Otley Choral Society’s 75th Anniversary Concert  Saturday, 24 March 2018  

(with Ilkley Choral Society)

EVER since their first gathering in Farnley Hall in the dark days of WW2, the Otley Choral Society has maintained a membership of over 70 and a regular programme of concerts. These are presented in conjunction with the slightly younger (founded 1949) Ilkley Choral Society and Saturday's audience could enjoy a fascinating display about the 75 year history of choral singing in Wharfedale.

Accompanying the concert was the recently-formed Yorkshire Symphony Orchestra, including former and present students at Leeds College of Music and semi-professionals under the leadership of Rebekah Reid. Local soprano soloist Joanne Dexter was joined by recent graduates of the RNCM, Ryan Hunt and Philip Jackson. Rachel Dangerfield, a graduate of Leeds College of Music, was the outstanding mezzo soprano.

Conductor Yonni Levy started Schubert's Mass in G at a very sedate tempo: far from the Andante con moto marked in the score. Intonation and sense of ensemble in the orchestra took some time to establish and, later, the use of modern oboes in such a small ensemble was overpowering.

The lack of balance between voices and instruments continued to be problematic and changes of tempo lacked control. Some inconsistencies in the enunciation of the text also require attention. Truly ‘Italianate’ vowel sounds would help sustain longer notes and if, for example, ‘Eleison’ is given four clear syllables the music would receive real forward momentum.

The Benedictus showed Ryan Hunt (tenor) and Philip Jackson (bass) to be very promising young soloists with excellent voices and it was a pity not to hear more of them in the rest of the programme.

Following the Mass came Haydn's Symphony No 22, The Philosopher. Unfortunately the programme note was for a different symphony and some of the audience might have missed the significance of the ‘conversation’ conducted between the horns (very well played) and cor anglais which formed the philosophical discourse of the first movement.

After the interval Joanne Dexter sang Mozart's unusually scored recitative and aria K.505. The orchestra (clarinets, bassoons, horns, strings) was joined by pianist Robin Cook who contributed brilliant solo passages in the accompaniment to Joanne's performance of this lovely piece.

And so we came to the climax of the concert: Andrew Carter's Musick's Jubilee which was commissioned by Otley Choral Society for their 50th Anniversary. There were whispers in the interval of a ‘tricky’ afternoon rehearsal but any worries were totally unfounded. The chorus rose to the occasion magnificently and seemed well in control of the work's challenges. As a choral singer himself (and founder of the Chapter House Choir in York) Andrew Carter writes beautifully for voices with nuanced harmonies and a final, brilliant Heaven's Hallelujahs in 5-time. We should hear this piece more often!

The other stars of the performance were the un-named solo cellist - a difficult part played with conviction and beautiful tone - and Rachel Dangerfield a mezzo with terrific presence and a great future. In the fourth and last movements Rachel was captivating: dramatic and assured and with a wonderful range and colour to her voice. As she sang the words we really did wonder “What passion cannot music raise and quell?”

Perhaps a mixed bag of an evening, but Otley and Ilkley Choral Societies shone through proudly. Their achievements over 75 years were topped off by Andrew Carter emerging from the audience to great applause - and to remind us to turn our clocks forwards!

Tricia Restorick                                                                                                      from Ilkley Gazette 5 April 2018