Choir singing in Royal Hall
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Review

Beethoven - Sonata No 13 in E Flat
Orff - Carmina Burana
Royal Hall, Harrogate, 6 November 2010

Carmina flyer

Choral night of highest quality

The relatively unlikely top-billing combination of an award-winning children's choir, a pianist with a burgeoning international career and Harrogate Choral Society produced a magnificent concert in the Royal Hall on Saturday, 6th November.

To win 'BBC Radio 3 Choir of the Year 2008' the Scunthorpe Co-operative Junior Choir had to defeat several adult choirs and it was soon obvious how they did so. In a programme of six contrasting numbers their warm tone quality, full vowel sounds and precise diction were but three aspects of their spell-binding performance. Particularly moving was Bob Chilcott's setting of 'Can You Hear Me?' but the choir was equally at home in more lively numbers and, singing entirely from memory, their occasional choreography enhanced, rather than distracted from, the most positive impression that they gave. Their conductor, Sue Hollingworth, is an award-winner, too; only last month she won the Gramophone Award in association with The Times for Music in the Community.

The 27-year-old Alessandro Taverna gained third prize in the most recent Leeds Piano Competition and is fast rising to prominence. His playing of Chopin's Nocturne in E, Op 62 No 2 demonstrated a real clarity of melodic line with wonderfully precise pedalling, a relative rarity in concert performances of music by this composer. Beethoven's Sonata in E flat Op 27 No 1, the companion work to the Moonlight Sonata, was full of dynamic and dramatic contrasts. The early allegro passages were taken at a breathtaking speed and their vigour was counter-balanced by the expressive playing of the cantabile sections. The performer was not fazed by the challenges imposed by the regular mood-fluctuations, reflections of the composer's own character, and the work moved seamlessly through its stylistic extremes.

Carl Orff's 'Carmina Burana' is a work which poses huge, and unusual, challenges on its participants. The separately distinctive forces of Harrogate Choral Society, the children's choir, three soloists, a percussion ensemble and two pianists all combined, under the energy-driven impetus provided by conductor Andrew Padmore, to produce a magnificent performance of this unique work. Pride of place, however, went to the adult choir. The tenors and basses were far more effective than for some time and their full-bodied sound in 'Ecce gratum' was most exciting. The sopranos produced a thrillingly vibrant tone throughout and the altos produced a lovely lyrical sound especially in 'Chume, chum'.

Soprano Debra Morley sang with a rich tone quality, even in her coloratura range, John Dunford represented the roasting swan with suitably agonised usage of his quasi-falsetto range and Robert Poulton, bass, sang his demandingly contrasting sections with some comfort, also amusing with his portrayal of the drunken abbott. The augmented BackBeat Percussion Ensemble, together with Taverna and Beryl Pankhurst, accompanied the vocal forces with a rhythmic precision that enabled the whole performance to gel in a most thrilling manner and conclude a hugely enjoyable concert.

Paul Dyson