History: Decade from 2002/2003 to 2011/2012
A few Thursday evenings after the Society’s ninth decade began, participants enjoyed a light-hearted wine-tasting evening at the Priory School, organised by tenor Dick Shelley and run by the manageress of one of the Bottoms Up off-licences. In addition to wine-tasting there was a humorous quiz to guess which outrageous descriptions fitted the wines.
On a more serious note – several notes in fact! – the choir performed parts 1, 2, 3 and 6 of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio at the end of November in St Michael & All Angels, West Croydon. Susan Farrow, our new Music Director - a title which had replaced Conductor – inspired an exhilarating performance, even though her furious pace for the chorus Ehre sie Gott (Glory to God) in part 2 almost caused the choir’s ensemble to come adrift. The London Baroque Players were particularly fine. The audience were very appreciative, although our Treasurer would have liked to have seen a greater number of them.
Only eight days later the Christmas Soirée was held in the Priory School’s hall. This included items from Carols for Choirs books 1 and 2, together with various festive readings and items by each of the choir’s four sections (soprano – alto – tenor – bass), during which the rest of those present were encouraged to hum along with the tunes. It was an informal affair with members sitting round tables and enjoying refreshments in the interval. Pat Hiscutt, our newsletter editor, described it as “a pleasant lubrication of our vocal chords in preparation for Christmas”.
The next event in the calendar was a Craft Fair in Banstead’s Community Hall on 8th March. It was organised by Muriel Holyman after she and her sister Barbara had visited similar Fairs round the country, looking for exhibitors to come to this fund-raising event, which eventually increased our financial resources by £2,342.
The spring concert on 29th March, again under the vault of St Michael & All Angels, consisted of three 18th century compositions. J S Bach was only 21 years old when he wrote his cantata Nach dir, Herr, verlanget mich (O Lord, I long for Thee), during an unhappy time at Arnstadt. Haydn composed his Stabat Mater after he had been seized with a life-threatening disease during which he vowed to dedicate this work to the Virgin Mary if he recovered his health. The other work in the concert was Constant Lambert’s orchestration of William Boyce’s Symphony no. 8 in D minor, a retrospective collection of eight overtures Boyce had previously composed. The Fine Arts Sinfonia’s cheerful performance of the latter contrasted with the two rather sombre works we sang.
Sue dispensed with an orchestra for the season’s last concert on 7th June, replacing it with a harp, percussion and our own Ian le Grice on the organ. It was held at a new venue – St John’s Church, Upper Norwood. The three choral works were Kodaly’s Missa Brevis (completed when he was sheltering in a subterranean part of Budapest’s Opera House during the Russian invasion), Janácek’s Lord’s Prayer (from 1906) and Bernstein’s Chichester Psalms (verses from six psalms in Hebrew). They were supplemented by organ pieces by Liszt (Prelude and Fugue on B-A-C-H), Ravanello (Prelude – Berceuse) and C P E Bach’s Three Pieces (2 minuets and a polonaise). Unfortunately this interesting programme was heard by an even smaller audience than the one at St Michael & All Angels in March.
The season finished with the Annual General Meeting in Banstead Methodist Church hall, during which treasurer Kevin Shears said that after reducing the total expenses of our concerts by more than 40% com-pared with the previous year we had made a net profit for the year. During the meeting Sue referred to Ian as ‘the best accompanist there is’. Everyone signed a card for Elizabeth Reid who had been the Secretary for twenty-two years and a Vice-President for the following thirty-four. The card was subsequently presented to Elizabeth by a group of members who attended her hundredth birthday party at a care home in Kingswood.
The first major event of 2003-2004 was a music-with-dinner evening at the Priory School on All Saints Day. Local saints for the day included Bery Radford, who had cooked ‘goodies’ from 7.30am onwards, and her efficient team who laid colourfully decorated tables. The evening was once again Dick Shelley’s brainchild and the music was provided by two of his accomplished friends – Jonathon Darnborough (piano) and wife Claire Lucas (mezzo soprano).
The concert on November 29th in St Michael & All Angels began cheerfully with another of William Boyce’s symphonies (no.5), exuberantly played by the Fine Arts Sinfonia. This was followed by a rare performance of Schütz’s The Christmas Story from the 1660s, the score of which was lost until the first half of the 20th century. We used Arthur Mendel’s version in English which was much enjoyed by choir, orchestra and audience. The work was an inspired choice by Sue. The final piece was Bach’s much better known Magnificat in D, written in 1723 for Christmas Day services in Leipzig. Subsequent reviews were complimentary; one referring to it as a ‘well balanced evening’.
The next concert was at Christ Church, Sutton, a venue much used in earlier years. The evening was devoted to Handel’s oratorio (almost a choral symphony) Israel in Egypt, describing the plagues in Egypt and how Moses led the Israelites to freedom as they rejoiced. The Fine Arts Sinfonia was again in top form as were the five soloists in their relatively brief recitatives and arias. The Words & Music review commented that the concert was most thrilling in every respect.
Muriel and Barbara Holyman considered interest in craft fairs was beginning to wane, so Jean Mann organised a table-top sale in the Community Hall a week after the above concert. This was rather similar to an indoor car-boot sale in which those selling their produce or objects –but no jumble! – paid to hire their own table. Unfortunately there were a disappointing number of customers, mainly as two similar events were taking place in the vicinity at the same time. However, more than £700 was raised for choir funds.
A proposed event which did not happen was a ‘workshop’, basically intended as a recruiting session to attract new singers to the choir, at Michael & All Angels on 8th May. A sufficient number of experienced singers were unwilling to attend.
Sue had decided to discontinue the biennial meeting and joint concerts with the Eschweiler choir, to the disappointment of some members. Jean Mann once again stepped into the breach and organised a trip to Prague from 2nd to 6th June. The majority of the party travelled by air from a sunny Gatwick to a rain sodden Prague, where they assembled for evening dinner after 10pm. A post-breakfast rehearsal early next day in a hot, airless, acoustically dead room did not seem very attractive. Later, at St Nicholas Church in Old Town Square, the scheduled one hour rehearsal was truncated by a wedding in the church and by negotiations concerning use of the main organ. Eventually the choir stood on the altar steps while Ian played the organ in a loft at the opposite end of the building, communicating with Sue by mobile phone. The programme, as on two future occasions, consisted of music by Schütz, Bach, Handel (four choruses from Israel in Egypt), Elgar and Parry. During the afternoon there was a three-hour guided tour, beginning at Prague Castle and St Vitus Cathedral and ending at the Astronomical Clock in Old Town Square. The latter part of the evening was spent watching an open-air Krizik fountains-and-light show.
During the next day’s ‘free’ morning people did their own things. Some visited another St Nicholas Church with its golden and marble interior and organ of 2,500 pipes (in four sections) which was once played by Mozart. In the afternoon a coach took the party to the more relaxed small town of Benesov, 30 miles away. This second concert was held in yet another St Nicholas Church in which the locations of organ and choir were more convenient. On the last full day a much longer coach ride headed northwards to the huge Basilica of Hejnice, near the Polish border. After various problems during the rehearsal, the choir transferred to the organ loft where they stood on either side of the organ console. The audience, most of whom sat facing away from the choir, was so appreciative of the performance that the singers were able to rush down the spiral staircase to acknowledge the sustained applause. Finally, back in Prague, the visit ended with a three hour cruise on the River Vltava, with an onboard buffet dinner, before next day’s homeward flight.
Less than a fortnight later a Glories of Venice concert took place at St Andrew’s United Reformed Church in Cheam. The programme, heard by a larger audience than at the season’s earlier concerts, included pieces by Schütz, Monteverdi (Dixit Dominus and Beatus vir), Gabrieli, Vivaldi, Franceschini and Viadana – all from the 16th and 17th centuries.
At the Annual General Meeting, held at the new location of St Ann’s Church hall in Banstead, the Treasurer told us that the 2002-2003 season’s net profit of about £2,500 had been turned into a net loss of approximately the same amount, mainly due to smaller concert audiences, higher orchestral costs and the absence of the Craft Fair. Diana Stern, Pat Hiscutt and David Birt were elected Vice-Presidents in recognition of their various outstanding efforts for the benefit the choir.
The Quiz Night at the Priory School on 23rd October was more of a social occasion (including a fish & chips supper) than a fund-raiser. The assembled company divided into teams of eight, each of which chose a name for itself. The Brahms & Liszt team, consisting mainly of brainy altos, were the winners. Patrick Radford, husband of Secretary Bery, made an excellent quiz master.
The next event, apart from Thursday evening rehearsals, was a sad one. Elizabeth Reid died on 6th November, aged 101. Her funeral service took place twelve days later at Randell’s Park Crematorium in Leatherhead, with Richard Stangroom playing the organ.
The choir’s performance of Bach’s Mass in B minor on 27th November at Christ Church, Sutton, was dedicated to Elizabeth’s memory. Unfortunately Sue’s partner had died four days before the concert and naturally the Music Director was deeply affected by her bereavement. However, in an act of great bravery she succeeded in conducting a memorable performance, perhaps finding consolation while immersed in this supreme masterpiece. The orchestra was the London Bach Ensemble and the soloists were Sophie Bevan, Sian Menna, Paul Badley and Michael Bundy. The church was comfortably full and the Treasurer was pleased that the financial outcome was appreciably better than he expected.
A choral workshop in Banstead’s Community Hall on 5th February was a happy occasion. Movements from Scarlatti’s St Cecilia Mass and Parry’s good old ‘war-horse’ I was glad were studied and Sue spent time improving the vocal technique of the 51 singers present.
The choir combined with Sue’s other choir, the South London Chorus, and the John Fisher School Choir on 23rd April to perform another wonderful work, Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, in Croydon’s Fairfield Halls. Sue had added her late partner’s surname to her own and was now known as Susan Farrow Topolovac. A very complimentary review appeared in the Croydon Advertiser a few days afterwards, noting “The drama was played out with all forces complementing one another. The story proceeded in a very enjoyable way.”
The season’s final concert involved smaller forces. The St Cecilia Chorus was the only choir and, although there were 4 soloists, the orchestra was replaced by Ian on the piano and Martin Ball on the harmonium. The one work at St Andrew’s in Cheam was Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle. The work is actually neither petite (lasting about 90 minutes) nor solemn as most of it is cheerful. Ian was perhaps the star of the show as he somehow succeeded in playing parts written for two pianos on one instrument.
The date of the A.G.M. was 7th July which unfortunately was the day of terrorist bombings in London. These prevented both Eileen Lawrence (our President) and Sue from being present. Chairman Jean Mann was also absent as she had recently injured herself at home. This was particularly disappointing as she had previously announced her retirement from the choir and was shortly to move to Wells, so that she could be nearer members of her family. The Treasurer announced a net profit of £1,063 for the season, about £2,500 better than in 2003-2004, largely due to sharing the Dream of Gerontius expenses equally with the South London Chorus. Shaida Dorabjee was elected Chairman and Stephen Oliver Deputy Chairman, a new position.
There is a sense of inevitability that in a choir which has existed for more than 80 years there will be an increasing number of long-serving members’ funerals. During this season there were three such occasions. The first involved John Roadknight, a highly valued bass for more than 40 years who died in August 2005. Some of the choir sang Franck’s Panis Angelicus at Randell’s Park Crematorium on 9th September. Several months later, on 4th February, there was a memorial service for John at St Peter’s Church in Woodmansterne that included various present and former choir members. Six days later, a Service of Thanksgiving took place at the Methodist Church in Banstead for Pam Gould, an alto in the choral society for more than 50 years, at which Sue conducted and Richard Stangroom played the organ. And then on 13th May Pat Hiscutt, another member for over 50 years, died after a couple of strokes, the first of which was in 2003. Pat had the remarkable ability to sing soprano, alto, tenor or bass at the correct pitch. She successively joined the first sopranos, second sopranos and first altos. She was also an accomplished pianist who frequently stood in as rehearsal accompanist. At the thanksgiving service on 30th May at All Saints Church in Banstead, our choir sang Byrd’s Ave Verum. The service ended with the Easter hymn which begins:
Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son,
endless is the victory Thou o’er death hast won.
For just under half of the choir the season began in mid August with rehearsals for a concert to celebrate twenty years of twinning between Reigate & Banstead and Eschweiler at the Harlequin Theatre in Reigate. Although we had by now discontinued our link with the Eschweiler choir we were one of the first organisations to exchange visits with the German town. The rather informal evening included performances by three bands and ourselves. Conducted by Sue, we sang a wide selection of pieces, ranging from Viadana, Schütz, Bach, Franck and Bruckner to Deep Purple and Over the Rainbow.
The first concert involving all choir members was held in Christ Church, Sutton. The programme consisted of J S Bach’s Cantata 147: Herz und Mund und Tat und Leben (Heart and voice and all our being) and his son Carl Philipp Emmanuel’s ornate Magnificat, together with Handel’s Suite in D major for trumpet, strings and bass continuo. The orchestra was the London Bach Players. Performances were more impressive than the size of the audience.
A fortnight later a larger number of listeners gathered at All Saints Church in Banstead for a Words & Music for Christmas evening with a mixture of carols for choir only and everybody, together with readings by Stephen and Rosemary Oliver. As a result two local charities for the disabled, The Diamond Riding Centre and The Queen Elizabeth Foundation, each received £321.
A twelve-hour Singathon, termed by organiser Robert Heppenstall a Sing Yourself Senseless Day, on 4th February, was enormous fun at Banstead’s Church Institute. We sang in a great mixture of styles, including almost all the Messiah choruses, the entire Fauré Requiem, motets, anthems, part-songs, hymns, carols, folk-songs and In the Mood arrangements. When Sue, the pianist for most of the day, popped outside for a breather, Robert led items as he strummed his guitar, while his wife Sheena provided refreshments. Many shoppers came in to discover what was going on and stayed to listen. This wonderful event raised £6,450, half of which was donated to local charities and the other half, plus gift-aid and less expenses, resulted in a £3,563 boost to the year’s income.
The spring concert on 18th March at Christ Church began with Handel’s coronation anthem Zadok the Priest, but was chiefly devoted to Samuel Wesley’s Confitebur, a large-scale setting in Latin of Psalm 111. Samuel was the son of hymn-writer Charles Wesley who surprised his parents by converting to Catholicism at the age of 18. His output, described as a meeting point of many traditions, is considered almost unique in English choral music. On this occasion the London Bach Players were again the orchestra. The concert was dedicated to the memory of Pam Gould.
The choir’s biennial trip abroad took place from 31st May to 4th June. The destination was the country of Belarus, at the kind invitation of its British Ambassador who was none other than Brian Bennett, a former tenor in our choir. He had popped into a Thursday evening rehearsal to reassure us that unrest in that country, after a recent election, was nothing to worry about. The day after the 30-trong group had flown to Minsk, there was a morning tour of the capital city followed by an afternoon rehearsal in the Philharmonic Hall which was televised. The evening’s concert began with Gibbon’s O clap your hands and the rest of the first half included Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine, Elgar’s Ave Verum and a variety of Tudor pieces. During the interval the audience retired to consume whisky or vodka, while the choir separately swigged water. The second half consisted of Mozart’s Missa Brevis, followed by flowers presented to each of the choir and then some encores. In the evening there was a reception at the British Embassy with eating, drinking and singing together with Brian’s local choir, The Academy of Sciences.
The first appointment on the next day was at the House of Mercy where people of all nationalities and religions were being physically rehabilitated after the Chernobyl nuclear disaster. There was no time for the planned rehearsal, but the choir managed to sing a shortened version of the previous day’s programme before enjoying a delicious meal. Later in the day there was again no time to rehearse at the Catholic Red Church where many other activities were in progress. Ian subsequently managed to support the singers on a midget organ’s keyboard where middle C was not working. The day ended with dinner at a restaurant where there was a simultaneous floor show.
The last full day involved a 160 miles drive northwards to St Sophia’s Cathedral in Polotsk. The Cathedral had by now been deconsecrated and was solely used for concerts. For various reasons intended sightseeing en route was severely curtailed. Proceedings in the former Cathedral were reminiscent of the experience at Hejnice Basilica in Czechoslovakia two years previously. Once more the choir finished up in the organ loft, this time with no view of the enthusiastic audience. There was a moment of humorous misunderstanding at the beginning of the concert when the lady interpreter announced the first item as O clap your hands after which the audience immediately did just that. There had been a proper rehearsal beforehand so things went well and for the first time in Belarus Ian had a chance to play an organ solo.
Back in the U.K. for the season’s final concert, at St Andrew’s on 17th June, the first half consisted of English Sacred Pieces from the Tudor period, many of which had been sung in Belarus, to the ‘present day’ (actually 1982 when Tavener’s The Lamb was written) and Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas in the second half. The soloists in the latter work included three choir members, one of whom was Bery Radford as ‘First Witch’. The largest audience of the season obviously enjoyed the occasion.
A long, busy season ended on 29th June with the A.G.M. at which the Treasurer told those present that the year’s income had exceeded expenditure by £691 and that the choir’s receipts from the Singathon had been added to the separate Music Fund. Stephen Oliver also entertained everyone with a most humorous account of the Belarus trip.
Sadly, near the beginning of this season another member died. Brenda Croasdale, a choir soprano for 25 years, became a cancer victim in October, only two days after her last appearance at a Thursday evening rehearsal. Twenty members sang Fauré’s Cantique de Jean Racine at her funeral in All Saints, Banstead.
While we were practising for a rare performance of Handel’s last oratorio Judas Maccabeus, Sue wanted to take the sopranos to a portakabin at the Priory School, the site of the only piano outside the main hall. Unfortunately the key to the portakabin could not be found, so Sue asked Campbell McPhee if he could fetch his portable chamber organ (used at our last concert) from his home in Sutton. Campbell was back with the instrument in 20 minutes, so Sue could rehearse the sopranos separately in the neighbouring sports hall. A tenor to the rescue!
Judas Maccabaeus, with libretto from the 1st and 2nd Books of the Maccabees in the Apocrypha, was composed to celebrate the suppression of the Jacobite rebellion at the 1746 Battle of Culloden. It was heard as many as 33 times at the Covent Garden Theatre in the next 12 years, but since then it had become something of a rarity. At St Andrew’s Church on 25th November it was necessary to omit some numbers in order to keep performance time within 3 hours. Mezzo-soprano soloist Deborah Miles-Johnson fell ill shortly before the performance and Eleanor White proved to be a fine substitute. The other soloists were Claire Seaton (soprano), Nicholas Mulroy (tenor) and Michael Bundy (bass), while the London Bach Players formed the orchestra. Audience and reviewers were very impressed by the occasion. Gordon Bull wrote in Words & Music ‘The large choir in this delightful United Reformed building gave a most exciting performance with much variety of pace and tone’. The only unfortunate incident was the sound of nearby exploding fireworks during the duet O lovely piece, rather than in the ensuing chorus See, the conqu’ring hero comes.
A Christmas Celebration at All Saints Church on 16th December was rather nearer Christmas Day than usual. The choir sang some less familiar carols, including Canite tuba by Palestrina and David Willcocks’s arrangement of a 14th century Resonemus laudibus. Among Stephen and Rosemary Oliver’s readings were Laurie Lee’s Christmas Landscape and Joyce Grenfell’s amusing Nativity Play. Martin Ford played the organ and Kate Moore contributed to the joyful proceedings with a couple of trumpet solos.
On 10th February a Workshop for Singers, led by Sue, with Ian on the piano at the Community Hall, was devoted to excerpts from the Spanish Francisco Valls’s baroque Missa Scala Aretina. This happy and useful day was attended by 38 choir members and 22 other enthusiasts.
On the Saturday before Passion Sunday we appropriately performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in German, with five soloists and the London Bach Players. Proceedings at St Andrew’s Church fizzed with energy and Sue somehow succeeded in both conducting the choruses and arias from her rostrum while also playing the nearby chamber organ during intervening recitatives, some of which instantly followed chorales.
The last concert of the season was something quite different. Opera Highlights in the Community Hall included choruses by Handel, Mozart, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Borodin and Mascagni, together with various arias. Unfortunately both soloists booked to sing the latter had to withdraw at the last minute. Their replacements were Lesley-Jane Rogers (soprano) and Thorbjorn Gulbrandsoy, a Norwegian baritone. The latter, previously unknown to us, obviously had an exciting career ahead of him.
The Treasurer was still smiling at the end of year A.G.M. on 28th June as he announced we had made
a modest profit in the last 12 months.
As you will read, this was not a happy year for Sue. She missed several rehearsals due to illness and car problems, but she was well enough to conduct the concert in the Menuhin Hall, Stoke d’Abernon, on 24th November. The event was sold out some weeks before this date. The choir looked smarter than ever, with the ladies wearing blue scarves and the men in same-coloured bow ties. The opening piece was Bach’s seldom heard Missa Brevis in G minor which contained only the Gloria and Kyrie sections of the Latin Mass. This was followed by the same composer’s Jauchzet Gott in allen landen! (Exult God in every land!), during which the first and last parts had a thrilling trumpet accompaniment provided by Kate Moore. The final work was one of Mozart’s most enduring church compositions, Vesperae Solennes de Confessore with its famous soprano aria Laudate pueri sung most radiantly by Sophie Bevan. The London Bach Players excelled throughout the evening.
Poor Sue was ill in bed on the day of a Christmas Celebration at All Saints Church. Geoff Barham, on home ground, nobly stepped in at the last moment, taking the conductor’s role con brio and presenting a series of hilarious seasonal readings. The Kingswood Recorders proved to be an accomplished trio of young players. Proceeds from this happy, relaxed evening were donated to the Royal Alfred Seafarers Society and Cheam’s Family Focus Parent Support Group.
Sue was fit enough to lead the Workshop for Singers on 9th February when Salieri’s Krönungs Te Deum and two choruses from Elgar’s Light of Life were meticulously studied.
The concert at Christ Church, Sutton, on 15th March included works studied at the previous two workshops – Valls’s Scala Aretina and Salieri’s Krönungs Te Deum – in addition to Franceschini’s Sonata in D major for two trumpets (played by Crispian Steele-Perkins and Kate Moore). Once again the orchestra was the London Bach Players. The musical content of the evening lasted for only 50 minutes, but there was a good opportunity to socialise during the long refreshment break in the church hall.
Bery Radford very kindly organised a garden party at her home, adjacent to Wallington Green, on the warm evening of 10th May. It included a buffet supper and a Swing Band (4 musicians and a singer) in a marquee. What a wonderful Secretary!
A fortnight later Eileen Lawrence, our beloved President, appeared several times in a fine television documentary entitled ‘The Passions of Vaughan Williams’ which stirred our longest serving members’ memories.
A day or two before the scheduled trip to Venice, Sue notified Chairman Shaida that for ‘personal reasons’ (mainly health problems) she was resigning immediately as our Music Director. Ian gallantly volunteered to take her place on the trip from 29th May to 1st June and persuaded local organist Martin Ford to accompany the 41-strong party
The majority flew from Gatwick Airport but due to a series of unfortunate incidents arrived more than three hours behind schedule. Most people stayed at a hotel in Mestre, a small industrial town on the mainland adjacent to Venice. The hotel staff proved to be very friendly, but one of our members observed that the en suite bathrooms were like cupboards!
On the next morning there was a stunningly beautiful tour round and through Venice in a vaporetto, followed in the afternoon by a guided tour on land which included St Mark’s Cathedral, the Bishop’s Palace, the Bridge of Sighs, Santa Maria dei Derelitti Church, the Giovanni & Paolo Basilica and St Mary of Miracles Church. The first concert was at San Pietro Church where Panis Angelica and Fauré’s Cantique had to be dropped because the organ (not the organist!) could not manage them.
The following day included singing at the huge Giovanni & Paolo Basilica where Martin could only see Ian in a shaving mirror placed behind his left shoulder. The sound of the choir’s voices drifted away into the huge interior, but the audience, mainly tourists, seemed to go away uplifted. Later, at St Mark’s the choir took part in a Mass, rather than a short concert. The large congregation appeared rather uncomfortable when we remained silent during the responses, but when the priest told them who we were they gave us an unexpected round of applause.
The next morning (Sunday) some took a boat trip to the islands of Murano, Torcello and Burano, while others did their own thing in Venice. The last performance – probably the best of the four – was at the Anglican Church of St George, where the programme was the same as at the previous day’s Basilica. The audience was even more appreciative. Finally, the flight back to England arrived at Gatwick in time for those in employment to return to work on Monday morning.
Ian also agreed to conduct the season’s last concert on 21st June at St Andrew’s Church. The opening work was Elis Pehkonen’s Russian Requiem, composed in 1986. The reason Sue had chosen this work was that she had secured a copy from the vast number of scores Pam Gould had bequeathed to the choir. We had performed it in 1993 when the composer was in the audience. The choir had found parts of it difficult to rehearse, but many in the audience at St Andrew’s considered this very moving composition to be the choir’s best effort of the season. Some, in fact, admitted to tears trickling down their cheeks during the last movement. The other works, both by Purcell, were his orchestral suite made up by components of the ‘semi-opera’ King Arthur and an Ode for Queen Mary’s last birthday in 1694, entitled Come, ye Sons of Art. The orchestra was the London Chamber Soloists, while the vocal soloists were Elisabeth Weisberg (soprano), Eleanor White (mezzo) and, in the final Purcell piece, Thorbjorn Gulbrandsoy (bass).
On 3rd July we learned that the season had made a loss of £2,611, due to the increased cost of concerts and the cancellation of a planned Auction of Promises because the committee that the season was already too busy. Sue’s departure was much regretted as she had raised our standards and introduced several fine, previously unknown works to us.
There were 33 applicants for the position of our next Music Director, following an advertisement in the Classical Music magazine. Four of these were each invited to take half a Thursday evening rehearsal during the first part of the autumn term. Subsequently, after considering votes by choir members, the Committee took the decision to offer the post to Jonathan Rennert, who lived nearby in Reigate. He was choirmaster and organist at St Michael’s, Cornhill, in the City of London and a senior examiner for the Associated Board of the Royal Schools of Music.
Ian conducted A Celebration of English Music at St Andrew’s Church on St Cecilia’s Day, 22nd November, which was the birthday of Benjamin Britten who composed Saint Nicolas, the main work in the programme. The concert began with Vaughan Williams’ beautiful Serenade to Music with words from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice. This was followed by two pieces on the organ, played by Martin Ford – Stanley’s Voluntary in C (opus 5 no.1) and Vaughan Williams’ Prelude on Rhosymedre. Then Elgar’s Serenade for Strings – singled out by the composer as one of his favourite works – was played by the London Chamber Soloists. These items were certainly enjoyed by the evening’s audience, as was Saint Nicolas in which Jon English (with a good surname considering the concert’s title!) excelled as Nicolas, as did the ‘pickled boys’ who were pupils at John Fisher School, trained by Alan Murdock, one of our tenors.
Three weeks later, despite the High Street being closed for most of the day due to a serious fire at the Waitrose superstore, All Saints Church was full for A Christmas Celebration. This time Ian conducted and Geoff Barham featured as a bass soloist in Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols. Stephen Oliver delivered the readings and Martin Ford played a Carillon by Herbert Murrill in memory of Carilyn Evans, his daughter and one of our members, who had recently died. Another former member, Joan Grayson, an efficient publicity officer for the Society, had also deceased in the previous few weeks.
The Auction of Promises, postponed from the previous year, superbly organised by alto June Parsons, raised £3,500 for choir funds at the Priory School on 7th February. This made faces smile as they continued to do on Thursday evenings as Jonathan exchanged jokes with us and in particular with Ian, now back at the piano. It emerged that the two had known each other for several years before this.
The spring concert at the Menuhin Hall on 28th March was the first with Jonathan in charge. The weather was unseasonably hot and the Hall’s heating system was set at a high level. Nevertheless Jonathon’s energetic conducting and the interestingly named London Telefilmonic Orchestra produced performances of Bach’s Missa Brevis in G major and Mozart’s Requiem (his last composition, completed by Süssmeyer) which pleased the critics, although some of the audience thought the hall’s acoustics favoured the orchestra more than the choir. Between the two major pieces Martin Ford played Handel’s Organ Concerto in F with great dexterity and sensitivity.
The same orchestra accompanied us to Chichester on 13th June for a performance of Mendelssohn’s original, hastily completed version of Elijah. The revised 1847 version is the one usually heard these days, so our concert was only the third original Elijah to have been performed. The size of the audience was rather disappointing, probably because the Chichester Singers, together with Sir Willard White, were performing the 1847 version at the same location three weeks later. However, the consensus of listeners’ opinions was that our efforts had been very exciting and the soloists’ contributions were much admired.
At the A.G.M. Kevin explained that we had had an expensive season with the net costs of concerts £3,500 higher than last year, but that this amount was almost exactly balanced by the proceeds of the Auction of Promises.
A Concert for Remembrance opened the next season at St Andrew’s on 7th November. Choir members wore poppies as they performed (for the first time) Karl Jenkins’ The Armed Man – A Mass For Peace. This moving work was commissioned by the Master of the Royal Armouries Museum who was looking for a way to commemorate the new millennium. It was first heard at the Royal Albert Hall in April 2000. In contrast, the other piece was Fauré’s well-known Requiem about which the composer wrote “I see death as a happy deliverance, an aspiration towards happiness above, rather than a painful experience.” Boys from the John Fisher School sang the Pie Jesu movement and the orchestra was again the London Telefilmonic. The large audience were most appreciative and one press reviewer wrote “The excitement and colours of The Armed Man were superbly brought off by the excellent St Cecilia Chorus and soloists. The Fauré Requiem was also beautifully sung.”
We had longer than usual to prepare for A Christmas Celebration at All Saints Church on 12th December. This included a mixed voice arrangement of Britten’s A Ceremony of Carols, with Cecilia Sultana De Maria playing the harp. The latter, a student at the Royal College of Music, also played Marcel Tournier’s Au Matin, a most affecting solo. The programme included Phillip Neil Martin’s The Bells for choir and harp, specially composed (after various difficulties) for the occasion. Unfortunately the final score was only available so late that the choir was not really able to give the piece justice.
A Get To Know One Another Better luncheon took place on Sunday 28th February at Cuddington Golf Clubhouse. This was a happy relaxed occasion. After the main course half the party moved to another table, so there were conversations with different neighbours during dessert and coffee.
The performance of Bach’s B minor Mass at St Andrew’s Church on 27th March, with the Brook Street Band playing baroque instruments, was generally agreed to be an outstanding success, The Words & Music review was entitled ‘Absolute transportation’. Comments included “Choral sound was beautifully controlled and the soloists’ line-up was nicely balanced, whether between items or in various ensembles. The choir remained undaunted by the demands placed upon their number. Rhythm and intensity never slackened. All who took part must take great credit.” Afterwards Jonathan sent an e-mail to choir members which said “You were absolutely magnificent in the Bach B minor. The only downside is that we now have an extremely high standard to equal in future concerts!”
The advertised concert at St Martin’s Church in Epsom on Sunday 16th May turned out to be a one-hour afternoon rehearsal for the imminent tour of East Germany, entitled 500 years of English Choral Music, although non-touring members were allowed to sing on this occasion. The audience was made up of about forty family members and friends. Composers chosen included Tallis, Byrd, Purcell, Parry, Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Dyson and Britten, while Ian broke the rules by playing a Bach organ piece.
The tour of ‘Bach’s Germany’ lasted from 22nd to 26th May. Brian Bennett, no longer in Belarus, wrote a detailed account of the trip which is now summarised. After flying to Berlin, the party was taken by coach to Leipzig in Saxony, where Bach worked for the last 27 years of his life and where Wagner was born in 1813. After being in the audience at a concert by the Tomanerchor (once conducted by Bach), including motets and cantatas by you know who, the forty strong party drove on to a hotel in the hilltop town of Meissen. Next morning the choir’s first performance of the tour was given in the town’s Frauenkirche. This was part of a Pentecost Sunday service and consisted of extracts from a Byrd Mass and Parry’s My soul there is a country. In the afternoon the party travelled through beautiful countryside to Dresden where they sang the Parry piece again in the reconstructed Cathedral. Some then returned to Meissen to visit a porcelain factory while others stayed to tour Dresden before getting back to the hotel for dinner.
The next day everyone headed to Eisenach, Bach’s birthplace, and checked into another hotel before going to the Annenkirche for a rehearsal and then the trip’s only performance of all the items sung and played a week beforehand in Epsom. The following day there was a visit to Arnstadt where Bach was organist from 1703 to 1707. In the magnificently renovated church Ian played Bach’s organ in the upper gallery and then another instrument in the lower gallery, where singers performed a few of their English pieces in a nearly empty building. Then the party progressed to Muelhausen (as Bach had done when he left Arnstadt), where the local organist/cantor played a Passacaglia the great man wrote while in residence. Towards the end of a busy day there was a visit to the Georgenkirche in Eisenach at which members of the Bach family had been the organist for a continuous period of 122 years. On the final day everyone travelled to Berlin, where some remained for 2 or 3 days to explore the city, while others caught the plane back to England.
The season’s last concert was now a month away, so there was time for a few frantic rehearsals before we all travelled to the Menuhin Hall to take part in Music for a Summer Evening. The weather was kind, but the number in the audience only just exceeded the number of performers. The main works were Brahms’ Liebeslieder Waltzes and Francis Jackson’s The Genius of the Thames. The second half was made up of madrigals by a quartet of young singers, pieces for solo harp and flute and a couple of madrigals (Gibbons’ The Silver Swan and Morley’s Sing we and chant it) by the choir. All very different from Bach’s B minor Mass!
The date of the A.G.M., which took place on July 8th, was unusually far into summer. From the financial point of view we were cheered to be told that the season’s income had just outstripped expenditure due to a generous donation from President Eileen Lawrence. Kevin Shears, our wonderfully efficient Treasurer for 22 years, decided it was time to resign from the position and Charlotte Dixon was voted as his successor. Kevin wasn’t allowed to retire altogether as he agreed to become Membership Secretary, a new position.
Banstead Musical Society’s busy ninetieth season demonstrated that it was still thriving. It began with a get-together luncheon at Kingswood Golf Club and included performances of Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, another semi-staged Handel oratorio, a concert to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of the Queen’s Accession, a Singathon, an anniversary dinner at another golf club and a trip to Paris
Simon Holding kindly organised the Sunday lunch on 25th September at the attractively situated venue where we enjoyed a five course self-help buffet meal.
Two months later the first 3 parts of the Christmas Oratorio, together with the famous ‘echo aria’ in part 6, were performed in German at St Andrew’s Church, which was becoming our home, together with the Little Baroque Company’s orchestra. The large audience applauded ‘loud and long’ and afterwards Jonathan sent an e-mail to members thanking them for their fine singing with really stylish control and particularly for the ‘enormous emotional fervour’ of the final chorus – which, in fact, had been a repeat of the first chorus.
Perhaps Jonathan’s opinion led to the inclusion of the same chorus in the Christmas Celebration at All Saints Church on 10th December. The programme also contained Spare a thought for Christmas, a carol with words by Geoff Barham and music by Ian, as well as contributions from the Priory Preparatory School Show Choir.
The 12-hour Singathon, once more organised by Robert Heppenstall, took place at the same venue. Its twenty-two sections revealed a lot of hidden talent. Singing by soloists, duets and groups ranged from ‘serious’ music to operatic arias and folk songs. Some of the latter, in a section named The Celtic Fringe, were especially humorous. Between items there were piano and organ solos and a mini-lecture by Kevin Shears on Hubert Parry’s connection with the church where this all this was happening. The event produced over £6,000, half for the choir and the other half for two local charities.
On 21st April our second semi-staged Handel oratorio at Epsom College was Jephtha, in which librettist Thomas Morell had changed the story’s sad ending in the Book of Judges to a happy one. On this occasion the acting of the soloists, particularly those playing Hamor and Iphis, was so convincing that several moments resembled genuine opera. The Brook Street Band were in top form and the choir’s vocal quality was unaffected by long periods of standing. The audience seemed to be very impressed by the performance.
Only six days later we gathered for our 90th anniversary dinner at Tyrrell’s Wood Golf Club, in beautiful rural surroundings near Leatherhead. Guests included President Eileen Lawrence (a few months before her 100th birthday), Michael Payne (Chairman 1989-95) and Jean Mann (Chairman 2001-05), together with Muriel and Barbara Holyman. Unfortunately Richard Stangroom (Conductor for 42 years) was unable to be present. Geoff Barham began proceedings with an amusing speech before we all tucked into a delicious meal and chatted with our neighbours.
The choir’s biennial trip abroad took place from 6th to 9th June. Sixty-eight members (present and past), spouses and friends climbed aboard a luxurious double-decker coach just before 6.30 in the morning. Nine hours later we arrived at the Marriott Rive Gauche Hotel in southern Paris, having crossed from Dover to Calais by ferry. There was little time to unpack and put on concert attire before travelling to the Église de la Madeleine where there was a brief rehearsal and then a performance as we stood in an area just in front of the organ console The choral part of the programme was the same as in all three churches visited during our stay in Paris – with pieces by Haydn, Mealor, Crotch, Britten and Fauré sandwiched between Parry’s I was glad and Blest pair of Sirens. Ian played a Voluntary by Stanley and a Prelude by Vierne. The choir had to remain standing throughout the hour long concert, a practice not unfamiliar after the same experience during Jephtha at Epsom College. A long day was not yet quite over as there was still a dinner to be consumed in the hotel restaurant.
The next morning began after breakfast with a rehearsal in a room of the hotel’s conference centre before a lunchtime concert at the Église Saint-Sulpice. On the way our driver seemed to get lost in the surrounding narrow streets, so our expert French linguist Nicola Ryman had to jump out and ask a pedestrian the way. When we arrived a midday service was in progress in a side chapel, so we congregated in another chapel behind the main altar. The organ was an old fashioned instrument and Ian’s wife had to become a stop puller. Afterwards we took an interesting cruise on the River Seine which included sights of the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral. The evening was free for all to do whatever they wanted.
The highlight of the following morning was a visit to the Sacré Coeur Basilica and neighbouring Montmartre Village. In the afternoon the coach took us to Brunoy, a town just outside south-east Paris which is twinned with Reigate & Banstead. Here we were given a meal in the church hall before performing in the ornate Église Saint-Medard. Ian was positioned in the organ loft at the opposite end of the church with his back towards the choir, so he had to hold out his right arm when he was ready for Jonathan to start conducting. Afterwards we managed to find our coach which was parked half a mile (just under a kilometre!) away, near the railway station.
The next day there were rumours of wild seas in the English Channel and some of the party prepared for the Calais-Dover crossing with seasickness pills, but in the event there were no problems and the coach arrived back in Banstead exactly on schedule.
Three days later, at a much sadder occasion, the choir sang Mozart’s Ave Verum at Barbara Holyman’s funeral in All Saints Church. Barbara had died just over three weeks after she had been one of the guests of honour at the 90th Anniversary Dinner.
The final concert, at St Andrew’s on 16th June, had a rather wordy heading on its pre-event handbills: ‘Anniversary Concert to celebrate HM The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee and the 200th anniversary of the first performance of William Crotch’s Palestine’. It was quite an achievement to include this plus the title of the seven pieces to be performed and the names of the soloists on one small piece of paper. In fact the evening began with a surprise not included in the programme booklet – a soprano solo of a song written by the eight year-old Crotch. The first half of the concert consisted of about one-third of the numbers in Crotch’s oratorio. The work is seldom heard today and Jonathan conducted its first performance during the 20th century in 1973. The second half of the concert was made up of all the pieces sung in Paris except Haydn’s Insanae at curae. Jonathan afterwards complemented the choir for its contribution to a ‘fantastic concert’.
The decade came to an end at the A.G.M. on 28th June. The only less than cheerful person appeared to be the Treasurer who said that because a considerable reduction in donations and bequests compared with 2010-2011, the excess of expenditure over income for the main fund was £2,216. She proposed an increase in member’s annual subscriptions of £5, but when the meeting voted to double this to £10 a smile broke out on Charlotte’s face.