir and the climax was really exciting, almost like a big band sound, and yet the ending was quiet and devout.

Melanie Marshall gave added meaning to Deep River. Her feeling for spirituals is really special.

And then, the final spiritual, When the Saints Go Marching In. It was a show-stopper and had the audience standing to show their appreciation of a wonderful evening of rare quality.

All the soloists need a special mention for their excellent work, not forgetting the accompanist Jeffrey Makinson, who gave a masterful performance on organ and piano, and of course Christopher Cromar, conductor and piano.

Christopher has done a superb job in making the Congleton Choral into such a fine choir. It was so evident that they enjoyed what they were doing immensely.

Thank you for the pleasure you have given us. It was certainly most assuredly a 'way to the stars'.

GJ


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