If you asked any choir aficionado to name a large-scale oratorio by Haydn, it would be a safe bet to expect The Creation by way of a reply.
But this is to do a serious disservice to Haydn, for while The Creation is known around the world, its successor, The Seasons, has never enjoyed anywhere near the same popular success.
It requires a relatively large orchestra and, while the venue and acoustic of the Great Hall are superb, with a large choir, orchestra and soloists, there’s not much room for the audience, which seriously affects ticket revenue.
Conductor Simon Capet wisely decided on a specially trimmed-down orchestration, which immediately meant that not once did the orchestra overpower the singers, although every instrumentalist now had to be on absolute tip-top form.
Enter the newly-formed Dartington Sinfonietta. Led with consummate assurance by Mary Eade, the players rose to the challenge with great élan, with each section giving its absolute all.
With three outstanding soloists – Abigail Broughton (soprano), James Way (tenor), and Julian Chou-Lambert (baritone) – and such an enthusiastic choir on top song throughout, this was one of those evenings you never wanted to end.
While it’s a team effort, the evening’s undoubted success owes much to Simon, whose most-engaging demeanour, musical experience and expertise will ensure that Dartington Community Choir, and now the new Sinfonietta, just keep going from strength to strength.
[Click here for Philip's extended review of The Seasons]
Summer 2016 - Noyses, Sounds and Sweet Aires
With the title Noyses, Sounds & Sweet Aires, it wouldn’t be too difficult to guess this lovely afternoon concert was the choir’s own celebration of Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary.
But instead of the endless succession of choruses from operas like Macbeth or Falstaff, or suites of incidental music, conductor Simon Capet had assembled a fascinating mix of songs and readings that had far more in common with the poet himself, the actual music in his plays, and the popular culture at the time.
The choir’s highly-spirited performance of Orlando Gibbons’ Cries of London got everything off to an animated start, and which contrasted well with their other renditions, distinguished by an especially fine version of Vaughan Williams’ Full fathom five.
Soloist Catherine Hamilton soared effortlessly in a mixed selection of songs by Arne, Quilter, and Cheltenham-based Ian Higginson, whose Fear no more the heat o’ the sun scarcely left a dry eye in the house.
Choir pianist Clare Talbot, aided and abetted by the consummate skills of Divertimento String Quartet, provided the highly-appropriate accompaniment throughout, while no two better actor/readers could have been found to keep things moving along so briskly than Richard Clark and Ruth Bettesworth.
But if the ultimate accolade for the programme’s unmitigated success must go to the Bard himself, then Simon Capet’s untiring musical contribution puts him in close contention for second place.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Classical Music Writer | Plymouth Herald
to see this review as it appeared in the Plymouth Herald]
Easter 2016 - Bach St John Passion
Most large choirs have to rely on a rehearsal-accompanist in the initial preparation of a new work, able only to afford the orchestra’s services virtually on the day.
Dartington Community Choir opted for a second pianist for their performance of Bach’s St John Passion, with John Bryden and Rupert Jeffcoat combining in a special arrangement by Jonathan Watts.
An orchestra can easily drown out the efforts of weeks of practice, something of which a single concert-grand piano is far less capable. But the jury is still out as to whether the piano’s essential percussive nature, especially with the top player often tinkling in the topmost register, really could provide truly appropriate support, compared, even, with the sustained sound of an organ, and especially in the middle part of the harmony.
That said, the singers couldn’t be faulted for their unfailing enthusiasm, and expressive qualities in the chorales and slower-moving choruses, which conductor Simon Capet fashioned with genuine emotion.
Milly Forrest and Juliet Curnow sang with great projection and fine tone throughout. John Bacon coped well with the excessive demands as the Evangelist, even if, especially when the voice was starting to tire, the declamatory nature of the role became somewhat compromised. Lawrence Halksworth brought richness and warmth as Jesus, with Alex Bevan and Julian Chou-Lambert largely secure in their respective contributions.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Christmas 2015 - Mozart Credo Mass & Handel Messiah
Fresh and joyous Christmas Concert at Dartington Great Hall
It felt wonderfully apt to round off this splendid Christmas Concert by Dartington Community Choir with a number of congregational carols.
The main body of the programme had been devoted respectively to the music of the Lutheran Handel and the young Catholic Mozart, so carols – essentially just songs of community celebration – provided the perfect grand-finale.
The choir was on top form in Part 1 of Messiah, where conductor Simon Capet wisely chose bright tempi that imbued the all-too-familiar music with a real freshness, while still allowing singers to articulate clearly, and not fall behind. Indeed, one of the most striking features of Simon’s direction was his innate ability to imprint his own musicality on the performance, often with a mere finger movement, but to which both players and voices nevertheless instantly responded.
The choir was joined by a superb team of young soloists, all of whom distinguished themselves both in solo and concerted items. Soprano Abigail Broughton and Juliet Curnow (mezzo-soprano) were in fine voice throughout, but special mentions must go to tenor Stefan Kennedy, and particularly to bass Richard Walshe, whose exceedingly warm and well-rounded tone was a real joy to listen.
Mozart’s charming Credo Mass has the virtue of having relatively short movements, something his employer at the time demanded, lest supper should apparently be delayed. But there is still much to enjoy in this early work, and where choir and soloists again rose to the occasion from the very first note with great aplomb.
The specially-convened orchestra, led with assurance by Anna Cockcroft, made an invaluable contribution to the evening’s unmitigated success, as, too, did Simon’s showmanlike and anecdotal conclusion to the evening when the packed audience joined in with the singing.
With the added bonus of the superb setting and acoustic, this was an evening to warm the heart of even the most affirmed Bah Humbug present.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Summer 2015 - Vaughan Williams & Elgar
Perfect fare for a summer afternoon
When it comes to programming, Dartington Community Choir, under inspired conductor Simon Capet, appears to have got it just right.
Well-trodden large-scale works have their place, of course, but what was served up here – and capped by a cream tea on the lawn – was absolutely the perfect fare for a summer afternoon, and where even the sun eventually appeared.
Simon had built his programme around English music and verse at the time of the Great War. Elgar’s Five Part-Songs provided an ideal and varied starter, before Simon moved to the piano for heartfelt performances of three Ivor Gurney Preludes, most effectively interspersed with the composer’s poetry, and expertly delivered by Richard Clark.
Vaughan Williams’s Cotswold Romance – adapted from his opera Hugh the Drover – was an absolute revelation, full of glorious melodies, bustling choruses, folk-tunes and much more, and where Richard’s characterised synopses again helped the action along so very effectively.
Soprano Abigail Broughton and South African tenor Thomas Erlank proved outstanding soloists, both able to soar high effortlessly over the ensemble, and blessed with such glorious tone.
Andrew Daldorph despatched the intricate alternative piano accompaniment with great panache, which not only avoided the expense of a large orchestra, but never managed to overpower the singers either.
The choir, too, was suitably attired for the occasion, and clearly appeared to enjoy every minute of it, as surely did everyone present.
PHILIP R BUTTALL
Spring 2015 - Bach Mass in B minor
Bach’s B Minor Mass is a difficult work for any choir to tackle, and when there is an enforced change of musical director just weeks from the performance, this could signal a recipe for disaster.
But Dartington Community Choir showed exactly what it was made of, by deciding still to go ahead as planned. Fortunately it had the luxury of first-class orchestral support from Devon Baroque, under the inspired leadership of Persephone Gibbs, an overall strong team of soloists, the glorious setting and acoustic of the Great Hall, and a packed audience to offer encouragement along the way.
So if, by comparison with some previous occasions, the opening felt just a tad subdued and the body language, perhaps understandably, veered more towards necessary caution than overt confidence, this was quickly dispelled, and there were many instances, especially after the interval, where the hall resounded once more to the choir’s trademark full-blooded singing and sheer performance energy.
A lot of the credit is, of course, due to the resilience and tenacity of the choir members themselves. But even more is as a result of the hard work and assured musical direction of conductor Simon Capet, who took on this immense challenge with real élan. It is therefore with some considerable anticipation that we await his next venture with the choir this summer.
PHILIP R BUTTALL