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News & Reviews

100-year-old link renewed

Throughout World War I, York Musical Society (YMS) sang Brahms’ German Requiem in the Minster every November because of its beauty, humanity and the comfort of its words and music. On 12 November this year, this link with the past will be renewed when YMS is joined by the Münster Philharmonischer Chor, from York’s German twin city of Münster, for a performance. It will again be sung in the Minster with the two choirs.

The concert is dedicated to Sir Donald Barron, who died last Christmas. He had been a member of YMS since 1953 and later became a very supportive patron, as well as playing a key role in many York organisations. His family are sponsoring the performance in his memory.

The Requiem does not use the usual words of the Latin Requiem Mass. Instead, Brahms chose other words from both the Old and New Testaments of the Bible to comfort the bereaved. It is believed that Brahms wrote part of his Requiem after the attempted suicide of a close friend and most of the rest after the death of his own mother. It was first performed in 1868.

The evening will include Richard Strauss’ moving Four Last Songs, also sung in German. The songs, written for soprano soloist and orchestra, were composed just a year before Strauss’ death but were not actually performed until a year afterwards in 1949.

The programme will be completed by Toward the Unknown Region. Set for choir and orchestra by much-loved English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams, it uses words by American poet Walt Whitman. Vaughan Williams’ music ideally complements Whitman’s words of visionary hopefulness.

Conductor David Pipe says: “The combined forces of the York and Münster choirs will offer a wonderful palette of dynamic and tonal resources to exploit fully the huge variety and emotion in Brahms’ Requiem, and equally the sense of mystery and power in Vaughan Williams’ evocative Toward the Unknown Region.”

The performance will be at 7.30 p.m. on Saturday 12 November 2016 at York Minster.


 Date   19 October 2016

CONCERT REVIEW: Orff – Carmina Burana

Review in York Press

York Musical Society, York Barbican, June 11, 2016

Review by Claire McGinn

A short first half of Brahms comprised Geistlicheslied for piano and chorus, followed by the high-spirited Zigeunerlieder for solo soprano, alto, tenor and bass quartet. Kirsty Hopkins, Kate Symonds-Joy, Greg Tassell, and Andrew Mayor made the most of this light-hearted collection.

The second half – the main event – was a hugely enjoyable ride on the rollercoaster of Carl Orff’s vivacious Carmina Burana. Entries were confident and (despite one or two minor hiccups) ensemble, dynamics, and connection with director David Pipe were impressively consistent and accurate; no mean feat for such a large group.

Expertly accompanied by pianists Polly Sharpe and Nico de Villiers, along with six percussionists, the choir took this challenging work in their stride. York Junior Youth choir supported the group with enthusiasm, seizing their moment to shine alongside Hopkins in the irresistible Amor Volat Undique.

Tricky corners – exposed pianissimo high notes for the upper voices and fast-paced syllabic patter in Latin – were generally negotiated with style and ease.

Baritone Njabulo Madlala’s assured and expressive falsetto in Dies, Nox Et Omnia was no less arresting than his tempestuous delivery of the fiery Estuans Interius.

A notable highlight was Tassell’s appropriately sinister but unusually glamorous “roasted swan”. Dressed in white, replete with wings, face paint and feather boa, Tassell appeared from behind the audience for this morbid serenade and mimed turning a roasting spit before running dramatically offstage.

The ensemble’s exuberant performance matched the irrepressible ebullience of the work; the rapturous audience reception was well deserved.

Reproduced by kind permission of The Press

CONCERT REVIEW: Mozart Mass in C Minor, Carter Benedicite

Review in York Press

York Musical Society, York Minster, March 20, 2016

Mozart’s Mass in C minor is a rarity. It would be given much more often if only he had finished it. So it was a real treat to hear in York, not least with two soprano soloists of exceptional calibre.

Haydn’s Representation of Chaos and Andrew Carter’s colourful Benedicite were performed ahead of it in Saturday’s programme conducted by David Pipe.

What remains of the mass after only half a Credo and no Agnus Dei is still Mozart at his best. York Musical Society clearly thought so too. The choir, with sopranos in particular sounding rejuvenated, delivered a majestic Gratias Agimus, a truly penitential Qui Tollis and plenty of welly to close the Gloria.

Only the fugal Osanna lacked definition. The orchestra provided sterling support throughout, the strings working tirelessly.

Anita Watson negotiated the wide leaps of Christe Eleison with aplomb, and her lithe soprano was entrancing at Et Incarnatus. Mezzo-soprano Esther Brazil made an exciting impact with her coloratura in Laudamus Te, and teamed smoothly with Watson in the turbulence of Domine Deus.

The York Civic and York Junior Youth Choirs joined YMS for the non-liturgical parts of the Carter work, introducing amusing characters “that Noah forgot to mention”, such as badgers, butterflies and grannies.

The combined choirs captured the music’s overall reverence well, but words were too often indistinct despite – a definite bonus – being in the printed programme. It remained for the orchestra to paint the work’s brightest hues.

Review by Martin Dreyer

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

Sir Karl Jenkins to Attend Performance of The Armed Man in York Minster

York Musical Society and Orchestra ‘s (YMS) performance of The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace in York Minster on Saturday, November 14 2015 at 7.30 p.m. will be attended by the composer, Sir Karl Jenkins. He will be accompanied by Guy Wilson, former Master of the Royal Armouries Museum, Leeds, who commissioned the work to mark the Millennium and who contributed some of the text. An audience in excess of 800 is expected to attend the concert. Karl Jenkins was knighted in the 2015 Queen’s Birthday Honours announced on June 15 ‘for his services to composing and crossing musical genres’.

A recent survey has revealed the work to have been performed over 1500 times in 30 different countries since its premiere; thus it is the most-performed piece by a living composer. The original recording of The Armed Man has been in the official Chart List of top-selling classical albums since its launch fourteen years ago – 690 weeks in total.

The concert programme includes Vaughan Williams’ Five Mystical Songs and The Lark Ascending. David Pipe, YMS Director of Music, will conduct and the soloists are soprano Katie Trethewey, baritone Greg Skidmore and violin soloist Sophie Lockett.

YMS is a large and thriving choral society that has contributed to the musical and cultural life of the city of York since 1876. We enjoy performing a challenging repertoire, including many of the large-scale choral works such as Handel’s Messiah, the Bach Passions and several well-loved Requiems. Most of our concerts are held in York Minster and attract audiences not only from the York area but also across the county. There are 160 mixed-age members of the choir.

For further information, please contact:
John Pearson
Telephone: 01904 628711


Notes to Editors

Sir Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man is a powerful and compelling account of the onset and terrible consequences of war. Set within extracts from the Christian Mass it draws on sources both musical and textual from other cultures and religions to dwell on martial themes, with a final, hopeful resolution in peace. It is both dramatic and moving.

Poignantly, its first recording, by The National Youth Choir of Great Britain and The National Musicians Symphony Orchestra, was issued in September 2001, the day before the attack on the Twin Towers in New York. It soon entered the charts of the top-50 biggest-selling classical albums, and has remained there on 690 of the subsequent 728 weeks – by far the most popular of all recordings over this period.

Essentially an anti-war piece, The Armed Man has particular resonance during current commemorations of the First World War and this performance by York Musical Society Choir and Orchestra, under David Pipe, is scheduled for Saturday November 14 following Remembrance Sunday.

Five Mystical Songs are based on poems by the Anglican priest George Herbert. Vaughan Williams’ score expresses a serious and thoughtful reflection to Herbert’s devotional verses.

The Lark Ascending is one of the most enduring works for solo violin and orchestra. Vaughan Williams combines the beauty of soaring strings with a calm background accompaniment to create a true celebration of the English countryside. This will be a joy to hear in the wonderful space of York Minster.

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 REVIEW – Summer Celebrations

By Martin Dreyer

There’s nothing like a musical knees-up. On Saturday, which happened to be Her Majesty’s official birthday, we enjoyed plenty of choral praise – a Te Deum, a Gloria, and a Coronation Mass – plus a jovial symphony, with Psalm 23 injecting a sense of proportion.

YMS was up for it. Stirred by an orchestra at the top of its form and led by David Pipe’s decisive baton, this was a choir almost unrecognisable from six months ago.

His second Te Deum may be fairly regulation Haydn, but it soon swung into an easy stride. When we had reached the Credo of Mozart’s Coronation Mass, there was a clearly a new spirit of choral self-belief abroad. In the wake of the solo quartet’s reverent Incarnatus, we might have had a more hushed Crucifixus.

But the Sanctus was notably invigorating and soprano Catrin Woodruff’s prettily phrased Agnus Dei provided the icing on the cake.

English composers took over after the interval. Philip Moore’s largely pastoral setting of Psalm 23 (2011), with strings and organ, here enjoying its second performance, gains immeasurably from the frequent repetition of its opening verse, each time in a different key, as if to underline its unchanging message, come what may. It was treated affectionately, and proved immediately endearing.

Boyce’s rococo First Symphony, equally engaging, played prelude to Rutter’s youthfully exuberant Gloria (1974).

Blazing brass and percussion, recalling Walton’s Belshazzar’s Feast, encouraged the choir to let its hair down. An apt dessert indeed.

Reproduced by kind permission of the York Evening Press –