May 2015

An evening of musical reflection in remembrance of the Fallen of war

Dunbar Parish Church, 9th May 2015

For the 66th annual Spring Concert of Dunbar and District Choral Society, conductor Vaughan Townhill chose a programme that was appropriate in every way to a remembrance of the First World War and VE Day.

The combination of composers Vaughan Williams, Finzi and Fauré gave a rather more hopeful and somewhat more gentle reflection on the horrors of war and need for peace than some of the more strident and triumphalist offerings that have been offered in other quarters.

Vaughan Williams’ Dona Nobis Pacem is not particularly easy for musicians, singers or audience but its progression through a unique combination of Walt Whitman poems, excerpts from the Latin Mass and Old Testament prophets produces a moving and enlightening experience.

The sense of progression was emphasised by the whole composition being rendered with no break — thus allowing soloists, orchestra and choir to move from the ominous and threatening sense of the opening ‘Beat! Beat! Drums!’ to the final ‘Dona nobis pacem’ with meaning and emphasis that naturally releases the prayer for peace.

For many in the audience this was their first hearing of this significant part of Vaughan Williams’ work and all those who brought the music and import to us are to be congratulated on a skilful and much-appreciated contribution to an evening of depth and reflection.

Finzi’s ‘Eclogue for Piano and String’ is not instantly recognisable by its title, but listeners to Classic FM will have heard it regularly and indeed voted it into their Hall of Fame. Some purists might not consider this an absolute accolade but it is such an archetypal example of a slow movement of a piano concerto that it is bound to tug at the heartstrings. David Townhill and the orchestra did just that with a measured and intense performance. David regularly accompanies the Dunbar Choral but this demonstrated to the full his capacity as a solo instrumentalist.

The fact that Finzi never completed the concerto for which the Eclogue was to be the slow movement can only be a matter of regret but even the one movement is worth inclusion as a concert item and one which was much enjoyed.

The final item, Fauré’s Requiem, was perhaps the best known on the programme and, as always, looked forward to with anticipation. No one can have had reason for disappointment.

The orchestra, who throughout the evening provided sympathetic accompaniment to the singers, brought that underlying depth and security which is so essential to the Requiem.

The violas bring a mellow base to much of the music and this was exemplified with the overlay of the violin in the Sanctus and the brightness of the oscillation of orchestra and choir in the concluding `In Paradisum’ did the musical equivalent of lifting the mind to the heaven of the New Jerusalem.

In both the Vaughan Williams and the Fauré the soloists, Debora Ruiz-Kordova, soprano, and Walter Thomson, baritone, made an essential and excellent contribution to the performance. The quality of their voices was evident throughout but was particularly so in Debora’s rendering of the Pie Jesu and Walter’s in the Libera Me in the Requiem.

An amateur choral society should have a number of objectives in undertaking a concert programme: to entertain and enlighten the audience, to offer something of significance for the time and to enjoy and stretch themselves.

Dunbar Choral should feel satisfied that they have achieved all these and they and their conductor well deserved the applause they received.

John Cairns