Author Archives: Martin Stonehouse

CONCERT REVIEW: Jenkins – The Armed Man

By Martin Dreyer

York Minster, 14 November 2015

IN the immediate aftermath of the Paris massacres, Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man, subtitled A Mass for Peace, offered a timely antidote. Saturday evening’s performance, conducted by David Pipe, was preceded by a salutary moment of silence.

This concentrated the minds of choir and orchestra alike: there was palpable determination in the martial opening. The presence of a muezzin, Ustadh Adam Aslam, intoning the Muslim call to prayer from the pulpit, lent welcome perspective, since Jenkins’ underlying use of the mediaeval melody L’Homme Armé (“the armed man should be feared”) implies that warlike intent – from any quarter – has always bedevilled civilisation.

The bombastic Kyrie and ironic Sanctus carried special impact, building towards a terrifying climax in Charge!. The soloists, soprano Katie Trethewey and baritone Greg Skidmore, provided catharsis in Toge Sankichi’s post-Hiroshima musings; Trethewey, singing solo, was movingly smooth in Now The Guns Have Stopped, alongside gentle strings. Military fife and drums returned for the finale, where the choir conjured optimism from part of Tennyson’s Ring Out, Wild Bells – even if Jenkins’ un-harmonised last chord left ambivalence in the air.

In a Vaughan Williams second half, Sophie Lockett’s confident violin, rightly shunning sentimentality, turned that old chestnut The Lark Ascending into something new-minted and fresh, floating her tone into the welcoming acoustic. Similarly, it was a treat to hear the orchestral version of Five Mystical Songs, with Skidmore’s ringing clarity making the very most of George Herbert’s poetry. The choir shadowed him beautifully.

Reproduced by kind permission of The Press

CONCERT REVIEW – Mendelssohn: Elijah

Reviewer: James Whittle

On Saturday evening York Musical Society chorus and orchestra gathered for a fine performance of Mendelssohn’s oratorio Elijah.

Singing the title role, bass Alexander Ashworth’s declamatory introduction set the bar high for a characterful performance. His was a less mocking, more forthright Elijah than some, later revealing a vulnerable side under duress from the hostile, alert chorus.

The chorus’s quick-witted entries helped keep dialogue with the soloists animated. Diction was exceptionally good too overall, especially given the Minster’s reverberant acoustic (more discordant, chromatic chords sounded the juicier for it).

The other soloists shone in their various roles, making much of the drama. Soprano Susanna Fairbairn pleaded and rejoiced colourfully as the Widow. A wider variety of dark and melancholic hues were offered by mezzo-soprano Margaret McDonald, most strikingly when portraying Queen Jezebel. Charismatic tenor Jason Darnell was a joy as Obadiah, and as the Youth who espies rain clouds from the mountain, treble Felix Kirkby sang with a pure tone from the pulpit.

A highlight of Part Two was a spellbinding surprise by members of The Ebor Singers, singing the unaccompanied Angels Trio behind the audience from the west end.

Wisely, several numbers were omitted to streamline the narrative in the closing stages of this monumental work. Mendelssohn’s final chorus doesn’t quite beat the radiance of Part One’s closing Thanks Be To God. Nevertheless, the exuberance of the performers was infectious. Conductor David Pipe commanded an attentive and well balanced orchestra at steady tempi towards a satisfactorily triumphant finish.

Reproduced by kind permission of The Press.

CONCERT REVIEW – Verdi Requiem

THE York Musical Society Chorus and Orchestra were joined by the Saint Michael’s Singers from Coventry in a memorably moving performance of this remarkable Verdi Requiem.

The opening Requiem had a majestic feel: the performers clear and confident. The Kyrie introduced the excellent quartet of soloists. The effect was operatic; indeed drama was very much at the heart of this work and indeed this performance.

The Dies Irae always hits the spot, but with forces unleashed by this massive choir, orchestra and the Minster acoustic, the sense of power radiating from the score was awesome. Off-stage trumpets in the Tuba Mirum effectively ushered in a call to judgement; the impact was electrifying and the choral response was compelling.

Baritone Julian Tovey delivered a superb solo which had an other-worldly feel to it. Mezzo-soprano Kate Symonds-Joy’s solo was richly lyrical and the intimate Quid sum miser trio had a passionate integrity. Tenor David Butt Philip sang the Ingemisco beautifully and with superb orchestral support ,which never compromised his emotional delivery or the text.

The Sanctus is a high-octane, eight-part fugue for double chorus. The choir were simply magnificent. The tender Agnus Dei was just lovely, delicately clothed in musical humility. The performance of the Lux Aeterna had a rich, chocolatey sound, but it was left to soprano Gweneth-Ann Jeffers to deliver a compelling plea for deliverance.

To be sure the work ended with a sense of resolution, a spiritual journey completed, but there was a sense of menace still hanging in the air. Conductor David Pipe controlled these huge forces with remarkable musical sensitivity.

Review by Steve Crowther
Reproduced by kind permission of The Press –


CONCERT REVIEW – November 2013

by Martin Scheuregger

York Musical Society’s concert on Saturday night saw York Minster play host to a range of music from England and France.

The first half, moving from Fauré’s ever-popular Requiem to fellow countryman Poulenc’s Concerto for Organ, Timpani and Strings, represented the breadth of music on offer in the concert. The first of these is an understated almost meek work, whilst the concerto is a more boisterous offering.

The performance was given with the conviction we have come to expect from YMS, but the Fauré was the least exciting piece of the programme. The choir managed to bring out some genuinely captivating moments: the forte in the Sanctus was especially compelling.

The Poulenc was pleasingly overstated and at times highly virtuosic, with the solo part expertly executed by David Pipe. The strings gave a particularly incisive presto towards the beginning, although the pacing of the composition did not allow this energy to be maintained.

The highlight of the concert saw the guest conductor, Richard Shephard, at the helm of his own Musicks Empire. The orchestra came alive in the composer’s hands with a powerful brass section and confident chorus providing a weighty, convincing sound.

After an uninspiring instrumental suite by Hubert Parry, the energy of the Shephard was recaptured in Parry’s Hear my words, ye people. The choir, orchestra and quartet of vocal soloists blended beautifully in an uplifting work, with Bach-like hints of the approaching Christmas season.

CONCERT PREVIEW: Bach St Matthew Passion

YORK MUSICAL SOCIETY will perform Bach’s St Matthew Passion in York Minster on March 9 at 7.30pm.

“It’s a very important and also demanding work to sing and considered to be one of Bach’s grandest works,” says conductor David Pipe.

“Our concert will be the opening event of York Minster’s Festival of the Passions and promises to be a wonderful evening.”

The York Musical Society Chorus and Orchestra will be joined by soloists Paul Smy, Julian Tovey, Laurie Ashworth, Juliette Pochin, Jo Cornwell and Jon Saunders and the Minster choristers.

Tickets are available at the Minster box office during opening hours, online at and by phone on 0844 9390015.


Reproduced by kind permission of the The Press.


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