113th Season: Programmes and Reviews (2016-2017)

B-Minor-prog-coverJS Bach – Mass in B Minor

Sunday 7th May 2017 at 3pm

Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society with
The Southbank Sinfonia
Miriam Allan – Soprano, Kate Symonds-Joy – Mezzo Soprano,
Ben Thapa – Tenor, James Cleverton – Bass

Conducted by Rebecca Miller

How lovely to hear Bach’s B Minor Mass performed to such a high standard by the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society under the baton of their esteemed conductor Rebecca Miller, accompanied by the excellent Southbank Sinfonia.

This monumental Latin mass represents the pinnacle of the composer’s sacred vocal works. An outstanding exponent of counterpoint, he uses complex fugues in many of the movements, which were well-managed by the choir. From the opening Kyrie Eleison with its commanding introduction before the calmer fugal section, the chorus performed the melismatic phrases (so prevalent in Bach’s vocal music) to good effect, both musically and sensitively. Fine intonation reigned supreme throughout, and gentle nuances within the terraced dynamics maintained the Baroque style. Most important of all, the clear, lucid balance of voices expressed the polyphony with good clarity.

Rebecca Miller took the work at a stylistically slick pace, and was in total control throughout, allowing neither choir nor orchestra to rise above the required dynamic level. The chorus managed the chromaticisms, suspensions and constant key shifts with ease, while the orchestra (led by Joanna Park) accompanied the singers with sensitivity so that an ideal balance was achieved. Special mention must go to the violin, flute, oboe and horn obligato instrumentalists who performed alongside several of the soloists’ arias and duets.

All four soloists – Miriam Allen (soprano), Kate Symonds-Joy (mezzo), Ben Thapa (tenor) and James Cleverton (baritone) employed their excellent and clear focused voices to good use, in both arias and duets, where they complemented one another well. Particularly enjoyable were the soprano and alto duets, most musically performed.

The use of light articulation, varied tempi, crisp rhythms and complete control of dynamics produced a joyous and uplifting concert. The work is long and very demanding (as pointed out by Ms Miller when she gave the performers a well-deserved break) and it is therefore a credit to all concerned, not least the assistant conductor Jamie Sperling, that a thoroughly high-calibre B Minor Mass was enjoyed by all this afternoon.

Michele Roszak

The following letter was published in The Courier under the headline  “Concert was just glorious”

THE concert at the Assembly Hall on Sunday May 7 was a triumph. Why are so many people in town unwilling to avail themselves of glorious live music so brilliantly performed? Bach’s Mass in B minor is arguably one of his finest compositions.

Let us forget the why and how of its composition; suffice to say that it is too long to be seen as a setting for most church services but that it poses a challenge therefore to any choir. From the first resounding Kyrie the choir hit its stride and there followed a performance of the highest quality.  The balance of the choir (were there more basses than usual?) and the energy and sheer joy of the singing made this probably their best ever performance. That they were still in buoyant mood at the end of more than two hours of effort is perhaps due to the way that they are urged on by their conductor Rebecca Miller, who as regular concert goers know well, always leads with energy and passion.

Rebecca seems able to exploit her London connections for our benefit;  on this occasion the accompanying music was provided by the Southbank Sinfonia, a group of young musicians on the cusp of joining the professional world. Their expert playing and the energy and joy which characterised their performance added greatly to the event.  There were many opportunities for solo performances to show case this talent but this listener couldn’t help being struck by the contribution to the overall sound made by a combined Chamber Organ and Harpsichord.

As ever there were four excellent soloists but in this work they were very much underemployed for the text is left largely in the hands of the choir who should bask in the glory of what they achieved.

David Trainor, Tunbridge Wells

Xmas16-20A concert of Christmas Music
Including Vaughan Williams – Fantasia on Christmas Carols

St Mary’s Parish Church – Goudhurst
Sunday 11th December 2016

RTWCS with: Roland Miller (Baritone), Chris Harris (Organ), & The Wadhurst Band

Conducted by Rebecca Miller

Programme unavailable

Click to view programme

Brahms Requiem & Mahler Rückert Lieder

Assembly Hall – Sunday 13 November 2016

RTWCS with
Anita Watson (soprano), Alex Ashworth (baritone)
The Salomon Orchestra, leader John Ryan

Conducted by Rebecca Miller

Click on image to view programme

Under the skilled and inspired leadership of their conductor, Rebecca Miller, the Royal Tunbridge Wells Choral Society presented a most poignant programme in which music and words brought some understanding and comfort to the suffering in our chaotic world this Remembrance Sunday. Rebecca Miller in her introductory words reminded us that Brahms himself had considered calling his Requiem ‘A Human Requiem’ before settling on A German Requiem. This afternoon it was a celebration of humanity that extended through both works. Brahms’ A German Requiem was preceded by the Rückert-Lieder of Mahler for soprano and baritone soloists and orchestra.

Mahler has the ability to convey complex emotions through apparently simple melodies, and Anita Watson (soprano) and Alex Ashworth (baritone) brought out the full range of feeling exploring the variety of tonal colour through their admirable technique and sensitivity to the text with lovely orchestral playing by the Salomon Orchestra achieving sensitivity in phrasing and shaping and an admirable balance.  The cor anglais was for me particularly emotive.

In Um Mitternacht Alex Ashworth portrayed with conviction the far-reaching journey of the soul as we are poised between the ephemeral and the eternal.  Emotionally and intellectually, we were well prepared for the Requiem for which Brahms, rather than using the Roman liturgical text, freely selected verses  from the Lutheran Bible which focus on death and eternity and the source of comfort in Christ.

To perform this work in German is a challenge but the choir were equal to the demands of the language despite the occasional loss of definition of consonants in some quieter passages.

Blessed are they that mourn was a moving opening with the choir responding to the subtlety of  graded expression which established a suitably sombre mood. Particularly impressive was the stately and funereal Behold all flesh is as grass in the second movement, with its broad range of controlled dynamics and clarity of contrapuntal texture. This was truly magnetic and thrilling.

The baritone solo in Lord, let me know my end was moving and sincere in effective partnership with the choir giving clarity to the fugal writing and creating the climactic intensity.

The lyrical qualities of How lovely are thy dwellings were beautifully presented, and Anita Watson, in Ye now have sorrow, was poised and impressive in her phrasing, tone quality and shaping, as her voice added further colour and emotion to the work.

The penultimate movement in which the Requiem reaches its dramatic climax combined excellence of orchestral playing with well articulated intensity of the choir, reaching an electrifying Death where is thy sting.  All this showed the choir at its glorious best.

The more delicate choral texture of the final movement was well realised with due poise and expression, concluding peacefully with a return to the opening motif of the work, and repeating the same opening word, Blessed  –  surely a message of hope.

Musicality and control permeated both works of the concert, stemming from Rebecca Miller’s baton through the orchestra and the singers who are to be congratulated on giving such a disciplined and moving performance. The prolonged applause confirmed the great appreciation that this music had provided in terms of humanity on this Remembrance Sunday.

Brenda Ross
13th November 2016