Review of St John Passion at York Minster, 6th April 2019

Review: York Musical Society, St John Passion,
York Minster, April 6

From The Press, York, 25 April 2019

By Martin Dreyer

THE architecture of Bach’s first Passion is geared for dramatic impact. The York Musical Society choir was in confident form on Saturday (April 6) under the cool direction of David Pipe and there was plenty of theatre in its “crowd” interventions.

The evening got off to a tentative start, with a diffident opening chorus. But nerves were shed thereafter and all four sections revealed a refreshing directness in attack. Best of all, eyes were well out of copies and on the conductor, a sure sign of good preparation. The cry of “Barabbas” was spine-tingling. Special credit goes to the tenors whose vigour belied their relatively small numbers.

Paul Smy was the highly competent Evangelist, tailoring his narrative smoothly. The scourging of Jesus was particularly chilling. Julian Tovey’s diction as Jesus was not as focused and constant use of his score diminished his gravitas. He sang from the pulpit (where surely the Evangelist should have been).

Chloë Latchmore’s mezzo-soprano is a real find. Her strong resonance was most effective in “It is finished”, with the lion of Judah on a stirring rampage. Definitely one to watch. Philippa Boyle’s incisive soprano was well suited to the building. David Pike made a genuine character of Pilate and his bass arias were punchy. He could afford to keep more still, as could tenor Nathan Vale who “conducted” himself.

The orchestra was efficient, even if some obbligato roles were under-coloured. It was the choir that took the laurels.

Martin Dreyer

Review of YMS concert at York Minster, 17 November 2018

Review: York Musical Society, York Minster, November 17

From York Press 19 November 2018

After the week that brought us the 100th anniversary of the end of the First World War, York Musical Society’s Saturday concert programme was crafted to both reflect on the tragedy of war and express hope for a peaceful future.

The concert opened with Ralph Vaughan Williams’ timely Dona Nobis Pacem with reduced orchestral score. Some spine-tingling moments in the introductory Agnus Dei were owed largely to the expertly balanced choir. In the captivating Beat! Beat! Drums!, the violin counter-melodies were dexterously woven alongside Alistair Ollerenshaw’s velvety baritone, and much-loved YMS musical director David Pipe coaxed a suitably telling performance of the work’s final, redolent plea for peace.

The evening also included a nicely paced, if slightly uniform rendering of Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings, once famously described as the “saddest music ever written”. The small size of the orchestra left some intonation issues in the upper strings exposed, but this was nevertheless an emotive performance.

The choir returned in impressive form for an earnest rendering of John Rutter’s Requiem. There was some untidy counterpoint in the opening Requiem Aeternam, but otherwise, they were persistently well balanced and armed with good intonation and phrasing. This was particularly evident during the darker moments of the Agnus Dei, for which the Minster proved a generous host.

Soprano Jenny Stafford displayed remarkable control at the top of her range in Pie Jesu and Lux Aeterna, and there were also several opportunities for orchestra members to relish in the score’s well-crafted solos.

This evocative concert provided a most welcome opportunity for reflection after the week’s centenary events. A testament to YMS’s unfaltering yet perceptive musical conviction.

Review by Charlotte Armstrong

YMS at CASTLE HOWARD PROMS

York Musical Society enjoying the experience of singing with Lesley Garrett, Geraint Dodd, directed by Stephen Bell and accompanied by the London Gala Orchestra.

We think that was our biggest audience so far of between 5 and 6 thousand people.

photo by Allan Harris.

Review of St Matthew Passion, 24th March 2018

Review: York Musical Society, St Matthew Passion, York Minster, March 24

from York Press 28 March 2018

It is hard to think of what might surpass J.S. Bach’s St Matthew Passion (1727) as the greatest of all sacred musical works for the Christian church. Bach never wrote an opera, but he did dramatic music nevertheless.

With a libretto by Picander (Christian Friedrich Henrici), the St Matthew Passion is, first, a fast-moving narrative of Jesus’s arrest, trial and execution and, second, a reflective piece in which soloists comment on the emotional and spiritual significance of that narrative.

It is demanding for all musicians involved: double orchestra, full choir, separate treble choir, four soloists and separate Evangelist and Jesus. Bach, guided by his devout Lutheran faith, wrote Jesus’s part in red ink in the manuscript and his recitatives are always accompanied not only by continuo but by a halo of strings.

The overall architecture of the piece was persuasively presented. Under principal conductor David Pipe, YMS made a moving and convincing spiritual drama of this challenging work, singing in English translation. Bach’s expansive opening chorus (“Come ye daughters, share my wailing”) was beautifully rendered with a Via Dolorosa tread, as was the equally demanding final chorus with its bitter-sweet discordant decorations.

Bach ends the St Matthew Passion, like the earlier St John Passion (1724), at Jesus’s death, not with his resurrection: the composer knew that much of the best in music comes from sorrow, not from triumph. But David Pipe managed to find exactly the right level of reassurance in that last chorus – “Sleep thou sweetly” – so that it did not feel like the end of the story.

Excellent obbligato playing gave the reflective arias emotional coherence and musical shape (Orchestra 2 was even more assured in the strings than Orchestra 1).

Paul Smy was an elegant, if understated Evangelist and Jonathan May a light yet moving Jesus, singing from the pulpit. The best soloist, mezzo soprano Kate Symonds-Joy, brought remarkable colour and intensity to her role, especially in the most moving of all the arias, Have Mercy, My God. The remaining aria soloists were Anita Watson (soprano), Ben Thapa (tenor) and Alex Ashworth (bass).

Pipe controlled the considerable forces required for this Baroque masterpiece with poised authority and with a sense of having fully inhabited the work. YMS is now a choir that impresses each time it performs – and in widely differing repertoire. A memorable evening.

Review by Francis O’Gorman

Review of our recent ‘Celebrate Christmas’ concert.

York Press Review: York Musical Society, Celebrate Christmas,

St Lawrence’s Parish Church, York, December 9th 2017.

A large audience gathered last Saturday afternoon to enjoy York Musical Society’s Christmas concert that included extracts from Messiah and a reworking by conductor Richard Shephard of Corelli’s Christmas concerto for accompanied voices.

Around these two works were placed carols for the choir and seasonal numbers arranged for brass quintet or organ. The brass bonbons were neatly executed by the York Brass Quintet, with some particularly deft tuba work.

The choir’s usual conductor, David Pipe, was on the church’s electronic organ for the afternoon and gave us versions of Walking In The Air and Leroy Anderson’s ever-popular Sleigh Ride: here Pipe registered the music with great wit, using the tremulant to telling effect. He also accompanied the choir with sensitivity throughout the programme.

York Musical Society is a large choir that has a good balance between the four voice parts and a pleasing unanimity in its vocal delivery. The excerpts from Messiah were sung carefully and well, benefiting, no doubt, from the relatively stately speeds at which they were taken. Diction was clear, but perhaps a greater sense of joy and excitement from both choir and tenor soloist might have brought these wonderful Christmas words more vividly to life.

The Shephard-Corelli concerto is a delightful conceit: setting the final Pastorale to the words of Angels From The Realms Of Glory is an especially inspired decision, but the whole sequence of movements was evidently relished by the singers. Among the carols, Away In A Manger (to the minor key Normandy tune) showed off the ladies’ voices, both in the sopranos’ phrasing of the melody and in the altos’ evident enjoyment of their momentary clashing notes.

A lovely blend from the men came to the fore in Willcocks’ ebullient arrangement of the Sussex Carol. The audience joined in with Hark The Herald and after the final choral Christmas greetings we went out into the gloaming inwardly warmed and uplifted.
Review by Alasdair Jamieson

November 2017

After the excitement of our recent concert at York Barbican we are straight back into rehearsals for our Christmas concert. This will be held at the St Lawrence Parish Church on Saturday the 9th of December at 4pm. A wonderful way to get you in the Christmas mood.

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. 

September 2017

We are now taking bookings for the ever popular Choral Workshop which is themed around Famous Operatic Choruses.

There is a section under the Concerts and Events tab, or go straight to the Eventbrite booking page via this link.

Book early as this is a very popular event and often sells out.

Summer 2017 update

After our packed Mozart concert at York Minster on 24th June 2017, we are enjoying a well-earned rest over the summer and looking forward to another exciting year. Before rehearsals begin, however, we are fundraising at St Crux, The Shambles, York, on Friday 4th August. Come along for bric-a-brac, books and lots of home-made cakes (for which YMS is well-known!). Please come and support us.