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Concert Review: ‘Who Could Ask For Anything More?’

SPS Summer Concert 2023

Christ Church Selly Park Saturday 8th July 2023

Performing in a new venue must test the nerves. Selly Park Singers rose to the challenge with aplomb. Audience members, many also new to the hall, were struck by the large, light space and the clarity of the acoustic.

“The dynamic variety gave us an early taste of the choir’s control.”

The programme began with three arrangements from the Great American Songbook. Begin the Beguine was energetic with the choir maintaining a mellifluous legato line over the percussive piano treatment of the Beguine dance rhythm. The dynamic variety gave us an early taste of the choir’s control. And the final held note included a delicious semitone shift from the basses.

The contrasting “Autumn Leaves” opened with the swaying sounds of the wind. Soaring soprano lines later danced above a rich alto melody. The final fade out was beautifully realised.

The arrangement of Ain’t Misbehaving required great verve from the choir and elicited a virtuoso performance of the complex rhythms from the piano. I don’t suppose many members of the choir had attempted scat singing previously but the choir rose to the occasion and the set concluded with much foot tapping and delight from the audience.

Partita No.4 in D major BWV 828: Allemande  J.S.Bach

Dick Price introduced this piano solo with a quote from the composer who described the purpose of the piece as “to refresh the spirit”. The audience gave hushed attention to the lyrical playing of the melody. It was a highly successful interlude after the jazz gymnastics of the first set. The spirits were indeed refreshed.

Madrigal and Pavane  Gabriel Fauré

Now the choir moved into French (with helpful translations in the programme by Choir member Béatrice Damamme-Gilbert and her husband Simon). Madrigal provided an opportunity for confident antiphonal singing. The final crescendo was particularly satisfying. Pavane, originally an orchestral piece, was presented here in a mesmerising piano transcription with the choir adding spirited vocal exclamations over the staccato piano.

Irish classics in three parts followed in which the choir showed great control of dynamics, intonation and diction. The Musical Director’s sensitive interpretation brought out a moving performance.

In another change of pace, style and language, the Pershore Road location was transformed into Bayreuth and Milan with the choir producing the rich tones of an opera chorus. Glorious descending scales in the piano transcription supported the famous vocal line in the Pilgrim’s Chorus from Tannhäuser. This was swiftly followed by a characterful and full-bodied performance of Puccini’s Nessun Dorma. Translations in the programme from German and Italian were supplied by choir members Bob Walker and Laura Contrasti.

…plenty of scope for jazzy saxophone and fun with electronic claves, rain stick, and coconut shells

The Sandyband, comprising three choir members, Sandy Cresswell, Linda Cullen and Bob Walker together with Isobel Peck, provided a break for the choir with a lively programme of five songs in which they deployed a remarkable range of instruments, including double bass, guitar, flute, clarinet, saxophone, harmonica, whistling, drums, bodhran, percussion – and a bean-filled custard powder tin. Sandy also supplied the vocals throughout. The Spinning Wheel Song was followed by She Moves Through the Fayre, an atmospheric ghost story bookended with a spine-chilling double bass drone and shimmering cymbals. Sandy’s marvellously resonant voice wove through the instrumental lines. Mack the Knife included impressive modulations and a lively walking bass from Walker. I Wanna Be Like You gave plenty of scope for jazzy saxophone and fun with electronic claves, rain stick, and coconut shells from Isobel. For the final treat from the band, “Summertime”, Linda played a lovely clarinet improvisation. Sandy sang with feeling and produced a bluesy harmonica solo.

Who Could Ask For Anything More? George and Ira Gershwin arranged by Jay Althouse

This medley brought together seven Gershwin hits in a finale full of panache. Once again much was required from the pianist. With the expert direction from Paul Carr, the choir achieved accomplished transitions of pace and dynamics. Embraceable You brought out particularly effective legato singing with a lovely balance across the parts. I Got Rhythm was performed with gusto and concluded with a splendid crescendo. The audience responded with thunderous applause and some whooping. The sun came out and the afternoon concluded with the now legendary SPS tea and cakes.

Special mention should be made of Dick Price’s outstanding playing. And once again Paul Carr elicited a fine performance from the choir with his sensitive and well-judged conducting.

Jane Williams