5 October 2018
Bridgend Male Choir delivered their 58th Annual Concert last Friday evening, in the modern and beautiful Capel Y Tabernacl, which spoke across generations of a magnificent, thankfully continuing strong musical tradition.
The programme began with a set comprising 'Heriwn, Wynebwn y Wawr' (Warriors We Face the Dawn), 'Hiraeth' ( Welsh for longing) and 'Builth'. The three pieces evidenced a superb pianissimo sound that compelled the audience to lean in and listen - a rare quality in today’s more ‘shouty’ society. The longing of a man for his lost love and homeland, was poignantly portrayed and every man showed commitment to the performance. Diction was exceptionally clear and the phrasing was admirably shaped by the choir’s MD, Ryan Wood. 'Builth' was performed with more confidence and security than unfortunately on the day of the National Eisteddfod, only one month ago. Their surety must have taken many hours of rehearsal, so well done, one and all. If only the judges could have heard you tonight boys!
The soloist for the evening, Tenor Robert Lewis, who hails from Llanfyllin in Mid Wales, spoke in Welsh and English and brought a light and sparkling lyrical sound to the performance of old favourite 'Bugail Aberdyfi' by Idris Lewis. The bilingual aspect of the evening, also from Alwyn Humphries added an extra touch of class. A relaxed and genial performance of 'L’Alba separa dalla Luce L’Ombra' by Tosti showed the potential of this young man in years to come as his voice continues to develop.
In complete contrast, the young and fresh sound of the pupils of Oldcastle Primary School delivered a delightful change of timbre. Their set began with 'Yesterday’s Dream' and the adopted rugby anthem 'Calon Lan'. The tension was palpable as they began, but they soon realised that the audience was on their side and were glued to the lead of their teacher, Miss Charlotte Ellis. All credit to the staff of the school for giving up their Friday evening to entertain us. The children, ranging from 7 to 11 years, were nervously fixated on their Welsh words, with many of the audience desperate to join in and swell the sound - a fact remarked upon wittily by the compere after it finished.
Due to the unfortunate absence of Scott Williams, the choir’s organist, Stewart Roberts stepped into the breach and gave a sensitive ‘Cello rendition of Maria von Paradis’s 'Sicilienne'. Time was momentarily suspended- beautiful.
BMC followed with an eclectic selection of three pieces, 'Y Darlun', which showed a little uncertainty at the start, but grew in confidence as it progressed. This was followed by 'Aus der Traube', the German words were well known, enunciated clearly and there with some clever antiphonal dialogue, which was appropriately balanced, between the lower and upper sections of the choir. 'American Trilogy' was enhanced by the subtle ‘Cello countermelody. The men were convincing in their delivery and the hours dedicated to this song have very much paid off. My only proviso is that the Last Post motif would perhaps have been more accurate with just the piano, as the difficulty of synchronising two instruments was audible. The choir’s 'Tangnefeddwyr' displayed a melodious and cohesive sound, which just keeps improving each time they perform this beautiful piece.
Credit is also due to compere for the evening, Dr Alwyn Humphreys MBE, a consummate musician in his own right, who smoothed over changes of ‘set’ with bilingual, relevant, witty and entertaining quips and anecdotes. His analysis of the ‘Anatomy’ of the male choir had the audience rolling with laughter.
Dr Peter Morgan, a member of the choir, played a key role in declaiming the Gettysberg Address as a prelude to 'Tell My Father', by Boyd /Wildhorn. The men sang with pathos and a rich, sympathetic unity of purpose. Again security in the music really shows in performance - the hours of hard work paying off. Closer to home, perhaps reminding us as we approach Armistice Day in the centenary year of The Great War that war pervades all times, 'For the Fallen', was delivered with a delicate, legato sound. Ryan drew out the intricate countermelodies in the 2nd Tenors and Baritones, while never losing the thread of the melody at any point.
A second set by Oldcastle choir, perhaps aided by an interval sugar boost, was impressive, after only four weeks of rehearsal. The children were struggling to stand still in 'Oh Happy Day', and as a gospel song, did they really need to do so? The power of the music was flowing through them and they struggled to remain in formal pose. A second young soloist, in 'Naughty' from Matilda (as had the first young lady in the choir’s earlier set), showed great promise for the future as a musician. Good to see several boys in the choir, possibly they will swell the ranks of a Male Choir when they are older.
Tenor Robert Lewis delivered his second set, with aplomb, and here we were treated to the power of his voice as he explored the upper registers and extremes of dynamic in 'Che Gelida Manina' from Puccini’s La Boheme. This is an audience pleasing tactic, but also enabled we the listeners, to see his skill set more clearly displayed.
The final set included 'Gwahoddiad', surely the nations’ favourite Welsh Hymn. It ended with rousing and magnificent Amens - please can we have more of these kind of hymns next time? Myfanwy and Llanfair were regretfully absent, but the boys sang lustily and with a controlled accuracy missing from many choirs, but not this one.
It is a tribute to Ryan Wood and the superlative musicianship of accompanist Stephanie Bailey that they can clearly not just ‘come up with the goods’, but teach them so effectively too.
'Unwaith Eto Ngymru Annwyl' was an opportunity to showcase the soloist in conjunction with the choir. The relaxed confident sound was marvellous by this point and it was a shame that it had to end.
Llongyfarchiadau i chi i gyd- Congratulation to you all. An outstanding evening, once again.
Naomi Hitchings B. A. (Hons), Dip ABRSM, PGCE.