Valentine’s Singers Concert 5th November 2023 – “Turning Leaf” Review by Janet Baldacci
What better way to spend a wet Sunday afternoon than to enjoy the Valentine’s Singers’
“Turning Leaf” concert at St. Anne’s Church in Chingford. The concert was well attended, and
the audience presented with a varied programme of autumnal themed music.
The programme commenced with Tourdion by Attaignment. “Tourdion” is a lively French
dance (like a Galliard) which was popular in the 15th/16th Centuries. The song (about drinking
red wine) was sung unaccompanied with clear percussive rhythms and a lively melody. It
was good to see the faces of the choir members as they sang this item from memory and
with obvious enjoyment.
Brahms’ song about Autumn (Im Herbst) demonstrated some rich harmony and a well-balanced blend of all vocal parts. It was sung in German with accurate clear pronunciation
and a pleasing range of dynamics.
A set of four contrasting songs entitled “The Insect World” by Richard Rodney Bennett
followed. The first two movements (“the insect world” and “the fly”) were lively, with
detached notes depicting the movement and behaviour of insects, and the choir maintained
clarity of words throughout. The third movement (glow worms) was calmer, having a more
contemplative feel to it and this was delicately sung. The final movement (clok-a-clay –
ladybird) resembled a lyrical waltz. A delightful and fun set of pieces which was performed
to an exceedingly high standard.
The audience then had the pleasure of listening to the choir’s accompanist, Tim Smith,
performing Brahm’s Intermezzo Op.118 No.2. Tim gave a beautiful and sensitive rendition of
this piece, demonstrating his technical prowess at the piano.
Jonathan Pease, a local composer who was in the audience today, composed a set of songs
during Covid Lockdown called “Songs of Winter and Isolation.” These five songs (based on
poems) are descriptive of the hardships and loneliness of winter. The accompaniment of
piano and French horn really added to their enjoyment and the depictions of snow/ice,
heavy trudging footsteps and twinkling stars as well as hope for better times ahead. They
were all sung well and sensitively.
The audience had the opportunity to join in with a little riff theme in Seeger’s “Where have
all the flowers gone” which was sung from memory by the choir.
We were then treated to a wonderful horn & piano solo, performed to a very high standard
by Adam Walters and Tim Smith. “Hunter’s Moon,” by Vintner, is a charming composition
with interesting use of the mute in several places, and a flourishing piano accompaniment.
The final item in the programme was the Four Quartets by Brahms. These displayed a good
contrast in style and dynamics as well as a lovely blend of voices.
Overall, this was a most enjoyable experience, and it was a real pleasure to hear some
unfamiliar music. The Valentines Singers is an excellent choir which exhibits its versatility in
performing such differing musical styles, and admirably follows the direction of its musical
director, Christine Gwynn. Well done everyone. I look forward to the next concert!
Review of A-roving concert 8.7.23
Local musician John Pettifer kindly reviewed our summer concert
Valentine Singers have a well-earned reputation for the quality and variety of their music-making, and their concert A-roving, at St. Andrew’s Church, Ilford on Saturday 8th July, took the audience on a musical journey through seven centuries!
A very tight rendering of Cantate Domine by Pitoni gave the concert a rousing opening, and we heard some fine singing throughout the evening. The basses provided a confident foundation, and there was a strong soprano line, although this was occasionally at the expense of allowing the altos to blend in. It should be mentioned however that St. Andrew’s has an unusually high roof space running the length of the church, and this may have been a contributory factor. Otherwise, the blend was very good, with entries being crisp and clear. El Grillo by Josquin des Pres gave the choir an opportunity to show off their diction skills.
The choir seemed more at ease with certain items in the programme, which allowed them to show their enjoyment of singing. Having said that, one alto had a huge smile on her face all the way through the evening!
The inclusion of Percy Whitlock’s Folk Tune and Scherzo for solo organ was well conceived (and well played!), adding to the variety of music on offer.
Congratulations to Jonathan Dods, Tim Smith and of course to Christine Gwynn, whose leadership and musicianship are of the highest quality. Her depth of knowledge of the composers and their music – usually [delivered] without notes – is remarkable!
Christmas Gifts December 2018
Lovers of Christmas music enjoyed many festive treats at Valentine Singers’ annual Christmas Concert, held a week before the feast day, in the beautiful church of St Andrew’s in llford. The concert burst straight into action with the lively Sussex Carol, joyously exhorting us to celebrate the birth of the Saviour. No time for programme-shuffling here – as we rose to our feet to join the choir in the gently lulling melody of Vaughan Williams’ “O Little Town of Bethlehem.” As we sang we could relish the way the great height, and resonance, of the church nave swelled with the glorious full-bodied organ accompaniments of Duncan Paterson, and supported the choir in building up a real atmosphere of reverence and celebration. As the evening progressed, so too did the enthusiasm of the audience’s full-throated singing! By the time they finished with “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear”, many were overheard still humming as they went off down the road!
Together with the audience carols, the choir pieces formed the backbone of the programme. Led by Christine Gwynn’s crisp and expressive conducting, and Tim Smith’s masterly accompaniment they ranged confidently over a broad canvas of material, from the moving depiction of the hardship and nobility of working life, in Caradog Roberts’ “Poverty”, to full-on “Santa Claus is coming to Town,” and “Past Three-a -clock”. Among the many highlights to be savoured, Paul Sheehan’s “O Holy Night” stood out. His rich solo baritone, across a full range, carried the soft reflective message of the song to the four corners of the church.
However, the main item was yet to come, and what a Christmas present! In came Paul, now in Victorian mode – frock coat, top hat and a distinguished beard. What better choice for a Christmas Concert than a visit, through the musical imagination, to “Mr Fezziwig’s Christmas Party” (Rathbone and Whitnall)! You will recall Mr Fezziwig in Dickens’ Christmas Carol. He was previouslyEbenezer Scrooge’s much-admired and generous employer, but now the ghost of Scrooge’s past transports the old skinflint to see Mr Fezziwig setting up the Christmas party – all bustle and fun, jolly and welcoming, outgoing and cheery, all borne along by Mr Fezziwig’s “rich, fat and jovial voice”. He embodied all the values Scrooge had rejected – a painful lesson for the old miser.
The audience is transported musically to the party via seven linked pieces for choir and solo voices. “Hilli ho!” sing the choir – and the fun and excitement of working together to set up the party makes everything look so easy. Even work can be cut a bit short. Enter Mrs Fezziwig, round and comfortable, adding to the jollity of the occasion as guests arrive. Then, naturally, there is a sumptuous feast – no-one counts the cost, for this is Christmas. And the guests dance – we were only mildly surprised – (though delightedly so!) – when Mr Fezziwig took the hand of a willing lady from the choir to dance a chirpy measure along the aisle! Then a beautiful baritone solo from our hero, reminding us that, as the party showed, generosity, kindness, friendship and fun are not difficult. Indeed, it was all “A Very Very Small Matter”. And finally, the ball, and a quiet departure while the music and the Christmas message echo in our ears.
Warmed by good music, good cheer, and mince pies, we wished each other well and left. It had even stopped raining!
My First Year In The Choir
When I joined the choir in September 2016, I had long been on the hunt for a group which suited me as a singer and suited my work/life balance to allow me to escape from the daily grind that is teaching in a modern-day, state-run school. I’d had a couple of false starts already – I’d found a singing group who rehearsed in the evenings but who didn’t have a great or varied repertoire and I’d found another choir who had the challenging repertoire but then held their concerts during lunch on weekdays. Not really ideal for a teacher. I’d pretty much given up hope when my piano tuner recommended that I give Valentine Singers a chance.
I am so glad that I did. It was clear from the moment that I walked into the open rehearsal that I had finally found the place for me. Immediately welcomed, I was handed quite a variety of music for the evening’s rehearsal and I was hooked immediately. The repertoire throughout the year has proved to be both varied and challenging and has allowed me to develop as a singer and increase my vocal range and confidence. I don’t think that there are many singing groups or choirs where you get to make the switch from singing a classical oratorio in one concert to a mix of spirituals and folk songs in five different languages in the next. (I’m adding the fact that I can sing in Macedonian to my CV right now, actually.)
Now, admittedly, the escape from teaching has not really materialised because it would seem that every other member of Valentine Singers appears to either be currently teaching or retired from teaching. However, as an NQT with a challenging Year 1 class full of “characters”, this has actually been a bit of a Godsend. I don’t think any other NQT can say that they’ve got so many mentors ready to dish out advice or techniques to try in the classroom.
Sadly, due to the fact that I’m due to pop out a small human being in November 2017, I won’t be returning to Valentine Singers until 2018. I shall miss everyone though and, tiny overlord allowing, I plan to be at every one of the concerts between now and my return to the choir. Thank you for the fantastic year everyone. It’s been an absolute blast.