Elgar: The Dream of Gerontius Ripon Cathedral 21st March 2015
Joshua Ellicott Tenor
John Cunningham Bass-baritoneRipon Choral Society & Orchestra D'AmiciJohn Dunford Conductor
This concert began with a warm tribute by the Dean to the memory of Philip Miles, conductor of Ripon Choral Society 1980-1997. Philip Miles conducted the choir in Dream of Gerontius in 1991 and so this concert, attended by members of his family, was given as a thanksgiving for his outstanding contribution to the musical life of Ripon.
'Gerontius' is everyman. John Henry Newman relates the peaceful dying of a devout man who is then guided by an angel towards judgment, purgatory and the promise of glory.
For me Dream of Gerontius is the most accessible of Elgar's choral works, full of longing and stirring tunes. Elgar speaks so much of England - it is difficult to say how or why - and yet in one of our finest cathedrals Gerontius does express so much of all that is English.
In this performance special mention should be made of the viola and cello playing which features in the introduction to parts one and two. Rich warmth of tone and careful attention to the conductor shaped a yearning quality echoed by the whole orchestra throughout the evening.
Joshua Ellicott was an outstanding Gerontius. His ability to paint the meaning of the words took us to the heart of both music and poetry. So much of Gerontius' part is as a soliloquy - as though singing as he thought and felt - an almost impossible feat brilliantly achieved by the soloist, sensitively accompanied by Orchestra D'Amici.
Martha McLorinan sang the part of the Angel with commitment and feeling. More comfortable in the lower register than the notes at the top of the mezzo-soprano range she was nevertheless a sympathetic guide to Ellicott's Gerontius. John Cunningham sang the priest and Angel of Agony persuasively but with a degree of vibrato that was not always comfortable on the ear.
The stars of the evening (apart from Elgar!) were Ripon Choral Society. Their partnership with conductor John Dunford is a marriage made in heaven. John Dunford brings the very best out of this choir, which has been under his baton since 1997. The choir responds to his every gesture. You can tell not only by the glorious sound they make by members' hawk-like watchfulness of their conductor's every move. Ripon Choral Society now has an extraordinary range of expression and colour demonstrated both in the quieter passages, for example as the Souls of Purgatory, and in the exultant hymn, Praise to the Holiest in the Height. It is always a pleasure to review their concerts. It must now surely be said that Ripon Choral Society is one of the best large choirs in the country.
Thank you for a glorious evening in memory of a previous great conductor. As Ripon choral society aspires to ever new heights the words of the Dean at the beginning of the evening ring true, this certainly was a Red Letter Day for Ripon and its cathedral.
Britten: War Requiem
With this performance of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem, Ripon Choral Society came of age, now safe in the knowledge that they are among the elite of Yorkshire’s most famous choirs. Immaculate intonation, unlimited power, security, even in the most testing passages, must have left them delighted with their remarkable achievement... Yet the evening really belonged to the conductor, John Dunford, who has so honed the choir to this high standard, his unfussy direction shepherding them through the complexities.
David Denton, Yorkshire Post, April 2011
Ripon Choral Society is now the largest choir in Yorkshire. Might it be worth speculating that it is also the finest?
Paul Shepherd. Northern Echo. December 2010
Elgar: The Kingdom
From the opening richness of the orchestral sounds, it was clear that the audience at Ripon Cathedral could anticipate a memorable experience last Saturday.... Their evident hard work over recent months was rewarded with a rich tapestry of sound, guided with enthusiasm by their conductor, John Dunford. ... The Choral Society sings with conviction, generally secure intonation and a good sense of the dramatic moment.
Clive Harries. Darlington and Stockton Times. March 2010
Purcell: Come, Ye Sons of Art; Vivaldi: Gloria; Handel: Dixit Dominus
The Gloria by Vivaldi ... is predominantly joyous and the Choral Society entered into this spirit from the opening chorus which was sung with plenty of tonal colour and rythmic impetus... The final chorus of [of Handel's Dixit Dominus] brought this happy and joyous concert to an end with plenty of drive and energy... For those of you that missed the concert - you missed a treat.
Marilyne Davies. Ripon Gazette. June 2010
Ripon Choral Society, under their inspiring conductor, John Dunford, showed attention to detail, impassioned delivery and the confident musicality that puts them in the top league of amateur choral singing in Britain.
Tim Robinson. Darlington and Stockton Times.
The choir sang with utter conviction, achieving an extraordinary quiet, ethereal sound in the opening movement. Phrases were beautifully shaped, with a clarity of intonation that is rare in amateur choral singing.
Darlington and Stockton Times.
Ripon Choral Society gave a rousing and vibrant performance...singing with considerable conviction and commitment. Greg Smith provided the accompaniment with panache and enormous dexterity.
Dunford has that type of character that persuades people to do things they never dreamed possible, and to perform as if their lives depend upon it.