•  Date Posted: Sun, 1 Oct 2023

    Dartington Community Choir’s decision to perform Vaughan Williams’ A Sea Symphony and to invite the internationally acclaimed baritone Roderick Williams as a soloist was bold and ambitious. What transpired on these two concert evenings was nothing short of remarkable. This choir seems to know no limits to what it can achieve under the inspired direction of Simon Capet, and these performances were truly outstanding.

    There was a real buzz of anticipation in the audience. The opportunity to hear Roderick Williams in Dartington’s Great Hall was clearly something to relish, and the excellent programme notes pointed to what was in store. What followed can only be described as a triumph, and arguably the most memorable concert performances the Dartington Community Choir has ever given.

    The concert began with Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet, in which the choir supported the solo part expertly, contrasting the jolly mood of three of the songs with the more meditative and elegiac quality of The Middle Watch and Farewell. Such was the gusto of the male voices in The Little Admiral that on the first night the audience broke into spontaneous applause.

    When A Sea Symphony was first performed in 1910, the choir numbered 348, together with a huge orchestra. Here in Dartington there was a choir of approximately 90 singers and Dartington Sinfonietta’s 23 musicians. The enormous challenge, therefore, was to create a seascape in sound, conveying the vast range of moods and feelings contained withing Walt Whitman’s free verse text. Simon Capet’s reworking of the orchestral score for a small ensemble was masterly, and provided the richness and texture this symphonic work requires, and the choir’s glorious opening of Behold the Sea was spellbinding.

    This work is acknowledged to be extremely difficult and challenging, even for professional choirs, and the achievement of Dartington Community Choir in delivering performances of such an impressively high standard demonstrates the members’ hard work, dedication, trust in their Music Director, and shared belief that anything is possible. The fact that the choir was singing alongside two exceptional soloists only served to emphasise this.

    Catherine Hamilton, soprano, is a great favourite with DCC and its loyal audience. As ever, she brought a purity and sensitivity to her role, her voice blending sublimely with that of the baritone. It is evident that Catherine’s relationship with the choir has matured and strengthened over many seasons, and this sense of creative collaboration also exists between DCC and the accomplished ensemble, the Dartington Sinfonietta, ably led by Mary Eade. This partnership between choir and musicians is very special and the Sinfonietta gave outstanding support.

    It is probably fair to say Roderick Williams brought magic and sparkle to the evenings’ concerts. His engagement to perform with an un-auditioned choir in South Devon was an exceptional feat of planning and organisation, and his presence was commanding, and compelling. We, the audience, could see how much he was enjoying singing with the choir, and it was a privilege to hear one of the greatest baritones of our times in our midst.

    This is the choir’s 40th anniversary season, and what a season it has been. Last November, the choir enthralled its audience with two performances of Dvorak’s The Spectre’s Bride, with puppets, and now it has given unforgettable performances of a monumental work, with a star soloist, the memory of which will undoubtedly stay in hearts and minds for a very long time. Happy Anniversary Dartington Community Choir – you can be deservedly proud.

    Richard Haigh
  • Autumn 2022 - Dvorak - The Spectre's Bride
  •  Date Posted: Sun, 12 Feb 2023

    Many amateur community choirs are content to perform choral works from a familiar and popular repertoire. They do so competently and comfortably. The Dartington Community Choir, however, challenges the boundaries of what an amateur choir can achieve.

    Under the leadership of their imaginative Director, Simon Capet, the choir has the confidence and ability to innovate, as demonstrated by their recent performance in Dartington’s Great Hall of Dvorak’s The Spectre’s Bride, a work rarely performed but regarded by Dvorak as one of his best. Based on a Czech folk tale, it tells a story of love, tragedy and terror in an eerie and mysterious gothic setting, and the English text by Simon Capet and Mollie Kaye, gave the narrative a welcome accessibility.

    All this would have been challenging enough for most choirs – but not the Dartington Community Choir.  Locally based PuppetCraft, the brainchild of internationally renowned puppeteer, John Roberts, was invited to collaborate with the choir to present both a musical and visual performance of this dramatic work.  The result was a magical experience with chorus, soloists, orchestra, and puppeteers combining perfectly to bring the drama alive in an atmospherically dimmed auditorium. Their performance was expertly videoed by Tim Dollimore of The Media Workshop, and projected onto the wall of the Great Hall, behind the choir, for the audience to enjoy.

    Frederick Long (bass-baritone and Narrator) drove the narrative with great skill and clarity, while Catherine Hamilton (soprano and The Bride) and David Webb (tenor and The Spectre) brought the two main characters alive beautifully. The pace and brio were maintained by some exceptionally tight singing from the chorus, and the whole performance was sustained by the outstanding Dartington Sinfonietta led by Mary Eade.

    John and his talented team spent many months creating both the small puppets and the complex set and, on concert night, the combination of puppetry of the highest possible quality and the very skilful video projection was breath-taking and enthralling. Not only were we being told the story we were able to watch it. This was not simply a performance but a show.

    This remarkable and innovative production was supported enthusiastically by The Wakefield Trust, The Arts Council of England, and The Dvorak Society, which encourages performances of rare and significant works.

    Music Directors of amateur choirs expect to bring together choir and soloists, sometimes they also include several instrumentalists or even a small orchestra. Few, if any, seek to bring everything together with a puppet show.  Simon Capet does so with aplomb and a deceptively relaxed style. Under his leadership Dartington Community Choir has embarked on its 40th season with a well-earned reputation for excellence and ambition.

    What is next for this enterprising team? Roderick Williams, none other, will be singing with the choir in performances of Vaughn Williams’ Sea Symphony on April 23rd and 24th next year. We are lucky to have a community choir of such distinction here in Dartington.
    Richard Haigh
  • Spring 2022 - Handel - Dettingen Te Deum
  •  Date Posted: Sun, 24 Apr 2022
    Anyone who regularly attends Dartington Community Choir's concerts will know that this is a choir that embraces challenge and is ready to explore an increasingly diverse repertoire.  The Spring Concert 2022 exemplified this, featuring contrasting works from two of the great composers in the Baroque tradition - Bach and Handel.

    The concert opened with Bach's Cantata No: 20, which combines complex solo sections with deceptively simple chorales. Both choir and soloists delivered a perfectly balanced performance of strength and subtlety, conveying the passion of this intricate work.  This was followed by Handel's Dettingen Te Deum, a work which at this time of conflict and uncertainty may have seemed an odd choice for the centrepiece of the concert.  However, as Music Director Simon Capet explained, although it was written to give thanks for a military victory it also contains a strong message of peace, harmony, and hope.  It was indeed a message for our times.  

    The choir was in excellent voice in the richly varied choruses, evidencing the dedication of its members under Capet's expert direction.  As one audience member remarked, "The singers were dancing with their voices".   Once again supported by the superb Dartington Sinfonietta, trumpets and timpani, the performance demonstrated choir and orchestra's impressive mutual understanding.  This connection was further enhanced by the quartet of sublime soloists, (Emily Vine, sop; Martha McLorinen, mezzo; Peter Davoren, ten; Frederick Long, bass), whose individual voices resonated beautifully in the solo sections whilst also blending perfectly together and with the choir.  This was truly a performance of outstanding quality.
    In closing, and it being Easter Sunday in the Orthodox Church, the choir sang Ukranian composer Mykola Lysenko's A prayer for Ukraine - in Ukrainian - a most moving and fitting end to the evening.  
    Dartington Community Choir continues to demonstrate its strength and musicality, confidently fulfilling its aim to bring choral music of a high standard to the local and wider community, with first class soloists and instrumentalists in a varied concert programme.  This continues in November 2022 with the choir's ambitious and innovative staging of Dvorak's The Spectre's Bride in collaboration with PuppetCraft.  This promises to bring yet another unforgettable experience  of wonderful music to Dartington's Great Hall.

    Richard Haigh