Contrasting Styles from a Choir and a Brass Quintet

United KingdomUnited Kingdom  Under the Greenwood Tree: Altèri Chamber Choir/David Jones (conductor), The Metropolitan Brass Quintet, St Mary’s Church, Lymm, Cheshire, 30.6.2013

Palestrina: Sicut Cervus; Haec Dies; Alma Redemptoris Mater
Vaughan Williams: Five English Folk Songs
Anon arr David Marlett: Die Bankelsangerlieder
Joseph Horovitz:  Music-Hall Suite
Tippett: Four Songs from the British Isles
Handel arr Roberts: Overture from The Royal Fireworks
Bernstein arr Jack Gale: West Side Story Suite
Berlin arr Roberts: Putting on the Ritz
E J Moeran: Songs of Springtime

This was one of two concerts bringing the curtain down on this year’s Lymm Festival. The other at Thelwall Village Hall was by Dr Jazz and The Cheshire Cats (Sinatra at the Sands and Ella Fitzgerald Songbooks). It was a nice idea to close with a contrast to serve differing tastes and moods.

Contrast and complement were also very much in play in the St Mary’s concert with voices and brass heard in alternation. The concert was punctuated by one ensemble leaving the performing area at the front of the church before another trooped on. Differences were also there in the presentation and, by and large, in the music. Altèri’s programme was comparatively serious while that from the Metropolitan was predominantly light.

The choir and its dedicated director spoke to us only through the music while the Metropolitan framed their performances with spoken introductions from Tim Barber, one of their two trumpets. One was never left in doubt about the collective personality of Metropolitan who matched their spokesman in musical wit, sly charm and sappy virtuosity. They had no cause for self-deprecation, but we British do love a bit of that. Several of them are members of, or play occasionally with, leading British orchestras including the BBC Philharmonic, BBC Scottish Symphony and the Hallé.

The choral contributions provided the substantive anchor for this Sunday evening serenade programme. Altèri were formed in 1995 and are active in the North West. As they appeared in St Mary’s they comprised twenty singers. They suffered a little from the usual malady of such ensembles: a deficiency of male voices. Even so the half dozen or so men put up much more than a respectable show and often contributed a really delightful halo of sound rather than a massed blast.

The emotional waves and surges in the Palestrina items were well communicated; there was something of Tallis here but without the hyper-complexity of Spem in Alium.

After such spirituality the brass quintet gave us the Die Bankelsangerlieder – songs of the town crier – bursting with confidence. Then Joseph Horovitz’s Music-Hall Suite written to a commission by Philip Jones. Of the five movements played, all etched and hued with colour, the Soft Shoe Shuffle lives on in the memory with its vision of a hugely bulgy top-hatted male dancer in tophat and tails dancing with delicacy and absurdly light on his feet. After so many vividly limned Horovitz caricatures there came something close to the brass players’ peak of the evening – Steve Barnett’s arrangement of She Moved Through The Fair – all coaxed, misty and understatedly curvaceous.; no jagged edges here.

Of the Five English Folk Songs all but one – the last – had the exploits of sailor lads and their beloved lasses as the subject. RVW always has surprises and for me this came with the second song, The Spring Time of the Year is bathed in an impressionist Delian harmonic haze. That should have come as no shock after the similarly Delian tone poem The Solent, recently premiered at the English Music Festival.

After a lengthy interval Tippett’s Four Songs proved the toughest fare of the evening. The outer songs (Early One Morning and the bloodthirsty Lilliburlero) put Altèri through their technical paces and had more in common with the thorny King Priam opera and the resilient rhythmic complexity of the Second Symphony – two works contemporaneous with the songs. The central two (Welsh and Scottish) looked back to the more accessibly lyrical 1930s and notably to the Concerto for Double String Orchestra and forward to his very much later works such as the Triple Concerto and Rose Lake.

The Metropolitan then stepped forward for a brilliantly swaggering Royal Fireworks Overture. Their irresistibly swooning and toe-tapping Bernstein West Side Story Suite – gave us five of the seven movements. Puttin’ on the Ritz, delivered at breakneck speed was their farewell but for a jazzy set as an encore.

We finished with all seven of Moeran’s Songs of Springtime which were done incredibly well with wonderful attention to dynamics and to the words – you could actually hear them without recourse to the programme. Such was the singers’ identification that one could well believe a maid’s woes over man’s inconstancy converted to hey nonny nonny. Those allergic to the smocks, morris and fol-de-rol folk-song revival might well have found themselves converted had they been present. This was the crowning glory of the concert.


Rob Barnett