With the last 6 months spent working on new material and honing their craft there was great anticipation about what the Wessex summer concert would bring, and they certainly delivered! From the opening chords of ‘Oh what a beautiful morning’ you could tell that the time had been well spent. Looking very dapper in their new uniform, The Wessex men delivered a fabulously balanced sound from 44 choristers in Christ Church, Swindon.
The honeyed stone of the church, bathed in a subtle purple glow, looked magnificent and as the choir launched into their set, the packed house was treated to Georgio Susana’s ‘Restera la Luce’ and then ‘In Paradisum’, in an arrangement by the choir’s own Tom Graff of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod with words from the requiem mass. The first set concluded with the ever popular ‘Wellerman’ and Leonard Cohen’s ‘Hallelujah’. The choir was joined this year by The Richard Williams Singers from Tonyrefail in South Wales who stunned the crowd with the opening chords to ‘O Fortuna’ and then continued with such variety, singing ‘Myfanwy’, ‘The Prayer’ and closing with Carly Simon’s ‘Let the river run’. The Richard Williams Singers were formed in 1965 as the Tonyrefail Children’s Choir and amazingly there are members who have been singing with this multi award winning choir for 50 years having joined as 5 year olds! Lead tonight by their MD Margaret May, RWS have sung across the world in Canada, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Ireland and more and in 1977 Richard Williams was awarded the MBE for his services to music in Wales and in 1993 the Open University presented him with an honorary Masters Degree.
The citation reads: “There is no better mentor for the highest values of the musical tradition of the ordinary people of Wales than Richard Williams.” Three years before his death in 2007 at the age of 83, Richard was presented with The Joseph Parry Award by the Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music to honour his outstanding contribution made within the field of music education in Wales. The smaller singing group ‘Wessex Camerata’ followed singing three numbers including Baby on Board from the Simpsons – sung originally by the Dapper Dans in the episode, Homer’s Barbershop Quartet. Apparently one of The MD’s favourite shows!
This smaller group within The Wessex sings music suited to a smaller ensemble and is used to bring through younger members of the choir to build confidence, musical skill and stagecraft as they progress through the choir as well as showcasing different musical styles.At the interval the audience were chatting enthusiastically and eagerly anticipating the second half. The Richard Williams Singers opened with ‘The Rhythm of life’ from Sweet Charity and then wowed with ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. The 28 ladies sang this 30 year old Queen masterpiece which had been arranged by the then MD of the choir, Richard Williams and which has been sung accompanied by the BBC Welsh Orchestra and in Cardiff Arms park as the only females guests at a 10,000 Male Choir Concert.
They did not disappoint and at the end of their contribution to the evening, received a resounding standing ovation. The Wessex were soon back on stage singing Charles Wesley’s ‘And Can it Be’. This moving text contemplates Christ’s gift to humanity set to a contemporary score by Dan Forrest and is a huge favourite of the choir, not least for the beautiful piano part played tonight by principal accompanist Christine Williams. Who cannot enjoy that perennial favourite ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’? Originally thought to be written by Paul Simon after a visit to Bickleigh Bridge in Devon, in 2003 Art Garfunkel debunked this theory and instead confirmed it was inspired by a line in a gospel song performed by Claude Jeter with the Swan Silvertones and the line ‘I’ll be your bridge over deep water if you trust in my name’. Puccini’s ‘Nessun Dorma’ followed and while the audience conjured up the image of Pavarotti singing – though none of the rather svelte Wessex men could match his size – they were soon transported to ‘Africa’ by Toto, complete with rustling savannah sounds and that familiar tune.
Closing the concert with ‘The Rocky Road to Dublin’ this complex Norwegian arrangement of the traditional 19th Century Irish folk song showcased The Wessex on top form and as the hubbub died down the audience left with the last notes still ringing and looking forward to the next outing to see this outstanding choir once more.
You can catch The Wessex singing with Cirencester Male Voice Choir in October and then in the Christmas Spectacular with Shrivenham Military Wives Choir on December 8th – ticket information is at TheWessex.org.uk/tickets
Stuart Allinson – The Wessex Events manager.