Friday 09 March 2007
Concert review by Richard Pegg of Bridgend
Last Friday 9th March an audience at Cowbridge Leisure Centre was treated to an outstanding Gala Concert by the Bridgend Male Choir and guest soprano soloist Gwawr Edwards. This was the last of three concerts in the Choir’s St. Davids Festival series and organised to help raise much needed funds for Hope and Aid Direct.
The charity was formed in 1999, and is a totally voluntary organisation which collects humanitarian aid donated by the public, churches, schools, clubs and companies. The volunteers then raise funds to hire trucks, purchase fuel and ferry crossings etc. before heading off to distribute the aid to people in need. In 2006 for example, they visited Romania after the appalling flood damage there. The ethos of the charity is summed up by their slogan “We take aid, not sides.” Planning for this concert began when one of the volunteers, Alan Beckwith spoke of the charities work to a long term friend and Choir baritone Oli Bown. It was Oli that suggested the idea of a concert and the idea was born. Alan, supported by his wife and fellow volunteer Jean, spoke to the audience briefly before the concert began to explain the importance of the Charity’s work, with an assurance that all donations, including the revenue from the ticket sales, would go direct to those in need. As ever, the irrepressible John Jenkins who has rehearsed and led the Choir to many of its past competitive successes was conducting this concert. John is one of a fairly rare breed that conducts not only with his hands and arms, but his whole body. Every single member of the Choir responds to this and all watch him like hawks! The entries were all note perfect and in time. The Choir’s weakness on the night in fact demonstrated their greatest strength. A few of their top tenors, for various reasons could not attend, so at short notice second tenors were filling that harmonic line. If John Jenkins had not mentioned this to the audience, no one would have known.
It must be said that this was a truly professional and polished performance from everyone on stage. Not quite on the staging, but playing key roles were the accompanist Rhiannon Williams-Hale and her deputy Laura Smith. Some of the piano parts were fiendishly difficult and neither of these ladies played a note out of place. The ability of both was especially evident during periods of accompanying the soloists – anticipating every change in tempo perfectly. If proof were needed that this Choir is not lacking talent, no fewer than 5 soloists from the Choir performed a variety of pieces ranging in mood and style. However, the Jewel in the solo crown was the guest soprano Gwawr Edwards. She is of the Katherine Jenkins mould, young, stylish and with a Heaven sent voice. Gwawr sung a selection of classical and popular tunes, some with just the piano accompaniment and others with the full Choir. Most notable of these was the Pie Jesu from Karl Jenkins’ Requiem. John had received special permission form Karl to re-arrange this for the Choir. The result was a very special harmonic and dynamic sound.
The program was very well balanced, with a mixture of traditional and contemporary composers. The ability of John Jenkins to arrange a good deal of the music himself, must surely be a large factor in the Choir’s continued success, in so much that he knows how to get the very best from ‘his boys.’ Old favourites such as ‘Cwm Rhondda’ and ‘We’ll Keep a Welcome in the Hillside’ were there, but the master stroke of planning was to involve the audience in the singing of some of these verses. Not only did the audience thoroughly enjoy this concert – they felt part of it! Overall, this was an excellent Concert. All the performers thoroughly enjoyed themselves as did the audience, with the added benefit and knowledge, that in the end, a worthy cause would benefit.