Winter Concert 2011

Ham and High 1 December 2011
by David Winskill
Conductor Murray Hipkin
Mezzo-soprano Catherine Hopper
Baritone Derek Welton
Organ James McVinnie
Cello Jonathan Few
Soprano Robyn Allegra Parton
Tenor Peter Kirk

Duruflé Requiem/Britten Rejoice in the Lamb/Tavener Svyati/Messiaen L'ascension Parts II and III

Organ's welcome return for an evening of brilliant performances

For their summer concert (Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle) North London Chorus had to ship a charming harmonium called Rosie down from Yorkshire. For last Saturday's concert the magnificent St James' resident organ was again available after a 13-year fundraising effort and 18 months of intensive restoration. The sound it produced was worth every penny of the £223,000 bill.

The opening work was Britten's Rejoice in the Lamb which is based on a poem by Christopher Smart. It is described in the programme as idiosyncratic and includes the fabulous lines: "For I will consider my cat Jeoffry" and "Let Ithamar minister with a chamois". It has a whispered start with a single, sustained note from the organ (James McVinnie) that seems to offer a promise of so much more to come.

And indeed it does with the astonishing Svyati (1995) by John Tavener. Johnathan Few played the solo cello, representing the voice of the Eastern Orthodox priest, as Murray Hipkin drew a sustained, almost basso profundo, drone from the men as the women chant Holy God, Holy and Strong. This produced one of the most intense experiences I have had in a church and was warmly appreciated by the almost full house.

Duruflé's Requiem really allowed Murray to work with the choir and organ to produce some wonderful moments - especially the tender and powerful contrasts on the Domine Jesu Christe.

All the soloists contributed much to the evening but mention must be made of the incredible Catherine Hopper (heavy with child) and the ethereal magic she brought to the Sanctus.

Murray has exploited the fabulous rapport he has with this choir, giving them the confidence to deliver some brilliant performances of some challenging and very complex pieces.


Summer Concert 2011

Ham and High 30 June 2011
by David Winskill
The North London Chorus and Orchestra
Conductor Murray Hipkin
Soprano Janis Kelly
Mezzo-soprano Rosie Aldridge
Tenor Adrian Dwyer
Bass John Molloy
Harmonium Jonathan Scott
Pianos Jeremy Silver and Catherine Borner

Rossini Petite Messe Solennelle/Lauridsen O Magnum Mysterium/Barber Agnus Dei/Adams This is Prophetic/Karg-Elert Totentanz

Far from being a Messe, this is beautiful

For the first time for ages North London Chorus blessed us with sunny weather. And conductor Murray Hipkin added to the blessings with an ambitious, varied evening of works by Some lesser known composers – Lauridsen, Karg-Elert, Adarns, Barber and Rossini.

(:flickr northlondonchorus 72157627118040535 scale=1.0:) | North London Chorus in rehearsal on the day

No orchestra though: instead, two Imposing black grands and a charming little harmonium called Rosie (guess what wood she was made of!). The programme was probably planned with an eye to the cost of hiring the pianos and getting Rosie down from her Yorkshire home. After the choral version of Adams' Adagio for Strings (the desperately sad piece played at funerals and solemn occasions) came the main work - Rossini's Petite Messe Solennelle.

A longish piece, said by Napoleon III to be “...neither petite, nor solemn, nor a mess!". It starts in an almost jaunty way with the harmonium (beautifully played by Jonathan Scott) punctuating the Kyrie. This was a theme of the work as the solemn grand notes of the grands contrasted with the cheekv almost humorously comic noises produced by Rosie.

At times it was possible to imagine being on a seaside pier or in a music hall rather than a church. With fantastic support from a gifted line up of soloists (including the incredible NLC patron Janis Kelly) 'the chorus continues to get better and better. It shows not just in the sounds they make but in the seemingly effortless way they tackle the demands of the evening's complex music and also how' laid back and relaxed they are becoming.

Desert Island Discs featured this work in February when Jon Snow picked the Messe as his favourite. I understood why as I listened to NLC giving excellent voice to the Cum Sancto Spiritu in one of the chirpiest and optimistic interpretations of this part of the Mass I have yet heard.

I wonder if Mahler ever wrote songs with harmonium accompaniment? He might have called them Lieder with Rosie.


Ham and High 31 Mar 2011

by David Winskill

The North London Chorus and Orchestra Conductor Murray Hipkin Soprano Laura Mitchell, Soprano Claire Watkins, Tenor Gareth Dafydd Morris, Baritone Derek Welton

Mozart Davidde Penitente

Beethoven Christus Am Ölberge

Beauty of Little Known Works Revealed

The first piece of the evening, Mozart’s Davidde Penitente, was... an example of recycling. Mr M had signed up to two concerts in March 1785 and, not having time to compose a new Psalm setting, he recycled music from his C-Minor Mass. The finished result was wonderful. We were treated to a welcome audition of the fantastically talented soprano Laura Mitchell early on in the Alzai le flebili. The Chorus followed with the Cantiam, almost shouted but wonderfully controlled. Claire Watkins, the second soprano also showed what a magnificent voice she has and... took the opportunity to give full vent during the Lungi le cure aria, dazzling the audience with her power and range. In the subsequent duet they worked brilliantly, sparking off each other filling the church with beauty. The conclusion of the work, Chi in Dio sol spera, 'gloriously showy' (as the programme puts it) was an opportunity to shine taken by the chorus with all hands.

The next piece, Beethoven’s Christus am Olberge continued the recycle, reuse theme. The excellent programme notes told us that on the morning of the concert's premier in 1805, Beethoven realised that the orchestra had two trombonists with no parts to perform. So, to prevent their being paid for but unused, he wrote music for them. Waste not want not! The Christus is a wonderful piece of music and it is a mystery to me why it is not more regularly performed. It takes the form of a sombre, brutally honest meditation by Christ in the Garden of Gethsemene on the horrors of what is about to happen as he fulfills the Father's will for man's salvation. The start is a long, grim orchestral piece (the trombonists and all the NLC Orchestra earning a well deserved crust) then Gareth Dafyyd Morris as Jesus delivers one of the most emotionally profound performances I have yet heard in any setting. The recitative and the aria are a desperate monologue with the Almighty – accepting but terrified at the prospect of what is to come. For some reason Beethoven thought this as one of his lesser works but, for the St James' audience, it was a deeply moving and affecting piece. During the performance, the Chorus managed to change the voice it had during the Mozart piece to one with greater gravitas - deeper and heavier, less emotional, more narrative driven.

... the quality of the music and the control of the choir, under the energetically supportive Murray Hipkin, shone through. He had chosen the programme well – two relatively little known pieces that presented the Chorus with a challenge. With the NLC Orchestra and soloists they responded with confidence, passion and great technical competence.

A superb evening...


Ham and High 01 Dec 2009

by David Winskill

The North London Chorus and Orchestra Conductor Murray Hipkin Soprano Janis Kelly, Mezzo-soprano Madeleine Shaw, Tenor Jaewoo Kim, Bass baritone Roland Wood

Mendelssohn, Elijah

Passionate music to keep out the cold

Another cold, wet and windy night. Another cracking concert from a cracking local chorus.

...The opening of the piece is a funeral dirge – all woodwind and brass and the dark, sepulchral tones of Roland Wood’s wonderful bass-baritone. Then, Jaws like, onto the string-based overture and the first wonderful noise from the chorus – Help Lord. Following the recitative, the sensational Janis Kelly(house soprano) and Madeleine Shaw (mezzo-soprano) gave the duet Zion spreadeth her hand with beautiful and measured support from NLC...Their diction and crispness of delivery is excellent and made it easy to follow the action. They gave fine support to the excellent soloists without ever swamping them.

As ever, the North London Orchestra turned in a fabulous performance . Elijah is a longish piece and offers some memorable and sensitive sections that allow the chorus to show just how well their confidence and technique is developing under conductor Murray Hipkin.

Murray is clearly a very talented and, probably, more importantly, passionate conductor and musician...he really worked the chorus and they responded with a more intense and driven rendition.

But perhaps the star of the evening was the young treble Charlie Manton. A wonderful voice and a calm, confident presence.


Ham and High 27 June 2009

by David Winskill

The North London Chorus and Orchestra Conductor Murray Hipkin Soprano Sarah-Jane Brandon, Mezzo-soprano Martha Jones, Tenor Tyler Clarke Bass baritone Samuel Evans

St James Church, Muswell Hill N10 3DB

Purcell, O Sing Unto the Lord; Handel, Four Coronation Anthems; Haydn, Nelson Mass

A concert programme like this is the musical equivalent of one of those big boxes of chocolates that have had all the soft centres removed – an opportunity for total self indulgence.

The tropical deluge that hit north London a couple of hours before the start of the concert took its toll on the size of the audience with about one third staying at home. Strangely, as the first piece (Purcell’s O Sing unto the Lord) demonstrated, having fewer people in the space actually improved the acoustic.

Handel’s Four Coronation Anthems were excellent – the soloists working brilliantly with a supportive chorus. However, as Zadok the Priest demonstrated, having a ratio of almost 3:1 female to male voices puts a lot of pressure on any choir to deliver the full power required. As Zadok petered out, somewhere a church bell sounded. Magical.

The first time I heard Hayden’s Nelson Mass, I was sitting under the dome of St Paul’s Cathedral during one of the spring masses about twenty years ago. True, lovely as it is, St James can’t quite compete with Wren’s masterpiece, but Murray Hipkin’s chorus and orchestra would not have been out of place in a cathedral.

Their interpretation of the Kyrie was a great, powerful but, above all, confident start to this finest of Haydn’s masses. The soloists handed in inspired performances – the Qui Tollis was spellbinding – with top notch passages, especially the Credo and Et Incarnatus , delivered by the Chorus. They could be soft and tender when required and swish effortlessly to strong, robust and powerful.

By this stage of the proceedings the humidity levels were rising to danger levels and so the main church doors were swung open. Welcome as the breeze was it also provided a first for me – the Benedictus with 137 bus gear change accompaniment!

Murray got the balance with the modest sized orchestra, allowing them to shine, support, but never dominate. This was one of North London’s best concerts to date.


Ham and High 26 March 2009

by David Winskill

The North London Chorus and Orchestra Conductor Murray Hipkin Soprano Elaine McKrill, Mezzo-soprano Sarah Pring, Tenor Michael Bracegirdle Bass John Molloy

...The appetiser for the main course was Ludwig Van's Coriolan Overture - a sad, romantic piece with violent timpani and complex wind and strings.

The "specialist players" of the orchestra were all using copies or actual historical instruments. This worked well and gave an insight into how Beethoven would have heard his own work...

The Missa Solemnis is one of Beethoven's sacred works. The evening's soloists gave superb performances, working closely with the choir to produce many memorable moments. Right from the Kyrie, it was clear how much preparation had gone into this concert - the Christe eleison was superb.

As the work progressed it seemed that the choir was having to work hard to compete with the orchestra to be heard. The soloists, professionally trained, were able to assert their voices but the choir was at times rather drowned.

But the quieter parts - such as the Benedictus qui venit in the Sanctus and the Agnus Dei - allowed the chorus to show what a wonderful job they could do, soaring and flying with the soloists in some wonderfully sacred moments.

For ears reared on hi-fi discs and CDs the noise made by the orchestra sometimes seemed dissonant and over earthy. However, it was a really worthwhile experiment and will be remembered by many as a valuable insight into the musical world of the early nineteenth century.


Ham and High 4 December 2008

by Michael White

Totally transfixed by exhilarating requiem

St Michael's Church

Highgate

The North London Chorus with North London String Quartet Conductor Murray Hipkin Soprano Janis Kelly, Tenor Tyler Clark Baritone Roland Wood

"It's a little known fact, but when Brahms's German Requiem was first performed in Britain it was in a version for four-hand piano accompaniment (replacing the orchestra) created by the composer himself.

This scaled down but, in the light of history, legitimate version was the one used by the North London Chorus for their Highgate concert.

Pianos are no substitute for orchestras - so quantities of colour and variety of texture in the score were lost.

But the human ear is a surprisingly forgiving thing and it didn't take long to adjust - even though there were times when the piano duet sounded like drawing room Faure.

The chorus singing was by and large very good - far better than the NLC's last concert...

Perhaps they'd had more rehearsal. Perhaps the language of the Brahms was more familiar.

But here, the ensemble was stronger, the attack firmer and the sound clearer.

They also had more stamina - especially in the big fugal sections where Murray Hipkin, the NLC conductor, kept the momentum going through the music that churns like industrial machinery over a pounding bass pedal, and delivered something of exhilarating power.

I sat up in the balcony at St Michael's, totally engaged and not minding in the least the absence of an orchestra... this was an uplifting evening - and a worthy tribute to Alan Hazeldine, the NLC's founding conductor who died in November.


Ham and High 30 June 2006

by David Sonin

Choir triumphs in King's premiere

PROMS AT ST JUDE'S - CHORAL CONCERT

The North London Chorus with baroque orchestra Conductor Murray Hipkin Soprano Sally Silver, Mezzo-soprano Valerie Reid, Tenor James Edwards Bass Graeme Danby

"THE North London Chorus has undergone quite a transformation since ENO repetiteur Murray Hipkin I took up the role of conductor and its performances have become as polished as any choir on the patch.

Its guest appearance for the Proms' choral concert spot was especially welcome as it brought with it a world premiere - its own commission, Matthew King's The Season Of Singing.

Termed by the composer as a work for soprano (Sally Silver), mezzo (Valerie Reid), choir and classical orchestra (a modern instrument version exists), it is a setting in five parts of verse by Milton, e e cummings, William Byrd, Shakespeare, Blake, D H Lawrence and words from the Song of Songs.

It is a work of complexity that veers from the dissonant to the melodic, but never goes beyond an aural limit where sound becomes obscure and the texts are buried in a welter of effects.

King is also very adept at setting a line and he seems to recognise instinctively that, for the average non-professional choir, there are limits beyond which one should not cross. His restraint was amply rewarded by some really first-rate ensemble singing.

The choir and orchestra then turned to Mozart's requiem K626 where bass Graeme Danby and tenor Amos Christie joined the choir and the female soloists in a performance that featured incisive orchestral playing as well as a focused contribution from the choir.

The quartet of soloists blended particularly well although the overall effect veered towards the operatic. However, Hipkin obtained a good emotional thrust throughout the Sequenz, the chorus providing a keen and welcome dramatic edge to the Dies Irae and Rex Tremendae.


Ham and High 1 July 2005

by David Sonin

DENISE LEIGH, soprano

North London Chorus

The Musical and Amicable Society

Conductor Murray Hipkin, St Jude's, Hampstead Garden Suburb

COMBINE the talents of professional and gifted non-professional singers, a specialist baroque orchestra and imaginative programming with a large dose of public curiosity and you have all the ingredients for a night of rare entertainment.

Curiosity and interest were a big factor with the north-west London debut of soprano Denise Leigh, the blind mother of three who was joint winner of TV's Operatunity.

The first half, however, was devoted to Buxtehude's Membra Jesu Nostri, a cycle of cantatas. It is a very ambitious work for any choral society to perform and the North London Chorus put in a very credible performance.

A big plus was the period touch by The Musical and Amicable Society. These nine musicians then showed their understanding of the repertoire in an orchestral interlude of three ground bass compositions by Purcell, Marini and Matteis.

The second major work was Vivaldi's Gloria in D RV589, the more popular of the composer's two settings of the text, with the Introduzione al Gloria RV642 sung as a solo by Denise Leigh.

On TV it was quite impossible to judge the quality of her clear voice and well-schooled diction to which one must add her considerable experience in singing music from the baroque era.

And Leigh was admirably paired with the choir's outstanding soprano Shantini Cooray and alto Fran Lane.


Ham and High 22 April 2005

by David Sonin

NORTH LONDON CHORUS AND ORCHESTRA

Andrew Rees, tenor, and Paul Keohone, bass-baritone Murray Hipkin, conductor

artsdepot, North Finchley

PRINCE-Archbishop Colloredo, who wanted no operatic nonsense with settings of the mass, would clearly have also kicked the young Puccini down the stairs for his marvellous Messa di Gloria and the orchestral Preludio Sinfonico as being overwrought and theatrical.

Thankfully, Puccini did not live in Salzburg in Mozart's time and we can, therefore, appreciate this work as so much more than an apprentice piece - but as very much a foretaste of the great operatic composer's work to come.

It was ambitious as well as laudable for Hipkin to programme the work and precede it with Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms and in so doing provide a rare treat for a capacity house at the debut of the NLC at artsdepot. For the opera lover, there is in the Agnus Dei, a very recognisable theme Puccini later used in Manon Lescaut.

However, this was not spot the tune, but a chance to relish - in the long Gloria, for example - some superb musical bravado in a style that one might usually associate with Rossini. As for his soloists. Hipkin chose a superb tenor in Andrew Rtes. who made out of the brief Gratias agimus a full-blown operatic aria. Not out of place or keeping however. And in the Agnus Dei in which Rees was joined bass-baritone Paul Keohone, the pair provided a memorable finish to a religious work in which spirit burns with a light and bright luminosity. Stravinsky's Symphony of Psalms is austere by comparison and, perhaps, more powerful in its expression of religious purpose.

Again, all credit to the NLC and the orchestra for a performance that heard the choir on top form. Had the artsdepot done its technical stuff, the performance, on acoustic grounds, might well have deserved an extra half star.