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Congleton Choral Society, Congleton, Cheshire, UK

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Making Music Congleton Choral Society is a member of Making Music, The National Federation of Music Societies.

Congleton Choral Society is a Registered Charity
No: 515851

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Choral Society Christmas Concert
Congleton Town Hall
17th December 2005

Anyone who missed Congleton Choral Society’s Christmas Concert in Congleton Town Hall on Saturday, 17 th December, conducted by David Johnson, missed a Christmas treat. The programme, a musical mix of the familiar and the new, the contemplative and the humorous, created an atmosphere of peace and joy in the seasonally decorated Town Hall.

The first half of the concert comprised excerpts from Handel’s Messiah, with tenor soloist John Elliott. John, a friend of Congleton Choral Society, sings in many prestigious choirs in the Manchester area and Manchester’s ‘loss’ that night was Congleton’s gain. He sang the opening recitative, Comfort ye my people, with a clarity and a tenderness that spoke to every person in the hall, communicating to all the assurance of Isaiah’s comforting words. In the following aria, Ev’ry valley shall beexalted, his singing was superb – clear, engaging, and inspiring and the choir responded by singing choruses like And the glory ofthe Lord and For unto us a Son is born with a lightness, precision and conviction that delighted the audience. In this they were supported by the superb Cantilena Orchestra and the continuo playing of Andrew Donaldson, the society’s accompanist. Their playing was close to perfection – light, musical, and unfussy, just what Handel would have wished.

The Counter tenor soloist, a well kept secret until the afternoon rehearsal, was the conductor, David Johnson, who temporarily relinquished his baton to sing Oh thou that tellest good tidings to Zion. His singing of the aria was mellifluous and assured, suggesting David could have another career on the singing circuit! It delighted both choir and audience. Taking up his baton again, the first half continued, concluding triumphantly with an exuberant, though controlled, singing by the choir (and some of the audience!) of the Hallelujah chorus.

The second half of the programme was a seasonal mix of carols, including favourites for the audience to sing, such as, Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Once in RoyalDavid’s City, Good King Wenceslas and Jingle Bells. The choir sang the Sans Day Carol and a beautiful traditional Basque carol, The Infant King and, to the amusement of the audience, a Christmas Pudding mix of twenty or so well known carols ‘stirred’ by Jonathan Willcocks for those who like their carols served in one three minute helping!

But perhaps the ‘star’ carol of the evening was a setting of In the Bleak Midwinter, composed by Brian Edwards, the father of one of the members of the choir. The wintery bleakness of Christina Rossetti’s poem is captured in a haunting, modal melody, enhanced on the night by Andrew Burr’s atmospheric arrangement, (commissioned by the Choral Society), for solo voice, choir, strings and oboes. The singing by soloist John Elliott and by the choir was sensitive, befitting the child like simplicity of the shepherd’s words, ‘What can I give Him, poor as I am?’

The orchestra shone in a wonderful playing of Pachelbel’s Canon and Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba, prompting the audience to a long burst of applause and well deserved calls for ‘more!’ After O Come, all ye faithful, the choir and orchestra closed the evening’s Christmas feast of music with John Rutter’s inspired arrangement of We wish you a merry Christmas and a happy New Year! The applause at the end of the concert suggested that the audience was reluctant to relinquish the ‘feel good’, happy atmosphere engendered by the evening’s concert.

See more photographs of our Christmas Concert


David Johnson (Music Director) has been awarded a "Certificate of Excellence" by the outgoing Town Mayor, Mrs Margaret Williamson in recognition of his, and the Society's, outstanding contribution to the town of Congleton. David has conducted the choir since 1975 during which time he has given it new challenges and taken it to new heights, presenting a wide and varied repertoire and bringing soloists and musicians of distinction to Congleton. In addition, David has taken members of the choir to sing in some of the finest cathedrals in Britain and Europe, taking Congleton's name to such places as Durham, Worcester, Wells, Bruges, Antwerp, and Ghent. The society is planning another overseas tour in 2006.

Saturday 8th October 2005
Pounds for Pipes! 

A concert in aid of Astbury Church Organ Restoration Fund

The concert followed a similar style of programme to the very successful Tsunami Concert held at Astbury earlier in the year, and featured Keith Hearnshaw on the organ, Andrew & Strephanie Donaldson on piano and flute, the Sproggs, string trio and the choral society.  Money raised will go towards the restoration of the fine Binns Organ.

Saturday 30th April 2005
'Elijah' - Felix Mendelssohn


Nicholas Folwell

NICHOLAS FOLWELL A.R.A.M (Bass–Baritone) began his career at Welsh National Opera where his roles included Mozart’s Figaro and Leporello, Pizzaro, Melitone, Escamillo, Alberich ,and Melot and Klingsor which he recorded under Sir Reginald Goodall. He made his debut for the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden as The Poacher in ‘The Cunning Little Vixen’ under Sir Simon Rattle and has appeared with all the other major British opera companies in diverse roles. Outside the UK, he has sung Alberich (Der Ring) in Nantes, Figaro and other leading opera roles in Israel, Holland, Frankfurt and Paris. Recent appearances include Mahler’s 8th Symphony at the QEH with Martyn Brabbins and the leading role of Pope Clement VI in the world premier of ‘Light Passing’ by Nicola Lefanu. It is being broadcast by BBC Radio 3 on 27th November .

Laura Ann Hudson

Laura Ann Hudson (Soprano) studies with Caroline Crawshaw at RNCM, having gained a Marjorie Squires scholarship in 2003. She has sung opera roles in Tosca, Aida, Turandot, and Ariadne Auf Naxos throughout the North West and recently sang the title role in the RNCM production of Puccini’s Suor Angelica. He oratorio experience includes Handel’s Messiah, Mozart Requiem, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle, Verdi Requiem and Mendelssohn’s Elijah.
Niamh Kelly

Niamh Kelly (Mezzo-Soprano). Born in Donegal, Niamh is currently studying with Robert Alderson at RNCM. In addition to various solo recitals throughout Ireland, she has sung with Opera Ireland in productions of Boris Godunov and Aida. She played La Maestra della Novizie in the RNCM’s recent production of Puccini’s Suor Angelica. Her oratorio experience includes Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and Dvorak’s Mass in D. Forthcoming engagements include the role of Nurse in the premiere of Laurence Roman’s opera Isabella and the Pot of Basil.

Robert Gardiner
Robert Gardiner (Tenor) was born and educated in Birmingham, graduating in Astrophysics at Durham University in 2002. In 2003, he began a two year post graduate performance course at RNCM and is currently studying with Robert Alderson. His recent opera performances include Valetto in Monteverdi’s Coronation of Poppea for the Yorke Trust, Sellem in Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, and Fernando in Mozart’s Cosi fan Tutte in Liverpool. Recent oratorio performances include Bach’s St John Passion and Christmas Oratorio, Mozart Requiem, Rossini’s Petite Messe Solonelle and Handel’s Messiah, Judas Maccabaeus and Alexander’s Feast.

Gawsworth Church
Good Friday 25th March
Haydn - 'Seven Last Words from The Cross'

Gawsworth Church


We sang a Good Friday Devotion, with music by Joseph Haydn, and Homilies by The Reverend William A Pwaisiho OBE, Hon Assistant Bishop of Chester (and Bishop of the Solomon Islands).  Our soloists were:

Jackie Harmer (soprano); Julia Popple (alto); John Elliott (tenor);

James McVicar (bass)

David Johnson – Director

Andrew Cummings - Organist

Afterwards we received the following communication from Bishop William:

"I am sure everyone who came last Good Friday evening would agree with me in saying what a very moving and very fitting devotion through music your choir presented ...
Thank you for all the hard work in organising such a memorable event.  I would like very much to have a copy of the recording, I'll leave it with you to see if that is possible.  Thanks again Ken could through you thank the rest of the Choral Society for me please."

Tsunami Relief Concert in St Mary's Church, Astbury
Saturday 22nd January, 2005

St Mary's Church, Astbury

Over many centuries, St Mary’s Astbury has hosted great music in its lofty interior, but last Saturday was different, for here were upwards of five hundred people united in a common purpose: to express communal compassion for the victims of the S. Asia tsunami, and to raise funds for the relief effort. Mindful that some towns in Indonesia had lost as many people as the whole population of Congleton, it was an occasion of togetherness in a common cause. There was music for all tastes, from expert musicians. The glorious singing, now hushed, now forthright, from James McVicar (baritone) and Congleton Choral Society, the splendid sounds of the Rode Hall Silver Band resonating in the fine acoustics, and the amazing organ fireworks of the Birmingham concert organist Keith Hearnshaw, counterpointed by the delicate tones of flute and piano from Andrew and Stephanie Donaldson, gave everyone present something to remember.

The singers gave us three beautiful choral movements from Fauré’s Requiem, plus the Coventry carol and “The Three Kings”, the latter two from the ethereal acoustic of the Lady Chapel, demonstrating the beauty of hushed pianissimos, as well as the roaring fortes. Keith Hearnshaw played magnificently, but additionally provided a visible demonstration of the ranges of the Astbury organ, and his own skills, by projecting a real time video of his performance on a big screen, so you could see how his hands flew over the three manuals and somehow managed to flip all the stops in and out at the same time, whilst showing also just what an organist's dancing feet get up to. Using the Bach D Minor Toccata and Fugue as a vehicle, he ranged from the most delicate reed sounds to the mightiest thunder, which is indeed what Bach wrote the piece for. He started the second half with a rousing performance of the Widor showpiece, the Toccata, now a wedding favourite, but rather difficult for ordinary mortals to pull off convincingly.

The Rode Hall band gave a wide variety of rhythms and of sounds, and what a splendid bandstand the chancel of Astbury Church makes. Graham Tilley played the exposed solo part in the Posthorn Gallop, on the long thin valveless instrument, guaranteed to give the player strong lungs, sore lips, and a rosy complexion.

In contrast, Andrew Donaldson (piano) and his daughter Stephanie (flute) gave lovely renditions of Cole Porter, Noel Coward, and of Cabaret and “La Vie en Rose”, intimate, rhythmical, beautiful performances which soothed the ear and the heart.

The audience joined in too, of course, led by the choir in “The Lord’s my Shepherd” and Cwm Rhondda, at the start and end, the whole bracketed neatly by addresses and prayers from the Rector, the Revd. Dr Jeff Cuttell, and the Revd. Professor Tony Sargeant, who both caught the mood of the occasion very well. The main altar was lit by 250 small candles each representing a thousand lost lives, while in the middle a single tall candle expressed our hopes for the future of those affected by the tsunami.

The whole event was set up from start to finish in just two and a half weeks, and the Choral Society organisers report the extraordinary readiness of so many enterprises and people to give their services free. Thus, Bostock’s and Baker’s provided a free park-and-ride service from the centre of town, much appreciated by those who are familiar with parking problems at Astbury; Performance Ticket Printers printed 700 tickets free of charge; The Rector gave the church, with its heating and electricity on a cold winter night, freely; the Congleton Lions stewarded the car parking; the Congleton Chronicle and Congleton Guardian gave free advertising space; the TIC forwent their commission on ticket sales; and Bellboy Printers, AstraZeneca and Syngenta printed programmes and leaflets. The professional musicians gave their services free, and the whole event was set up with an irresistible impetus to do some good, to come together to express our sympathy, to join together in song and thought, in grieving together, to cope with those shocking unforgettable images from the TV screens, in finding hope through compassion, and, especially, to give freely material help to those who need it most, not just individually, as so many had already done, but collectively, in a great place, on a great occasion.

Thank you, the people of Congleton.

Footnote: Our Tsunami Relief Concert raised the maginficent sum of £3,675.51 Once again, thank you to all who contributed in any way.

Previous concerts, including Misa Criolla by Ramirez, a choral workshop with Nigel Perrin, A Night at the Opera,13 year old Young Musician of the Year, Jennifer Pike, joins the Choral Society for their May concert, 2003, Baroness takes to the stage, Bach's St John Passion, Handel's Messiah with the Parliament Choir at the Central Hall, Westminster.


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