Brass & Voices, Welsh Proms

Wednesday 26 July 2017

A Real Privilege - a review by Debbie Nichol, Bristol
Notes from last night’s performance of ‘Brass and Voices’, St David’s Hall, Cardiff. Wednesday 26 July, 2017

There are a few times in life when you can say you were ‘there’. I was there last night at the Welsh Proms in St David’s Hall, Cardiff to hear the wonderful, trophy-winning Cory Band playing a selection of late 19th and early 20th-century melodies by composers including Verdi, Arnold, Respighi and Tchaikovsky.

Accompanying the band was a massed male choir just shy of 200 voices, comprising the Bridgend Male Choir, Cardiff Arms Park Male Choir, Ogmore Valley Male Choirs and Côr Meibion Morlais under the ever-attentive baton of the charismatic Owain Alwel Hughes CBE. In essence, quite a tour de force of Welsh musical tradition gathered in one place.

Now, I don’t know what it is about male voice choirs that well, brings out an overwhelming set of emotions in me – joy, for sure but well, some of the singing just moves me to tears through its sheer well… what? It could be the pride, passion and commitment shown by every member of every choir who sings their heart out, no matter how many times they may have sung the great Welsh hymns. It could be the depth of feeling these singers illicit from the words and music from the gentle contemplation of Parry’s Myfanwy to the rousing verses of Hartsough’s Gwahoddiad. It could be the sense of time and tradition that’s invoked in every melodic phrase and turn – music that seems as familiar, comforting and as deep-rooted as the communities from which it emanates. It could the real sense of community – these wonderful, spirited men singing with their musical brothers bringing the audience into their wide and loving family. Men with such a tremendous gift to generously give without any sense of showy performance. Honest, simple, straightforward singing from the heart and the soul, and we are blessed just to see and hear it.

Last night’s singing was made even more poignant as we shared in the tribute to Owain Arwel Hughes’ daughter Lisa, who passed away just a month ago with breast cancer. That Hughes was even on the platform conducting the band and choir such a short time after an unimaginably sad family event was remarkable enough in itself. But to hear the dedication to Lisa in the form of Eli Jenkin’s Prayer (Troyte’s Sunset Poem) sung by the massed choir and conducted by Hughes himself was possibly one of the most moving musical experiences I’ve ever had. It was a real privilege to say I was there.

Debbie Nichol, Notes from Last Night