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Review: Newcastle Choral Society Diamond Jubilee Concert, Sage Gateshead

The world premiere of a new work by Durham-born Will Todd was just one good thing about Saturday's concert at Sage Gateshead

Durham-born composer Will Todd
Durham-born composer Will Todd

The little acorn that was the new choir set up in St Andrew’s Church, Gallowgate, back in 1954 is now a mighty oak in the form of Newcastle Choral Society, a musical institution in our area and performing here to celebrate their Diamond Jubilee.

There was an abundance of North East talent on show with the Choral Society joined by the Mid-Northumberland Chorus and – in keeping with their philosophy of encouraging young singers – the Tees Valley Youth Choir, fresh from their recent success as a part of BBC Music’s God Only Knows in aid of Children in Need.

Accompanying the choirs was Orchesra North East.

There was a very English start to the programme, with John Rutter’s fine Winchester Te Deum, encompassing both prayer and praise.

The massed choir handled this contrasting piece very well, ending with glorious Alleluias.

The youth choir, led by Andy King, then presented three modern American choral pieces, Nicholas White’s reverent Christmas piece O Magnum Mysterium, a spiritual by Greg Gilpin with its tricky rhythms, and Billy Joel’s beautiful love song And So It Goes. The young singers showed fine tone and great vocal control.

Newcastle Choral Society commissioned County Durham-born choral composer Will Todd to write a concert piece for their Jubilee.

His The Dream of the River, which completed the first half of the programme, took inspiration from Michael Chaplin’s book Tyne View: a Walk around the Port of Tyne, and his creation was powerful, intimate, folksy and dramatic, evoking life on and around the river and the dreams and aspirations of those who live along its banks.

The way the singers handled the Chorale and Horizon with the whispered “River, carry me, carry me away” was particularly moving. This was a fine premiere performance greeted enthusiastically by the large audience.

The Newcastle choir gave the North East’s first performance of Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace, in 2004 and reprised the noble work here in commemoration of the start of the First World War.

It was a good choice. And what a terrific performance from all the singers, including the soloists from the National Youth Choir of Great Britain – and also from the orchestra with its percussion section shining brightly and Katie Tertell’s memorable cello solo.

The work incorporates musical styles from French Medieval to modern and the libretto contains words from across the world, including Arabic, with The Call To Prayer finely intoned by Hafiz Abdul Razzak, Imam at Gateshead’s Central Mosque.

The words of the Mass were woven through all of this.

This is a very special piece of writing for chorus and orchestra, evoking the horrors of war and expressing hope for a future free from war, and this was a very special performance which will live long in the memory.

The choir’s musical director, Mark Anyan, controlled his resources in masterly fashion, with writer Michael Chaplin acting as a genial compere for the evening, which included an interesting conversation with Will Todd about his commissioned piece.

Rob Barnes


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