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Cross border harmony; a choral success at Welshpool
Over 70 singers approached Welshpool Town Hall with some trepidation last Saturday (16th April). The Guilsfield Singers and Oswestry choir Cantiones had performed a joint concert to a very high standard and to a large audience the previous week in Oswestry - could they do it again? And in a venue new to all of them, the Assembly Room, with its huge paintings, large mirrors, and carved wooden doorways?
Yes they could, and certainly did. The audience was almost full to capacity - some people had even been to the previous concert and wanted to hear it again. Musical Director Gerry Howe conducted his joint choir with precision and clarity, getting the best from his singers; and we were privileged to have the accomplished musician Chris Symons as accompanist. Soloists from within the choirs sang in several pieces.
After opening with Fauré’s beautiful Cantique de Jean Racine the choir performed Bob Chilcott’s Requiem Mass. Chilcott has been a member of the King’s Singers, and is now Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers. His Mass is characterised by strong rhythms and lyrical melodies and is influenced by Fauré’s music. Not a work known to many beforehand, it proved exciting to sing and to hear.
The second half of the concert started with Kyrie Eleison from Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle, with its marvellous piano accompaniment, followed by Mozart’s joyous Coronation Mass. Madrigals aren’t usually sung by large choirs, but Sweet Suffolk Owl, which enabled some of the first altos to enjoy some high notes, worked well with a large force, and sent “te whit te whoos” echoing round the hall.
The uplifting chorus The Heavens are Telling from Haydn’s The Creation closed the concert in joyful mood.

The concert was in aid of Macmillan Cancer Support: the choir hopes to make a substantial donation to the charity, once the costs of the concert are covered.
Excerpts from The Church Times Review

The Daughter of Jairus by Sir John Stainer
"Credit must be given to the Guilsfield choir’s enterprising music director, Gerry Howe, who oversaw the necessary editing of (mainly) the non-string parts from the original 1878 score, held along with the Stainer archive by Durham University."

"And a staggeringly impressive cantata Howe’s conducting revealed Jairus to be. He characterises it, with­out hyperbole, as “a neglected little masterpiece of English Church Music”; but it is, in fact, as this up­­lifting performance revealed, a weighty and striking setting of the biblical narrative, with some well-imagined supplementing of the story. The chorus contributed to this uplift: choir passages were ro­bust and engaging, sung with complete assurance and a feel for the idiom

"The sop­rano Sarah Garrett’s contribution to the narrative was enchanting."

"A lovely tenor solo, “My hope is in the Everlasting”, beauti­fully crafted, and alluringly sung by Christopher Barnes."

"The soprano and tenor duet “Love Divine, all loves excelling”, lauding Christian perfection, is the most exquisite piece of music here, setting with utter freshness the celebrated hymn of Charles Wesley: operatic in character, its word-painting eclipses the better-known hymn tune that Stainer composed for those words."

"So, this was a huge success, en­­riched by the well-prepared Maldwyn Strings (and some exciting additional wind and brass): full of spirit and vitality, as well as tenderness, from the choir, and ingenuity from the conductor and soloists. Startlingly rewarding, The Daughter of Jairus deserves to be championed by more than a handful of England’s more articulate choral societies."

Excerpts from The Chronicle Review
"Singing with an orchestra can be an exhilarating yet daunting experience, especially if you are sitting right behind a trumpet player or a French horn.  Will you be heard above such powerful instruments?   This feeling of uncertainty must have been felt by several of the Guilsfield Singers ladies as the brass let fly at the start of the concert, with Parry’s famous anthem I was glad, the first item in the programme.  Maldwyn Strings plus concert players specially assembled for the performance numbered some 35 musicians; with a choir of about 45, the Assembly Room reverberated with Parry’s stirring music."

"The highlight of the concert was Sir John Stainer’s cantata Daughter of Jairus.  Based on the miracle when Jesus raises a child from the dead, it is about faith and praise; a beautiful work, strongly influenced by Mendelssohn.  Gerry Howe transcribed and edited the" work from the original score, held in Durham University, and described it as “a neglected little masterpiece of English church music”.  Although popular for many years after its first performance in 1878, it later, along with much other Victorian music, fell out of fashion.  Hopefully this performance will help revive its justified place in the choral repertoire."