|Review of the Concert on 4th December 2016 by Bernard Crooks
This concert featured two choral works having their first performances just over 100 years
apart — Dvorak’s Mass in D in 1893, and Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna in 1997. Each piece
brought challenges to the Society, which were tackled with enthusiasm by the singers, led
with remarkable skill by their conductor, Marysia Gorska.
The pieces were hugely different, being written in different centuries, in different styles
and originating in different countries, but similar in their spiritual background, with Dvorak’s
inspiration having roots in the liturgy of the Catholic Mass and Lauridsen responding to his
mother’s death whilst also drawing on a range of religious texts: in his own words he was
immersed in “timeless and wondrous words” about light eternal (lux aeterna).
It was Lux aeterna that concluded this inspiring programme, with each section of the choir
giving moments of beauty and warmth, with dramatic contrasts of volume and well
controlled, hardly audible, pianissimo phrases. (Congratulations to those who managed
the final bass low D !)
The soloists in Dvorak’s Mass were not always comfortable in synchronising with the choir
but there were some magical melodic passages, as in ‘Credo in Unum Deum’, where
Olivia Gomez, mezzo soprano and the chorus sang together expressively and in true
‘harmony’. The soloists each sang songs between the main works, and this included a
surprise item from Meilir Jones — a Welsh rendition of ‘David of the White Rock’,
demonstrating both his delicate and forceful bass tones.
Organ accompaniment was provided by Robin Baggs, making good use of the range of
stops on the newly restored organ in St. Mary’s Church.
The evening concluded with a special presentation to John Read, the choir’s founder,
recognising ten years of tireless dedication in developing one of the county’s exciting
choirs. John’s musical talent, as singer, conductor and composer has been a great
inspiration to the town’s Choral Society and has included a performance in 2014 of his own
Pilgrim Mass, composed as part of his studies with the Open College of the Arts.
The Fairford Choral Society’s next concert will be on 13th May 2017, when they will
perform Haydn’s ‘Creation’.
|Review of the Concert on 1st May 2016 by Bernard Crooks
There was an atmosphere of excited expectation at the start of this concert, not only because it
was to feature the magnificent oratorio ‘Messiah’ but because it was to be the Choral Society’s first
performance under the direction of Marysia Gorska, their vivacious new conductor.
The programme notes reminded us of the Faulkner’s Dublin Journal report following Messiah’s
premiere on 13th April 1742, which described the music as “ the sublime, the grand and the
tender.” By the end of this performance, there was no doubt that we had experienced each of
these, delivered with energy, delicacy and a dramatic interpretation by conductor and performers.
The choir sang with enthusiasm, responding to clear direction from their conductor. Highlights were
the lightness of fast semi-quaver passages, crisp diction and strong singing, as in ‘Glory to God,
good will towards men.’ Contrasts of volume and intensity brought the story to life as the choir
made the most of the text with feeling and emotion. In ‘He trusted in God’, all parts contributed to
the sense of drama in a well paced passage and the use of a semi-chorus (‘Lift up your heads’)
heightened the question and answer conversation, with increasing layers of sound culminating in a
forte full choir proclaiming ‘He is the King of Glory’.
Warwick Cole led the Corelli Ensemble which efficiently accompanied the singing. The placing of
players to one side of the chorus did not prevent a good rapport between them, and the Ensemble
was particularly sensitive in the more poignant moments of the work; they provided powerful
support in the moments of drama, in particular when a solo trumpet joined the bass soloist in ‘The
trumpet shall sound’.
Four soloists provided the Recitatives and Airs between choruses, responding well to the range of
moods required in Handel’s writing. The stunning performance by Martin Le Poidevin, bass,
demonstrated not just the power of his voice but also the superb skill in holding our attention: we
believed that he was speaking to each of us with his descriptions of ‘darkness’, ‘rage’ and
Alison Bell, alto, met the challenge of the florid ‘Refiner’s fire’ and delivered ‘He was despised’ with
delightful interplay alongside the accompanying strings. Charlotte Newstead sang the soprano Airs
with agility and joined with Alison in a duet in which parts were well matched and sung with feeling
and confidence.The concert began with tenor, John Bacon, singing with sensitivity and calmness in
‘Comfort ye’, speaking the words that anticipated the coming of the Messiah.
The combined forces, led so capably by the conductor, should be congratulated on a memorable
evening. We wait with eager anticipation for the Society’s next concert!
|Review of the Concert on 28th November 2015 by Andrew Crane
Fairford & District Choral Society performed on Saturday for the last time under the baton of their founding musical director, John Read.
The work chosen for this farewell concert – Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle – embodies a wide variety of styles and provided an opportunity to show
how much has been achieved by a choral society with only modest financial resources but with a great will to succeed and a strong local following.
Rossini’s mass was first performed in 1864, late in a musical life made famous by operatic masterpieces including The Barber of Seville and William Tell.
Despite its liturgical basis, Rossini was not able, and probably never intended, to disguise the operatic pedigree of this substantial work. The accompaniment
is unusually scored for piano and harmonium and was expertly delivered by Robin Baggs and Jonathan Hope.
Soprano Charlotte Newstead, mezzo Alison Bell and bass Martin Le Poidevin, all previous performers at Fairford, were joined by tenor John Bacon.
Although in the Gratias trio the blend was not entirely successful, the solo, duet and quartet movements were well executed, particularly enjoyable being the tenor Domine Deus,
the most overtly operatic and melodic aria, and the bass Quoniam.
Rossini presents many challenges for the chorus, not least cohesion in the extended fugues - Cum sancto spiritu and Et vitam venturi saeculi.
Both, however, were accurately delivered in a convincing and spirited fashion at a very satisfying tempo. Such was their success that any tonal imprecision in the highly
chromatic opening Kyrie was easily forgiven by the appreciative capacity audience.
John paid tribute to all those who had worked with him to support the Society since its inception. He wished his successor Marysia Gorska every success and encouraged
all to return for her first concert, Messiah, on 1st May, before leaving the rostrum for the final time, amid loud and sustained applause.
|Review of the Concert on 15th March 2015 by Penny Pitt
The Fairford and District Choral Society’s latest outstanding concert was dominated by an exciting range of French music.
It opened with Fauré’s prize-winning early work Cantique de Jean Racine, thoughtfully conducted by John Read.
The choir, accompanied by the Dionysus String Ensemble who set the tone with their beautiful sonorities
in the opening section, sang sensitively, capturing the beauty of this prayer for God’s grace through their focused
This was followed by a dazzling virtuoso performance by Marije Vijselaar, a Dutch harpist and member of the
FADCS, of another Fauré piece, his Impromptu for Harp in D Flat Major. The audience were visibly thrilled to hear such
technical brilliance combined with an ability to convey the emotional nuances of the music. The Dionysius Ensemble
then gave us the one non-French work of the evening: Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No 3 in E minor.
This little heard piece proved an excellent choice for this talented group of musicians.
Before the interval, we were treated to some very well-known and beautiful solos and duets by Gounod and Franck.
Charlotte Newstead (soprano) was accompanied on the harp in Gounod’s Ave Maria. Her wonderful breath
control, particularly apparent in the final phrases, allowed for an invigoratingly fresh interpretation of this well
known piece. Equally beautifully judged was Martin Le Poidevin’s O Salutaris, another much-loved
Gounod song, accompanied by the highly gifted organist Robin Baggs.
The second part of the concert was devoted to Fauré’s Requiem, combining the talents of the choir,
organist, string ensemble and soloists. The choir rose to the challenge of this exquisite work, with the dynamic
contrasts brilliantly drawn out under John Read’s expert direction. The soloists were again outstanding, with a
genuinely moving Pie Jesu and a chilling Libera Me. This wonderfully thought through concert programme was extremely
well received by the capacity audience, a testament to the quality of performance that we have come to expect
|Review of the Concert on 15th November 2014 by Andrew Crane
Choral director John Read set his singers a demanding, but appropriate, test for the Fairford & District Choral
Society’s WWI commemoration concert ‘With Songs to the Battle’ on 15 November. The programme notably included
the première of John’s Missa Sancti Jacobi – A Pilgrim Mass, set for chorus and soloists. The work was inspired
by a pilgrimage John took to Santiago de Compostela a decade ago and includes references to his musical
experiences on the journey. John recognised the fact that the lives of a soldier and a pilgrim have one
thing in common - both involve a lot of walking. The mass, though, is far from pedestrian in its composition and
the choir were kept on their toes with complex rhythms, frequent changes of tempi and dynamics and testing
intonations. One or two rather tentative entries did nothing to spoil an impressive performance in which
the differing moods of the movements were well conveyed, including a fine crescendo to the fortissimo
conclusion of the Gloria and a sensitive rendition of the beautifully melodic writing in the Gradual
and Alleluia. This is certainly a work that must be heard again.
The changing moods in Haydn’s Mass in time of War also make considerable demands on the chorus,
but they responded well to the conductor’s direction and maintained a good forward movement throughout. The quartet of
soloists – Charlotte Newstead (soprano), Alison Bell (mezzo), Christopher Palmer (tenor) and
Martin Le Poidevin – delivered a beautifully balanced blend and Martin was particularly impressive
in the Qui tollis peccata mundi section of the Gloria. The most direct allusion to war comes
in the Agnus Dei, where drum rolls on the timpani (played by Paul Berrow) and the muted ensemble
of the chorus created perfectly the composer’s intended sense of foreboding.
The evening ended with Songs of World War I in which the audience were invited to join in the choruses.
After Adam Bayliss’s trumpet rendition of the last post and John Herrington’s reciting of the
Ode of Remembrance, narrator Oliver Ashford-Smith introduced selected songs from the time of
call-up at the start of the war to the weariness and longing for peace towards the end. The soloists
showed their talent for song (as well as liturgy) and Robin Baggs gave a masterly and sensitive
accompaniment on both organ and piano. The evening concluded with all in St Mary’s Fairford
joining to sing Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory.
|Review of the Concert on 10th May 2014
On Saturday 10 May The Fairford and District Choral Society gave its most ambitious concert yet, performing
J S Bach's St John Passion. This musically dramatic re-telling of the betrayal, trial and death of Jesus
is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest pieces of Western music written and is a challenging
task for the soloists, the orchestra and the choir alike.
All three rose to this challenge. The soloists
from the Ensemble Sine Nomine gave a moving account of the gospel story with the tenor Nicholas Drew
giving a fine performance of the very demanding role of Evangelist. They were accompanied by the
Corelli Ensemble under the direction of Warwick Cole and their playing was particularly noteworthy for
the sensitive accompaniment of the recitatives. The choir under the direction of John Read gave a
confident and dramatic account of the choruses with their difficult entries and complex polyphony with
only minor lapses but were able to also sing the reflective chorales with understanding and feeling,
rising gloriously to the last hope-filled chorale and their by then well-earned place in "Abraham's bosom".
The Choral Society's next concert is on 15 November in St Mary's Fairford and will include Haydn's Mass
in Time of War, the premier of John Read's Pilgrim Mass and songs from the First World war.
| Review of the Concert on 1st December 2013
An enthusiastic audience came along to Fairford and District Choral Society’s Christmas Crackers
concert in St Mary’s Church on Advent Sunday evening.
“…the choir held its own and dealt especially well with the repeated staggered entries in This Little Babe.
The solo movements, sung by soprano and mezzo-soprano Grace Carter and Louise Viner, provided a lovely contrast…”
Andy Crane – Chairman of Cirencester Choral Society.
Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols was accompanied on organ by Robin Baggs with Henry Herford the baritone soloist.
Andy says “… the sopranos gave a very good account of themselves with a succession of top As in Come all you worthy
gentlemen. The soloist sang with appropriate verve…”
The novelty in the Christmas Cracker was the beautifully executed Aria in classic style for harp and organ by Marcel Grandjany.
Six improvisations by Organist Robin Baggs provided a spot-the-carol quiz in the second half. Conductor John Read, in
festive mood, led the audience in Advent hymns before sending them on their way.
Below: The Harpist, Ruth Kenyon and Bass, Henry Herford.
|Review of the Concert on 13th April 2013 by Penny Pitt
‘Music for Two Elizabeth’s’ was the intriguing name given to a wonderful evening of music making by the Fairford
and District Choral Society on Saturday, April 13th. The resulting programme guided the audience on a musical
journey encompassing choral pieces from the times of Elizabeth I to the more recent times of our present monarch,
The first piece, ‘Sing Joyfully’ by Tudor composer William Byrd, set a high standard for the
An unforced soprano tone at the opening perfectly matched the demands of Byrd’s choral music style. Close
following of the conductor, John Read, allowed for a convincing and engaging interpretation, particularly
noticeable in the final section. Works by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) and Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) completed
the early music section of the concert which included an absolutely breathtaking performance of Gibbon’s
organ work ‘The Queen’s Command’ by the organist for this concert Robin Baggs. This was the first of three
solo organ pieces which he performed immaculately and with great subtlety; members of the choral society
rightly consider themselves fortunate to have such a gifted regular accompanist.
Works by Benjamin Britten, Holst, Finzi, Vaughan-Williams, Parry and Elgar, gave us a real sense of the
flowering of English choral music from the later part of the nineteenth century onwards. Here the Choral
Society was able to show how it is able to tackle a wide range of musical styles with real confidence and
evident enjoyment. There were many highlights including a very early work by Britten ‘Hymn to
the Virgin’ (1930)
which called for two choirs singing in English and Latin. Both groups here achieved a contemplative style
and sang with great discipline producing a moving account of this work.
The choral society was joined for this performance by two talented young singers,
Charlotte and Georgia Hall
who sang solo parts in Britten’s Te Deum and Vaughan-Williams ‘O Taste and See’. The tuning and
pure tone they achieved was a sheer delight, rightly acknowledged by the enthusiastic audience at this well-attended
|Review of the Concert on 10th November 2012 by Penny Pitt
The exciting and varied concert given by Fairford and District Choral Society on Saturday 10th November was a
musical treasure not to be missed. The carefully balanced programme contained many musical delights and
this performance proved, once again, that the choral tradition for which this area is so renowned is
still very much alive.
The choir were wonderfully supported on this occasion by the addition of five highly talented professional
singers - Charlotte Newstead, Janet Upton, Alison Bell, Alexei Winter and Martin Le Poidevin - who set the
tone at the start of the concert with their delicately phrased and truly moving rendition of ‘O Quam Gloriosum’.
This motet for All Saints’ Day, by the Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, is a superb example of his
vivid, impassioned style. The choir followed with a full toned and highly persuasive account of Parry’s
famous celebratory introit ‘I Was Glad’.
There were many special moments of the evening including a stunning performance by soprano Charlotte
Newstead of the brilliant and technically demanding ‘Exsulate Jubilate’, the sensitive and flawless organ
playing by the accompanist Robin Baggs (a treat in itself) and the emotional range achieved by both choir
and soloists in the Handel ‘Dettingen Te Deum’. The touching singing by the soloists in this work and the
attention to dynamics and word-painting by the choir clearly impressed and moved the capacity audience.
This ambitious, non-auditioning choir are trained and ably conducted by John Read who has done so much
to inspire and encourage music lovers of the Fairford area. This performance shows yet again that live
music–making continues to play an integral part in the life of the market town and neighbouring villages.
|Review of the Concert on 31st March 2012 by Raymond Fenton
We were treated to a most adventurous programme. Perhaps some of their most difficult works since they were founded
in 2006. The concert was entitled Jewels for a Jubilee and so to celebrate her Majesty’s diamond jubilee we all stood
up to sing two verses of the National Anthem.
The concert then started by Robin Baggs playing on the organ William
Walton’s march, Crown Imperial with great precision. Joined by the four excellent soloists Fiona Dobie, Soprano,
Natanya Phillips, Mezzo, Peter Harris, Tenor and Henry Herford, Bass, the choir performed Mozart’s Coronation Mass
in C. There was some excellent singing during the Credo. The Sanctus starts slow, is difficult and has sustained
high notes for the sopranos which then leads into the magnificent Hosanna in Excelsis which the choir obviously
After a short interval the choir returned to sing all four of the Handel Coronation Anthems.
The first one, Let Thy Hand be Strengthened ends with a stirring chorus of Alleluia. The second anthem,
The King shall Rejoice has a very difficult third movement which they tackled well, but as to be expected was a
little untidy in places. The third anthem, My Heart is Inditing was sung with confidence though voices were beginning
to get a little tired. Then finally the last anthem is the well known Zadok the Priest which formed an excellent
ending to a most enjoyable concert.
|Review of the Concert on 12th November 2011 by Raymond Fenton
The concert was started by the choir of Fairford Primary School who sang two songs. “This is our World” and “Lean on me”.
Both songs were sung with great enthusiasm. The first showed how they were able to sing in two parts and the second showed
off the very sweet sounds of the children’s upper registers.
Next the Choral Society sang Mozart’s famous anthem
Ave Verum Corpus K618. After a few rather untidy notes at the start the choir gave us a beautiful rendering of this
lovely anthem written as a setting of a 14th century Eucharistic hymn in 1791.
This was followed by Mozart’s Missa Solemnis in C Major K337. John Read, the conductor, held the choir together
for some excellent singing including the very difficult Benedictus where all parts cross each other and many are
syncopated. Four excellent soloists sang with them. Fiona Dobie – Soprano, Natanya Phillips – Mezzo,
Nicholas Pritchard – Tenor and Henry Herford – Bass, while Fiona Brown accompanied on the organ.
After a short interval Fiona Brown gave an organ solo - a chorale prelude based on “How brightly beams the morning star”
by Flor Peeters, a difficult work played with great precision. The Choral Society returned with a work
commissioned by Durham University in 2007 on the occasion of its 175th anniversary, “Morning Star” by Arvo Pärt.
This work involved splitting the soprano and bass lines into two parts which was rather difficult for the basses
as they were already short of a few members through illness, but they coped well.
Finally the choir performed the J.S. Bach cantata “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”, again with Fiona Brown
accompanying on the organ - an exceptionally difficult part which she played superbly. Three of the soloists
returned for this work. Soprano, Tenor & Bass. They all sang well but special note must be made of the
wonderful tenor voice of Nicholas Pritchard. The chorus parts were sung with great precision by the choir.
See the Programme.
|Review of the Concert on 9th April 2011 by Raymond Fenton
For a choral society that has only been in existence for four years the performance of Dvorak’s great
work Stabat Mater was an amazing feat, especially considering that the choir only numbers a little over 40 members
Lasting well over an hour it is a very substantial and at times difficult work and the Fairford & District
Choral Society gave an excellent performance together with four professional soloists. Katherine Crompton (soprano),
Sioned Ellis (mezzo soprano), Nicholas Pritchard (tenor) and Henry Herford (bass).
Great credit must be given to John Read who has conducted and trained the choir since they started, and also to
some magnificent organ playing by their accompanist Fiona Brown. We now look forward to their next concert on
Saturday 12th November.
Raymond Fenton, 21st April 2011
|Review of the Concert on 13th November 2010 by Raymond Fenton
Bach’s motet Jesu, Priceless Treasure is the only one that has come down to us scored for five voices.
It is the longest, the most varied and probably the most difficult. It would originally have been sung
unaccompanied but most choirs have no hesitation in doubling the parts with the organ. Fairford & District
Choral Society was only founded three years ago, so it was a brave venture on Saturday 13th November in
St. Mary’s Church, to tackle this motet and, due I’m sure to much hard work and supported by four Lay
Clerks from Gloucester Cathedral the performance was excellent.
The opening chorales were sung with confidence and accuracy. The fifth section, “Death, Death, I do
not fear” was lovely although not particularly easy, especially with the basses semi-quaver runs.
The next section, “Ye are not of the flesh” with more semi-quaver runs coming in all five parts is
exceptionally difficult to sing and it is true to say that at times the parts found it difficult to
all keep together. The chorale in compound time, “If therefore Christ abide in you” was particularly
well sung with very precise singing.
After a short interval we were treated to a very fine performance on the organ by Fiona Brown
who played César Frank’s Pastorale which starts quietly and increases in volume to a middle section with some
very precise staccato playing which is then followed by a tuneful legato passage.
Finally the choral society treated us to a very moving performance of Fauré’s Requiem which is always
a favourite. I was particularly impressed by the singing of the Offertory which starts as a duet between
altos and tenors, later to be joined briefly by the basses before the rich voice of the baritone soloist,
Henry Herford takes over before the movement is completed by all the voices. Following the Sanctus,
always a highlight we had such pleasure listening to the clear soprano voice of Liz Gravestock singing
the beautiful Pie Jesu. More delicate singing followed with the Agnus Dei which starts off with the
tenors who were augmented by the alto section before being joined by the full choir who made a very
smooth transition from C major to Ab major and then later back to F major before the reprieve of the
opening chorus. Another lovely baritone solo starts the Libera Me before the full choir takes over
quietly and builds to a great climax before closing the movement with soft and delicate singing.
Finally the Requiem ends with the famous In Paradisum which is definitely not as easy to sing as it
looks, but the choir tackled it well with the whole Requiem ending very softly back in the key of D major.
Altogether a wonderful evening and one that the whole choir and their conductor John Read can
be proud of.
Raymond Fenton, 14th November 2010
|Review of the Concert on 27th March 2010 by Ed Brown
St Mary’s Church, Fairford played host on Saturday night to a somewhat dichotomous programme of sacred music.
The first half, a world premiere of “Pilgrimage”, a new work by local composer, and conductor of
Fairford and District Choral Society, John Read. The second, Stainer’s Crucifixion,
a piece planted firmly in the 19th Century. Fairford and District Choral society performed both admirably.
Pilgrimage, split into eight sections, interspersed with narration, chronicles a journey
undertaken by the composer and a friend from Caen to Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain. It was
certainly effective in conveying the sense of travel, both spatial and spiritual. There were strong influences
of folk music, and Read’s scoring had a wonderful openness to it, sections of full choir with minimal
accompaniment contrasted with, at times, a solo flute or voice. Indeed, the music was so effective in
conveying the transitions from preparation to wilderness to reflection, combined with the pictures
projected above the choir, that the spoken narrative in between each section of music was barely
required as an aid.
The choir performed well; in sections such as the 17th Century French song, they achieved the
required lightness of tone, and their tuning was impressive throughout. The soloists stepped up to the
task, holding up well in contrast to the choir in the antiphonal sections. There could, perhaps, have been a
little more angst in the section entitled “suffering”, and a little more malice in the “wilderness”.
But, overall, this was a well drilled performance, and it did the considerable merits of the work justice.
Stainer’s crucifixion is a piece that can, at times, teeter on the edge of drudgery if
sufficient energy is not expended on the part of those performing it. But for some slight flagging around
the “Appeal of the crucified”, Fairford and District Choral Society managed to keep energy levels up,
an impressive feat given that this was over an hour of music. At times, the balance suffered slightly
from the smaller number of male voices in the ensemble, but this is not to detract from the section’s
performance. There was a suitably rambunctious sound on “Fling wide gates”, and, again, the choir showed
itself to be well versed in dynamic contrast. Both the soloists - Peter Burrows tenor and Derek Walker
bass gave very good accounts of the work.
Evidently well rehearsed, and effectively delivered, this was a thoroughly enjoyable event,
both for the packed audience, and, by the looks of things, the choir. All in all, an evening of music that
both Read and the Fairford and District Choral Society can be proud of.