Bury Choral Society host first Rochdale concert in over 18 months at St Vincent's Church, Norden

Date published: 19 December 2021

In November, Bury Choral Society held their first concerts since Covid-19 restrictions were lifted - one of which was hosted in Rochdale.

Conductor Juan Ortuño provided the technical skills for Zoom rehearsals during what would have been the Society’s summer break, in preparation for the November concerts titled ‘In Memoriam’.

In Memoriam, which remembered loved ones lost particularly during the Covid-19 pandemic, was performed on 20 November at Bury Parish Church and on 21 November at St. Vincent de Paul RC Church, Norden, which offered a shortened version of the original programme.

The audience at St. Vincent's were treated to a mix of choral works, culminating in moving performances of Fauré's Requiem, and the concert opened with gusto, the choir singing Handel's Coronation Anthem "Zadok the Priest" with both enthusiasm and accuracy conducted by Richard Youngman, who himself sang the same anthem as a chorister at the Queen's Coronation in 1953.

We were then treated to a performance of Psalm 104 by William Lovelady which was revised and sung at the funeral of HRH Prince Philip earlier this year. The quartet of professional soloists - soprano, Heather Buckmaster (nee Heighway), mezzo – Helen Gregory, tenor – Joseph Buckmaster and bass - Peter Lidbetter were outstanding.

This was followed by local boy Peter Skellern's piece "Rest In Peace, (and Rise In Glory)", offered in tribute to all victims of the pandemic: the choir sang with beautiful control, sensitivity never giving way to sentimentality.

The mood was changed when soloist Heather Heighway sang (with a nod to Victoria Wood!) Purcell's "Nymphs and Shepherds". Accuracy, clarity, and attention to detail are all important in Purcell, and both soloist and organist Gary Hulme demonstrated all these.

This continued in Purcell's "Bell Anthem" - "Rejoice in the Lord Always", which saw a magical interplay between the main choir and a semi-choir of soloists, bouncing along and allowing the subtle humour of Purcell's repetition of the word "Again!" to shine through. A special mention is needed for Sally Hilditch from the choir who sang the alto solo in Psalm 104 with distinction.

The main piece was the moving Requiem by Gabriel Fauré – a work of great tenderness and apparent simplicity, though with challenging harmonies which the choir handled with ease. After soprano Heather had uplifted everyone with the pure melodies of the "Pie Jesu", the choir excelled in the "Sanctus", "Agnus Dei" and "Libera Me" – the later enhanced by the powerful and emotional contributions of bass, Peter Lidbetter.

Especially in the "Agnus Dei", the choir displayed immense understanding and vocal skill: there is one moment when a single note is held, and the voices shift the harmony while singing.

"Lux aeterna" - this was the standout moment of the concert, the control of the choir producing frissons of emotion in the audience.

At the end of the Requiem, there was a breathless silence in the church before applause burst forth - a tribute to the talents of both choir and conductor, Juan Ortuño, in presenting such a moving piece with such power.

Formed in 1838, Bury Choral Society continues to produce music of a high standard, with a level of enthusiasm and commitment which is wonderful to see in volunteers, and the enjoyment experienced by the audience is testament to this commitment.

The programme for 2022 celebrates the 250th anniversary of Beethoven's birth on Saturday 5 March; and on Saturday 21 May ‘Glorious Rhythm' postponed from 2021 includes Ramirez 'Misa Criolla', Lambert Rio Grande, Bernstei 'Chichester Psalms, and Toch Geographical Fugue.

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