It’s a packed St Mary’s Church that greets the London Welsh Male Voice Choir on Saturday as they make their way to the front of the venue in their resplendent red coats.
And from the opening moments, when the audience stands to sing the British National Anthem, it’s clear that everyone is looking forward to an evening of quality choral music.
But it’s not just tunes written for a singing ensemble this evening. There’s a healthy mix that spans several genres, revealing the scope of the choir’s abilities and allowing a couple of excellent solo performers to show what they can do.
It’s a good natured concert as well, with the various hosts making more than a few rugby themed jokes following Wales’ stunning victory at the 2019 Grand Slam.
Just the kind of upbeat attitude needed for a show raising vital funds for the Motor Neurone Disease Association.
First up are four pieces from the choir, conducted by accomplished musical director Dr Edward Rhys-Harry and accompanied by the virtuoso pianist Annabel Thwaite. The singers start with the soaring Divine Brahma, delivered with moments of real power and melodic perfection throughout. Next, they show their softer side with the poignant ‘Tell My Father’, a song that’s familiar to many thanks to Frank Wildhorn and Jack Murphy’s musical The Civil War. Then, almost without taking a breath, the choir launch into the jaunty ‘There is Nothing Like a Dame’ from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific.
This toe-tapping treat is followed by another slow number, the haunting ‘Bring Him Home’ from the perennial favourite Les Misérables. Of course, in the stage show this number is performed by Jean Valjean only. But here, it’s performed by multiple voices, allowing several slightly different melodies to appear at the same time, weaving around each other and ultimately joining together in beautiful harmony.
After this first choir segment, we get the first set from soprano Sarah Coulam, who is also on the committee of the Motor Neurone Disease Association (East Surrey branch). Her pieces, Ave Maria (JS Bach, Gounod) and Pie Jesu (Gabriel Fauré), are performed with the kind of clear, ethereal voice that you’d expect from highly religious music.
Next, Matthew Jones, who is introduced as an astonishingly talented violinist, performs one of the great standards of violin music – Praeludium and Allegro by Fritz Kreisler. This work is immensely expressive and Matthew does it justice, capturing that brooding atmosphere at the beginning, which builds to an uplifting climax that teeters on the brink of chaos.
He earns a huge round of applause before the choir returns for the last set of the first half. The songs this time are: the delicately emotional Sunset Poem and A Welsh Prayer, the cheerful and catchy Working Man (with soloist David Williams), and the soul-stirring Sarah. This last song is dedicated to Bob Mountney, a longstanding member of the choir who has been diagnosed with motor neurone disease and requested that the choir perform a concert in St Mary’s.
After a 20-minute interval, the singers perform the moving Anfonaf Angel, the subtle Heilig and the slowly-building Benedictus. It’s a rather calm start to the second half, but things liven up with the fourth song of this set – a version of Louis Amstrong’s ‘Down By The Riverside’ that’s full of joy and rowdy energy.
Sarah Coulam returns for two more numbers – the earnest and heavenly Laudate Dominium by Mozart and the more playful ‘The Sun Whose Rays’ by Gilbert and Sullivan.
As in the first half, violinist Mathew Jones follows her performance (alongside Annabel Thwaite) with breathtaking renditions of the traditional Welsh lullaby Suo Gân and Vitoria Monti’s Czardas. The first piece is suitably serene as Matthew masterfully draws as much feeling as he can out of every note. In contrast, the second piece is fiery and full of drama, with displays of incredibly fast and precise playing. Performing this work in particular seems like such a feat that the audience doesn’t even wait for the last note to finish before giving Matthew a rapturous applause.
Things calm down again before the final set from the choir and the various hosts thank everyone who helped make this evening a reality.
They’re listed on the programme as: The Mountey and Hunter families, Brooks Macdonald Asset Management, Rawlinson and Hunter, Tom Tweddle, Sue and Tony Robinson, Byron Davies, Squiggle Design in Dorking and Waitrose in Horsham.
Then, to bring the evening to a close, the choir perform Myfanwy by Joseph Parry, a beguiling song about unrequited love; W.J. Evans’ invigorating hymn ‘Rhys’; and the truly majestic ‘When I Survey the Wondrous Cross’ by Isaac Watts, set to the tune Morte Criste by Emrys Jones.
This set could easily be a great finish to the show, but the singers have one more song up their scarlet sleeves, a slow tempo version of ‘I Wish I Was In Dixie’ that gradually rises to a breathtaking crescendo.
The crowd rises too, giving a well-deserved standing ovation to a group of truly first-rate performers.
To find out more about The London Welsh Male Voice Choir visit www.londonwelshmvc.org.
To find out more about the Motor Neurone Disease Association visit www.mndassociation.org.
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