4th May 2024


Cirencester Choral Society May 2024

Stanford, Parry, Coleridge-Taylor and Vaughan Williams
by Julian Elloway

Cirencester Choral Society


Cirencester Choral Society’s concert on 4 May marked the centenary of the death of Charles Villiers Stanford. The choral attack at the start of Stanford’s B flat Te Deum, which opened the concert, grabbed the attention and showed a superbly disciplined and confident chorus, with excellent intonation with organ accompaniment. The pieces with piano, Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet, offered additional delights. How sensible it was to programme Songs of the Fleet, with chorus integral to each song, rather than his earlier Songs of the Sea, where the chorus is an optional add-on! Here we were blest with an exceptional baritone, Ross Fettes, with powerful voice, musical intelligence and superb diction. Every word was audible, which also applies to the choir. ‘The Song of the Sou’wester’ was particularly exciting in dialogue between choir and solo.

Charles Matthews accompanied, dazzling with his piano dexterity in the Songs of the Fleet, but also a joy to listen to on the organ, where his variety of registration and response to the music and to the conductor’s interpretation made him an equal partner with the choir. His performance of the organ part in Parry’s Blest Pair of Sirens was noteworthy. Choir and organ together created an atmospheric performance of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s little-known By the Waters of Babylon. The success of the whole evening must be attributed, above all, to the conductor, Carleton Etherington. He has an intuitive grasp of the musical structure of a movement. One sensed this in the opening Te Deum when the lead into recapitulation (and its tempo) felt so right, as if it could not be done any other way – a sign of an outstanding performance. This continued throughout the evening, including the final work, Vaughan Williams’s Five Mystical Songs. Perhaps the final song, ‘Antiphon’, could have had even more exhilaration, but it still brought a satisfying close to an outstanding concert.