Aldwyn Voices review


Autumn in Malvern at Malvern College ****

After two days of endless rain the skies eventually cleared and Malvern College's Great Hall was bathed in afternoon sunshine for the final event in this thirtieth anniversary year of the Autumn in Malvern Festival. Its longevity is entirely due to the creative energy of founder and artistic director, Peter Smith, who has lived in the town all his life and possesses an encyclopaedic knowledge of its cultural heritage and history, which he harnesses in his programme planning.

This concert 'Sir Charles Villiers Stanford & Sir Edward Elgar in Malvern' was a typical example, with part-songs and motets performed by Aldwyn Voices and a documentary narrative written by Smith and spoken with excellent clarity by poet/ playwright Peter Sutton. As a 75-minute sequence of words and music (delivered sensibly without an interval) it worked very well, displaying easy charm and humour.

It also contained a genuine rarity, Stanford's String Quartet No.3 in D minor which, so we were told, he composed just a few hundred yards away in 1897 during one of his frequent visits to the Elgars. For the Brompton String Quartet, a prize-winning student ensemble from the Royal College of Music, it was certainly an unfamiliar challenge, but one which they approached with thorough commitment and, as it progressed, an increasing air of confidence.

One was often reminded of Brahms's structural logic and Dvorák's melodic fluency in such workmanlike, academic writing; but Stanford is a much better choral than instrumental composer, as we heard in 'Beati quorum via' and 'Justorum animae' by Aldwyn Voices under Adrian Lucas's eloquent finger-tip direction. These were exemplary in linear clarity, perfectly shaped dynamics and tonal richness (how much better they sound with adult upper voices rather than boy choristers) as was the hauntingly beautiful The Blue Bird.

Elgar was less comprehensively served, although the gentle poise of The Shower and boisterous moments in Love's Tempest made interesting contrasts. The best of Elgar was saved until the end, with 'Go song of mine', wonderfully intense and without an ounce of sentimentality or mere tunefulness, followed by the simple directness of 'O Salutaris hostia' as a quietly magical coda.
David Hart

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