One of Cumbria's most renowned choral groups introduced a world premiere to a concert in Bowness as part of the Lake District Summer Music Festival 2022, writes Phillip Cooke.

After two years of pandemic-related uncertainty and caution, it was wonderful to see a full church on a busy holiday day in beautiful Bowness-on-Windermere for this early evening concert by Cumbria’s leading choir, The Wordsworth Singers. 

For although this concert was a celebration of Ralph Vaughan-Williams (in his 150th year) and festival composer-in-residence Cecilia McDowall, it was also a celebration of music-making and the power of communal singing and playing to an extremely high standing (no doubt Vaughan-Williams would have approved), something that has been denied to many in recent years.

The concert began with Vaughan Williams' perennially popular late Three Shakespeare Songs, most well known for the opening setting of 'Full fathom five' from The Tempest, replete with chiming 'ding-dong bells' and mysterious harmonies.

Conductor Mark Hindley kept the Prospero-induced enchantment in check and brought a measured conclusion to the Puckish pastoralism of 
'Over hill, over dale', the final song in the set. 

This was followed by a world première from Cecilia McDowall, whose compositions are peppered throughout the festival from intimate songs to her wonderful work for tenor and chamber orchestra 70 Degrees Below Zero in the festival finale. 

Her work The Three Birds, a setting of a text by little-known poet Percy Stephen Beales, was quirky, playful, and memorable, featuring some powerful singing from the choir’s basses as they represented an inscrutable God in this cheerful parable. 

The entrance of cellist Francesca Cull (from the Odora Trio) to accompany the choir for the next two pieces changed the colour and atmosphere of the concert, firstly for the iridescent static ritualism of John Tavener’s Syvati and then McDowall’s celebration of nocturnal aviation Night Flight in which The Wordsworth Singers gave a compelling realisation of this dramatic piece. 

The concert finished with Vaughan Williams again, in his beautiful and rhapsodic paean to music itself, Serenade to Music which has become one of his most beloved works. 

The full Odoro Trio (with addition violist Eleanor Walton) joined the choir for a beguiling and bucolic rendition finishing a memorable concert in some style.

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