INDEPENDENT REVIEW: ANNUAL CONCERT

Sunday 12 October 2014

Many thanks to the independent & highly rated musician, Ryan Wood, Musical Director of Noteworthy Mixed Choir, Maesteg for reviewing BMC's Annual Concert. It follows in its entirety.
Musical Director: Rhiannon Williams-Hale
Accompanist: Stephanie Bailey
Organist: Scott Williams
Guest Soloist: Jessica Robinson
Compere: Gareth Davies


I had the huge pleasure of attending the annual concert of the award winning Bridgend Male Choir on Friday 10th October – originally just as an audience members supporting friends; however, on arrival at the church, I was invited to write a review of the concert and what a privilege it is to be recording my thoughts on what was an absolutely wonderful concert.

Fresh from their success in the Male Voice Choir competition at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod this year, Bridgend Male Choir ‘returned home’ to give their annual concert to a very appreciative audience in the unique surroundings of St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Church. The first thing that struck me was the inordinately cheap price of the tickets – just £5 – and on studying the programme before the concert started, I could see that we were going to get far more than our money’s worth. Perhaps this is the way to attract audiences in these days of economic strife – and to get ‘bums on seats’.

Our compere for the evening was Gareth Davies, a member of the bass section of the choir. Gareth explained that the choir’s programme for the concert was to include a huge variety of music from traditional Welsh hymns to musical theatre and opera encompassing four different languages – no mean feat!

And so, on to the music – the Musical Director of any choir has the unenviable task of choosing the repertoire for a concert and Rhiannon Williams-Hale chose a programme with music from the very broad spectrum of male voice choir repertoire.

The concert opened with ‘A Welsh Treasury’ – a selection of Welsh favourites beginning with a beautiful rendition of ‘Pan f’or nos yn hir’ written by Ryan Davies and arranged by Meirion Davies. This was followed by ‘Yfory’, written by Robat Arwyn which showed great control of dynamics, particularly in the quiet, unison passages – and with so many men on stage, this was particularly impressive. A rousing rendition of ‘Men of Harlech’ ended the first set by the choir.

The first half of the concert also included a very moving tribute to the anniversary of the centenary of the start of World War I in 1914. Particularly poignant was the beautiful ‘For the Fallen’ by Mike Sammes which included a cornet solo from Terry Hale who is a member of the choir’s baritone section playing the strains of the Last Post. The first half ended with a nod to the choir’s prize winning glory at the Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod and they finished with ‘Aus der Traube’ – raising a ‘glass’ to the audience before the interval.

A spirited opening to the second half came with a spritely version of ‘The Rhythm of Life’ by Cy Coleman – a tongue twister for any choir! This was followed by lovely versions of ‘What a Wonderful World’ and John Samuel’s arrangement of ‘Bring Him Home’ from Les Miserables which gave the choir to show off their ability to sing in a quiet, controlled manner, despite their large numbers.

Versatility was certainly the order of the day and Bridgend Male Choir transported us to the world of opera for their next offering. The dichotomy between bandits and priests was displayed in the ‘Bandits’ Chorus’ from ‘Ernani’ followed by the Chorus of Priests ‘Oh Isis and Osiris’ from Mozart’s The Magic Flute. This section was concluded by a stirring version of ‘The Virgin of the Angel Host’ (La vergine degli Angeli) from Verdi’s ‘La forza del destino’ in which the choir joined forces with soprano soloist Jessica Robinson – absolutely beautiful!

The choir rounded off their contribution to the concert by singing some traditional music in the form of Welsh hymn tunes and a spiritual. Arwel Hughes’ ‘Tydi a Roddaist’ with its soaring ‘amen’ never fails to stir the emotions. In stark contrast, this was followed by Geraint Roberts’ arrangement of ‘Amen’, with a fiendish piano part, played with aplomb by Stephanie Bailey. The choir ended with the piece that is most requested by their audiences – Lewis Hartsough’s ‘Gwahoddiad’.

Bridgend Male Choir can certainly be very proud of themselves for a concert of very high quality, controlled singing. They are very fortunate to have a superb music team with Rhiannon Williams-Hale at the helm, Stephanie Bailey as their beautifully sympathetic accompanist, ably supported by Scott Williams on the organ. The annual concert is an opportunity for the choir to showcase a year’s worth of hard work in the rehearsal room; however, BMC also realise that a good music team is something to hold onto and they are, quite rightly, given the opportunity to show off their talents. Scott gave an accomplished performance of two movement from the ‘Suite Gothique’ by Leon Boellmann on the organ and Rhiannon gave a fantastic version of ‘A Tribute to Mr Curwen’ arranged by the much admired Welsh musician, Bryan Davies.

It would be completely remiss of me not to make special mention of the choir’s guest soloist for the evening; the hugely talented soprano, Jessica Robinson. Jessica has just graduated from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama with a First Class Honours Degree and she is continuing her studies at the RWCMD on the opera course. Jessica is already building a name for herself and has recently returned from performing in China as part of a Welsh Government scheme and was also a guest of the Harry Ensemble as they toured around New York in 2014.

She was also the winner of the Russell Sheppard Scholarship in 2014. It is clear that Jessica feels completely at home in front of an audience. She opened her programme with the beautiful ‘O mio babbino caro’ from Puccini’s opera, ‘Gianni Schicchi’ followed by the patriotic ‘Cymru Fach’. In the second half, Jessica gave her ‘Giuditta’ with ‘On my lips every kiss is like wine’ by Lehar and then showed her ‘schizophrenic tendencies’ with a brilliant version of ‘The Girl from 14G’. The cherry on the cake was her encore – a gorgeous rendering of ‘Can’t help lovin’ that man’ from Jerome Kern’s ‘Showboat’. Jessica is certainly someone to watch out for in the future!

Congratulations to all at BMC for an annual concert of superb quality…I’m already looking forward to the next one! Ryan Wood ryanwoodmusic@btinternet.com