Review – Simple Gifts York Barbican 28th October 2017

Review: York Musical Society Choir & Orchestra; York Barbican, October 28
Martin Dreyer
Baritone John Holland-Avery

THERE’S nothing like a good wallow in folk music. Those songs and dances that are in our blood need to be allowed to surface occasionally. So last Saturday’s programme of Vaughan Williams, Holst and Rutter, with some chirpy Americana from Copland for good measure, was just what the doctor ordered.

After more than a century of struggling with York Minster’s slippery acoustic, York Musical Society (YMS) has now appeared twice at the Barbican. Let us hope the move becomes permanent, large sacred works aside. Sightlines, acoustic, warmth, comfort, refreshments are all vastly better there. It lacks only an organ.

Both choir and orchestra sounded more relaxed here. Weighing in at exactly 100 voices, the choir showed a new level of commitment, spurred by David Pipe’s decisive baton. Words were better projected, too. Only in some mildly dicey sections of three of Holst’s Hymns from the Rig Veda did diction falter. The early sense of mystery yielded to a beautifully lyrical vision of paradise; its finale was underwhelming but the brass fanfare compensated brilliantly.

The evening, honouring Francis Jackson’s 100th birthday, opened briskly with Vaughan Williams’ English Folk Song Suite and later reverted to his Fantasia on Greensleeves, in which flute and harp solos were succulent. John Holland-Avery brought a witty baritone to the Copland arrangements.

Deft mood changes marked Rutter’s cycle The Sprig Of Thyme, where The Willow Tree and Afton Water were especially poignant, with wry touches throughout from the woodwind principals.

Simple Gifts Review

Dr Francis Jackson attended our concert dedicated to his 100th birthday celebrations. He is shown here with David Pipe and Richard Shephard.