Cancer Challenge Singers - Grand Celebrity Concert, Gwyn Hall, Neath

Friday 10 November 2006

Review by David T Burt, Bridgend

After a distinguished career in music and teaching, Llanelli born Joan Lewis had the vision in 1997 to set up the Neath & Port Talbot Cancer Charity. In 1999 she brought her musical talents to the fore forming the Cancer Challenge Singers to front the aims of the charity. Initially a group of 12 mixed singers, under her leadership and musical direction the Choir is now 65 strong. The Choir & Charity have raised a magnificent half million pounds through its committee & supporters used mainly to purchase life saving equipment for use in the cancer units at Neath, Singleton & Morriston Hospitals. Its founder, now Joan Lewis, MBE, retires at the year end and was determined to put on the best yet Celebrity Concert at Neath.   

Under her direction, the Cancer Challenge Singers led the first half’s proceedings with a varied and entertaining programme. Opening with Donald O’Keefe’s "At the End of the Day", it followed with renditions of "Unchained Melody"," Thanks Be To God" &"Michael Rowed the Boat". The Welsh content included "Cyfri’r Geifr" known to most as “Oes Gaf’r Eto”. Ystradgynlais born baritone chorister Victor Hopkins then led the singing of "Cartref" and the Choir gave its rendition of a song popularised by Bryn Terfel, "Hafan Gobaith". The host Choir’s final items were "New York, New York"; "Rhythm of Life" and the reviewers highlight, a quite outstanding performance of "My Way". Accompanist, Juliette Newbrook, took on her role with the Choir in 2002, her support being appreciated by the choristers.

The Concert also featured two fine soloists. Swansea born soprano, Ros Evans entertained with Rossini’s, "Una Voce Poco Fa" from the Barber of Seville and the Meirion Williams popular song, "Mai".  Tenor soloist, Aled Hall, originally from Pencader entertained with "Una Furtiva Lagrima" from Donizetti’s L’Elisir D’Amore. Virtually unaccompanied, he really lived the part in an enigmatic portrayal. He followed with Guy D’Hardelot’s "Because", a popular item with tenors, enjoyed I am sure by both sets of choristers. Both soloists were accompanied by Allan Fewster, MBE, his award received in recognition of his of his contribution to music in Wales   

The second half of the Celebrity Concert featured one of Wales’ top male choirs, Bridgend Male Choir making its first visit to Neath. Talented Musical Director, John Jenkins took the Choir through three sessions, which he had sub-titled, Bridgend Classics; Sounds Welsh & Miscellany. Harvey Enders’ "Russian Picnic" set the tone for a hugely appreciated contribution of ten items ending with Tannhauser’s "Pilgrims Chorus", a song built up through its verses and huge “Hallelujahs” by its end. The boys from Bridgend had expressed a willingness to support such a good cause and were enjoyed immensely by the audience. The Choir is fortunate to have the support of Rhiannon Williams-Hale, who has such talent that she almost brings the piano to life.   

The soloists continued their contributions, again starting with Ros Evans, a lady of outstanding humour & recently returned from a successful season at the Edinburgh Festival. Ros has worked under the Bridgend Choir’s Patron, Karl Jenkins & entertained with the "Waltz Song" & "Art Is Calling For Me". Aled Hall’s operatic background was evident from his portrayal of "Aubade" from Lalo’s, Le Roi D’Ys, ending with William Davies’ "O Na Byddai’n Haf O Hyd", appropriate on a wet & cold autumnal evening. The highlight for both soloists had to be their fantastic performance of "Hywel a Blodwen", which brought the house down. A duet not seen by many for some time was a welcome joint contribution and fitting end to their contributions.  

Musical Directors, Joan Lewis, MBE and John Jenkins then returned to the stage to jointly conduct both Soloists and both Choirs with a John Jenkins arranged "Cavatina", which resulted in a standing ovation from an appreciative packed house at the Gwyn Hall. The Concert ended with both Choirs singing the hugely appropriate "You’ll Never Walk Alone", with Cancer Challenge Singers soloist, Claire Allen-Powell.   

The Cancer Charity Committee were left with the task of counting up yet another good financial contribution to their wonderful cause and Joan Lewis, MBE to reflect on another musical memory and to be appreciated and thanked for what she started back in 1997. Good luck and thank you Joan.   

REVIEW_ DAVID T BURT (Bridgend)