Concert review: Soon Amore conductor Chris Bartram
Updated: Feb 20
What I particularly enjoyed about the Soon Amore concert was the sheer variety of programming: Bruckner, Pärt, a Shoebox, traditional song from Ghana and a new work by David Lancaster. Fell was an impressive piece – distinctive, memorable and extremely well written for the forces involved. The narrative is spoken by two soloists which is reinforced, illuminated perhaps, by commentary on horn and choir – the latter acting as a sort of Greek chorus. Anyhow, here is David’s programme note:
“Fell tells the story of the hunter Actaeon, who was transformed into a stag by the goddess Diana because he saw her bathing, and who met a grisly end when he was devoured by his own hunting dogs. Most of the spoken and sung text is drawn directly from Ovid, but the final refrain - in 'mock Tudor’ style - uses words from the first act of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night. The title refers to the 'fall' of Actaeon, but also to the adjective describing sudden horror (as in ‘one fell swoop’). Fell is also an archaic English word for the soft hide of a deer or dog.”
Soon Amore, Unitarian Chapel, Sunday 12th February
The Soon Amore programme was very much a pick’n’mix affair, and a very tasty one too. It opened with a hunting call on natural horn which threaded through the first half chasing the concluding traditional French fanfare et chansons de chasse. Of course, this was somewhat contrived, but it did treat us to the superb playing of Martin Lawrence. There was much to enjoy here, not least the performances of Shoebox and Heavy Laden with Jane Stockdale (voice) and Dave Pearce (piano). Ms Stockdale sang Shoebox with an instinctive feeling for folksong tradition whilst Mr Pearce’s crisp piano octave attacks dispelled any sentimentality. For Heavy Laden they were joined by the choir with the simple counterpoint setting acting to reinforce the song’s world-weary narrative. The traditional Ghanaian Senwa dedende was performed by the “people’s” choir, that is, us. And very well indeed and certainly better than our vocal coach Chris Bartram. As I know David Lancaster personally, it wouldn’t be particularly professional to comment on his piece itself. Suffice to say that the distinctive sound-world of Fell was very well delivered by Soon Amore where the ritualistic, repetitive choral statements were very clearly delivered, commenting on the convincing spoken narrative by Laura Potts and Gary Craig. Martin Lawrence’s playing was, of course, imperious. By contrast Bruckner’s sweet, touching Locus Iste simply glowed with joy. Following an impressive The Deer’s Cry by Arvo Part, which is actually quite tricky, the “people’s” choir were back to perform the traditional Bella mama. The higher pitch gave our vocal coach the opportunity to redeem himself, which he did admirably. It was genuine fun singing the simple canon and very satisfying too. Eric Whitacre is a very fine composer and his choral writing is always distinctive. The choir clearly relished the lovely harmonies and gentle dissonances of his Sleep and their enjoyment was infectious. For me, anyway. Chris Bartram is an excellent, entirely musical conductor and his engaging manner made the afternoon’s concert a very rewarding experience.
The review is published at charleshutchpress.co.uk