Choir singing in Royal Hall
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An Evening of Elgar
Royal Hall, Harrogate, 7 November 2009

Elgar flyer

A quite outstanding performance of Elgar's 'Sea Pictures' by Margaret McDonald was the highlight of 'An Evening of Elgar' presented by Harrogate Choral Society, directed with his usual infectious energy by Andrew Padmore, and accompanied by the Amici Ensemble on Saturday 7th November at the Royal Hall.

McDonald sang Elgar's masterpiece with a considerable range of emotions, heightened by means of most expressive use of the upper body, especially the face and hands. Her diction was excellent and her voice carried superbly over the orchestral accompaniment, even in the fully-scored passages.

The longest work in the concert was 'The Music Makers' and Padmore's direction again emphasised the music's range of expression, very well exemplified by the performance by the extremely well-balanced choir, despite occasional slightly early entries by some individual voices. The reflective moments were particularly well sung, notably at the beginning and end of the work and the climaxes effectively prepared and reached. The occasional tentative moments certainly did not detract from the overall effect of a most convincing portrayal of the text. The combined forces of choir and orchestra occasionally overpowered the soloist but Padmore's awareness of the varied and complex textures ensured that the forces blended together into a most satisfying whole. In fact, the work's references to other pieces by the composer heightened the work's, and the evening's, sense of wholeness and continuity.

The Amici Ensemble is a newly-formed Leeds-based group of orchestral and free-lance instrumentalists and is quickly gathering a high reputation for itself. On this showing, it is easy to understand the reasons for this rise to fame. Their performance of five short orchestral pieces demonstrated playing of real quality. These included a profound 'Nimrod' and a delightful version of the more lightly-scored 'Chanson de Matin'. The concert began and ended with two of the composers Pomp and Circumstance Marches. The concert started with No. 4 and, although less-well known, has a similar lyrical melody surrounded by music of greater energy, in which the brass were a little loud although the horn melody was beautifully played.

The concert ended with March No. 1 in which the main melody appears on three occasions. Imaginatively, the choir hummed the tune, then sang it and were then augmented by the audience. A repeat of this final section proved to be a fitting end to a concert which co-incided with the evening before Remembrance Day.

Paul Dyson

By email
From: Dr Steven Halls, Chairman of the Elgar Society
To: Professor Robin Basker, Chairman, Harrogate Choral Society
Date: 9 November 2009

Dear Professor Basker

Having attended your Society’s concert on Saturday, I am writing to congratulate you all on such an enjoyable event. I thought the choir was in fine voice and dealt well with the complexities of The Music Makers, as it is no easy score and not within the standard repertoire. Also, the contrast between the choral, the instrumental and Sea Pictures vindicated a long-held belief of mine that there can be an attractive context for Elgar’s shorter works. Margaret McDonald had enormous presence and musicianship - I hope I shall hear her in The Music Makers next year in Salisbury – but I should reserve particular praise for Andrew Padmore whose directorship throughout was wholly admirable.

Thanks to you all.

S Halls