Review: Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies ‘We will remember them’, Saturday 10th November, 2018AT a time when the nation is observing the centenary marking the end of the First World War, Ilkley and Otley Choral Societies chose, as their main items for performance, two significant and appropriate works for their concert in St. Margaret’s Church, Ilkley. Haydn’s ‘Mass in time of war’ was written in 1786 when the Austrian-Hungarian Empire was suffering heavy defeats by the French under General Bonaparte. As a marked contrast to this, Elgar’s ‘The Spirit of England’ expresses, through its texts by the poet Laurence Binyon, the anguish and sufferings of war. The chosen programme, then, presented quite a difficult challenge and it was obvious that everyone had worked extremely hard in rehearsal under the guidance of their talented young conductor, Yonni Levy to produce an absorbing evening of music. The soloists Kimberley Raw (soprano), Heather Lowe (mezzo), Matt Mears (tenor) and Neil Balfour (baritone), all appearing courtesy of the RNCM, added quality and thoughtful performances. To achieve variety, and to give chorus members a well-deserved break, the main choral offerings were interspersed with individual items from the soloists and moving readings appropriate for the occasion, by Romany Branston, only just into her teens. The programme began with the well-known choral setting of Elgar’s ‘Nimrod’. Perhaps here, there was too much for the listener to take on board, since we had a narration over the choral sounds which were in turn accompanied on the organ. The performance of ‘The Spirit of England’ with its wide range of dynamics and a deep commentary on the emotions of war was always compelling, though the integration of the timbre of the soprano soloist with the chorus could, at times, have been more finely balanced. The composition of masses was one of Haydn’s main duties when he was employed under the patronage of Prince Esterhazy in Vienna and his ’Mass in the time of war’ was surely among his masterpieces. Yoni Levy’s attention to tempi and dynamics always kept the chorus on their toes and the audience compellingly entertained. Signs of tiredness and associated intonation problems occasionally were evident but this was not to detract from the overall musical experience.
And finally, the contribution made by the evening’s accompanist, Christopher Rathbone, deserves special mention. His work at the organ console and piano was virtually non-stop and his skills were brought to the fore particularly with the chromaticisms of Elgar and the intricate and rapid figurations of Haydn. A far from easy task! So, all in all, the audience was treated to a great team effort by all the performers and it was indeed a testimony to the dedication and hard work of all such choral groups who deserve continued support for our great Choral Tradition.