Last of the season goes down a treat

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ST George’s United Reformed Church hosted the final lunchtime concert of the 2012 Winter/Spring series, which featured young tenor Alex Banfield, seasoned cellist Julia Watson and local choir The Longhirst Garden Festival Singers.

Alex, 22, has just started out as a soloist. He is a member of Newcastle Cathedral Choir and is to feature as Frederic in the Mid Northumberland Chorus version of The Pirates of Penzance at the end of April.

He opened the programme with Roger Quilter’s Now Sleeps The Crimson Petal, a wonderful solo which Alex sang with good control and excellent tone. A Schubert favourite, The Linden Tree, followed — a tricky piece which was performed in a confident and capable way. Frederic’s aria, Oh Is There Not One Maiden Breast, from The Pirates of Penzance, was lovely, with beautiful sweetness and excellent light and shade. It lacked perhaps a little passion, but overall was a convincing performance. Alex ended his recital with If It’s Ever Spring Again by Le Fleming, set to words by Thomas Hardy, and again he provided a lovely, tuneful sound.

Throughout, he performed with confidence, with quality tone and control, and appears to have the ability to prosper in the future.

Julia Watson is an accomplished singer and pianist, but on this occasion it was the turn of the cello. She opened with Vivaldi’s Sonata No 3 in four movements. The piece requires a special skill, but from the beautiful rich tone of the largo to the crisp and accurate playing of the allegro, Julia was in total control. Faure’s Apres un Reve followed and was performed in an exquisite manner with a lovely flowing melody. Lol Nidrei, based on Hebrew melodies by Max Bruch, was next and this haunting piece was a most impressive musical experience, with excellent counterplay between the cello and piano. Julia ended her programme with a very fast moving and impressive presentation of Allegro Appassionata by Saint-Saens.

This challenging work ended an accomplished performance of all-round excellence.

The concert ended with five short songs by the Longhirst Garden Festival Singers, a small group from local churches who banded together last summer to present two concerts in Longhirst Parish Church as part of their garden festival.

All five songs were either written or arranged by John Rutter. The first two, I Will Sing With The Spirit and For The Beauty Of The Earth, showed the choir had much talent, with a very pleasant tone and good balance between the four parts. The sopranos were particularly impressive, but all sections played their part. Two folk songs followed, The Keel Row and Afton Water. There was good crisp and precise singing in the former and a sweet, flowing melody in the latter. It was a joy to the ear. A Virginian folk song, The Heavenly Aeroplane, brought the concert to an exciting and fitting conclusion.

A good choir requires four main ingredients — good tone, a balance between parts, clear and precise diction and togetherness. This choir ticks all the boxes and gave a very confident, musical performance.

Ken Irvine in his typical professional and capable way provided skilful accompaniments for all the performers. He is to be congratulated for his support to all concerts in the series.

The concerts will return on Wednesday, September 19 with the Murray Family Trio.