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1 July 2017
Rutter: Requiem and Harry: Mass of the Martyrs

at Wesley Church, Reading with collection for Reading Refugee Support Group
‘When I needed a neighbour, were you there, were you there...’
On Saturday night, 1 July, at Wesley Methodist Church in Reading, the Reading Festival Chorus under the direction of Edward-Rhys Harry, with members of the British Sinfonietta Orchestra and organist Simon Dinsdale delivered mellifluous performances of John Rutter’s Requiem and Harry’s own work ‘Mass of The Martyrs’. This was only its second performance and local debut. There was an appeal and retiring collection in aid of Reading Refugee Support Group at the end of the evening. I’ve listened to the Reading Festival Chorus twice, but from my limited experience there is one thing I can claim with confidence. They offer a superb experience where amateur choir and professional performers blend as one. I dare you to spot the difference such was the quality of the concert - and all this for £15. The soloists, Helen Bruce (soprano), Rachel Falaise (mezzo-soprano), Peter Wilman (tenor) and Welshman Meilir Jones (bass) were joined by Louise Blight (one of the choir’s sopranos) for one section of the Mass. The Requiem and the Mass share some common elements. Both combine Latin text and biblical references, performed by combined choir, orchestra and soloists – and Harry says that his music was composed as a response to Rutter’s - but there the similarities end. Both works are of the same genre, but while Rutter’s Requiem is traditional in format, Harry’s Mass fuses cinema newsreel, opera, oratorio and theatre-in-the–round. It is dramatic and the message to the thinking listener poignant. I worried that Harry’s Mass would be a modern work written for expert cognoscenti but it is readily accessible and the core message of living out our lives with compassion for the needy was amplified through the combination of art forms. This is not Schoenberg or John Cage - thank goodness. It is a sacred choral work interwoven with soloists telling a story punctuated by images of terrorist atrocities and defenceless refugees caught up in the global turbulence. Soprano Helen Bruce moved through her vocal gears as the evening moved from Rutter to Harry. A professional singer and teacher in the audience whispered that she thought the voice of mezzo-soprano Rachel Falaise had a rare quality. Peter Wilman, as the ‘Angelic Voice’ lived up to his billing, and Meilir Jones’ bass had authority.
With hindsight, the two sacred works blend together with the Requiem becoming the scene setter for the following more conceptual multimedia presentation of Harry’s Mass – a unique work designed to stir its audience. We see a pious couple attending to their religious duties in church whereupon they discover a refugee hiding in the shadows and react fearfully and then angrily to the individual. Meanwhile the choir sings traditional Kyrie Eleison and the Gloria. Above the choir, orchestra and soloists the audience sees terrorist atrocities projected onto a large screen. There is a juxtaposition between the pathos of the music and the portrayal of indiscriminate violence. One of the most poignant images was an aerial photograph taken directly above a large flat boat containing hundreds of refugees packed like sardines and clinging precariously to life. Facts about global migrations are often too overwhelming to trigger our imagination, but individual strife can touch our conscience immediately – especially when coupled with a musical score that reaches out to the emotions. The message rises on waves of music like incense from the gathered ensemble and we are reminded in Wesley Methodist Church that Jesus deals with us one-to-one and that is how we need to live. Some members of the audience were moved to silent tears. The concert connects a moment of ordinary time to eternal time as a clergyman embraces the refugee and reads 1 Corinthians 13 which begins “If I speak in the tongue of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal” and concludes with the reminder that of faith, hope and love, the greatest is love. (NIV). Music and the human cry provided by soprano Helen Bruce take us out of ourselves and leave an indelible imprint that says we must deal with this man or this woman or this child in this moment and this place. This is where you are needed now. Not yesterday or tomorrow. The Requiem softens us up for the Mass but the performances do not end with the bows and applause as the performers leave the stage. No, this is merely an interlude, a pause before the denouement of the story. We’ve listened to the music and been moved by the experience which clings on to us whispering “now it is your turn, what will you do?” Works such as Rutter’s Requiem and Harry’s Mass always have two legacies; the legacy of the work itself and the legacy of what it achieves.
John Moore

8 April 2017
Handel: Judas Maccabaeus

St Luke's Church, Reading
From a member of the audience: "Please pass my appreciation onto conductor and others. I heard the RFC for the first time at St Luke’s last Saturday. During the intermission I spoke to a number of visitors including a knowledgeable Frenchman. Everyone thought the performance was excellent. My wife thought it was the best value she has had in a long time for £15 tickets. My only disappointment was that you are only giving one performance. Surely it is worth two or three after all that effort and rehearsal? I suppose the cost of hiring musicians and soloists just makes it prohibitive."

And from the conductor: ... "the sound of the soprano and alto blend soaring over the dome and outward into the Church itself was absolutely marvellous to hear. Tenors and basses – your blend and unified sound was an absolute delight to hear too – and were commented on by the soloists! I hope you enjoyed the soloists for this concert – I certainly did -a joy to work with and listen to. I hope we see them all again in the future. The Mavron Quartet, with Sam Baxter additionally on oboe, did a fantastic job of making five instruments sound like a full orchestra. The soloists were delighted with this – because it meant they could clearly hear you the choir! I wonder sometimes what life was like before Simon Dinsdale. He has the patience of a saint and the talent of someone who should be performing organ recitals all over the world. We are very fortunate to have such a warm working relationship with him. What a wonderful musician. Thank you for producing wonderfully audible text and such confident singing and interpretation of the choral sections. I shall always remember the version of ‘Ah Wretched Israel’ we created with Kirsty Hopkins. Incredibly moving and poignant. Really beautiful. That’s not to take away from all of the other movements – full of colour, character and confidence. Reading Festival Chorus I am very proud of what we have achieved this term. What an honour it is to serve you as conductor."...

12 December 2016
Come and Sing Carols

at Wesley Church
Collection for Singing for the Brain
A very enjoyable evening which raised a wonderful contribution to the work of this local charity

Saturday 3rd December 2016
Mozart at Douai
Mozart Solemn Vespers de Confessore (K339), Mozart Litaniae Lauretanae (K195), Victoria anthem Ne Timeas Maria and a specially composed blessing by Edward-Rhys Harry

The alto solist Carris Jones featured in the Daily Telegraph on 28 February 2017 as the first-ever female to join St Paul's Cathedral as a Vicar Choral.

Saturday 9th July 2016
Haydn: The Seasons

Saturday 19th March 2016
Crucifixus: Easter Music including Stainer - Crucifixion, Lotti - Crucifixus, Mozart - Ave Verum Corpus, Victoria - Tenebrae Responsories, and Finzi- Lo the Full Final Sacrifice

Thursday 31st December 2015
Handel: Messiah
Joint concert with the Johanneskantorei Düsseldorf in Düsseldorf, Germany

Düsseldorf singing success for Reading Festival Chorus (GetReading)

Saturday 17th October 2015
Handel: Messiah
Joint concert with the Johanneskantorei Düsseldorf

"That was a most wonderful performance of the Messiah. Everyone (conductor, soloists, orchestra, and especially the choir) was magnificent."

Saturday 7th December 2013
A WINTER WARMER - MUSIC TO KINDLE THE HEART
Vivaldi: Gloria, Haydn: Little Organ Mass, Purcell: O Come Ye Sons Of Art

The concert was really splendid; the Chorus sang extremely well; the soloists were well matched,both when singing solo or when duetting with each other or the chorus; the organist was first class and our Welsh Dragon led from the front with his usual style and vigour. Finally, I thought the ladies looked splendid, with their sparkling buttonholes. Well done to you all!

Saturday 23rd March 2013
Karl Jenkins: Stabat Mater
After a full day of intensive rehearsals, held as a Come and Singe event, the Reading Festival Chorus teamed up with members of the Reading Symphony Orchestra to perform Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater. It is the name given to a 13th-century prayer (“Stabat Mater dolorosa” - The sorrowful mother was standing) written as a reflection on the suffering of Mary, mother of Jesus, at the crucifixion.
For this performance, there was a mixture of full choral works and solo moments, with young soloist Harriet Kirk having a very warm tone to her verse. She also sang in Aramaic and Arabic.
The alternating choir and solo pieces helped the flow and gave the choir a break – especially considering it had only been rehearsed in a day.
The hour-long suite is a timeless classic and it will be sung hundreds of years into the future; it covers all the emotions and makes an ancient text relevant.
The Festival Chorus is conducted by Edward-Rhys Harry, who has performed all over the world. Tonight, his singers were following him keenly.
Alongside the orchestra, an unnamed organist provided the crucial swell for this 'come and sing' performance.
The warm sounds and beautiful setting of the Concert Hall helped brighten up a very cold Spring evening.
Xn magazine, April 2013. Author : Laura Blackburn Finlay

Saturday 21st April 2012
Rossini: Petite Messe Solenelle
Reading Festival Chorus treated their audience to a lovely performance of Rossini’s Petite Messe Solenelle at Greyfriars Church in Reading. Members of the audience expecting a solemn mass were surprised and delighted to hear a joyful piece, full of memorable melodies, showing much more in common with Rossini’s operatic works than sacred music.

This setting of the mass, accompanied only by two pianos and an organ, allowed the audience to hear the choir at its best. Under the new baton of Edward-Rhys Harry, the singers produced a polished performance, with clear tones and beautifully controlled dynamics. The choir navigated the tricky fugue passages with confidence and sang with evident enjoyment throughout.
The four soloists, Rhiannon Llewellyn (soprano), Helen Bruce (mezzo-soprano), David Webb (tenor) and Ed Ballard (bass), each entertained the audience in the extensive solo passages and united to make a beautifully-blended sound in the Gloria. Jane Seymour and Annabel Thwaite provided a spirited piano accompaniment, further enhanced by Simon Dinsdale on the organ.
Greyfriars Church provided a comfortable and intimate venue for this very enjoyable performance.
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