Thames Philharmonic Choir Entertains In Wimbledon Park

Jackie Morgan reviews the summer supper concert

Baritone Michael Bundy, the popular 'Star Singer' on BBC Radio 2's Friday Night is Music Night helped entertain a Wimbledon audience on a warm Saturday evening.

Michael, always popular with local audiences, joined Thames Philharmonic Choir for the choir's annual summer supper concert in St Paul’s Church, Wimbledon Park.

The entirely secular programme of music consisted of British choral songs, arrangements of American songs from the shows and other standards. It was conducted by John Bate and accompanied at the piano by the ever-popular Roger Beeson, the choir's regular accompanist.   

The July 10 concert began with one of Parry’s best-known works, his uplifting setting of John Milton’s ode in praise of words and music, Blest Pair of Sirens. Michael Bundy then joined the Choir in Stanford’s Songs of the Fleet, five settings of Henry Newbolt’s poetry.

First performed 100 years ago in the Leeds Festival of 1910, John Bate, Thames Philharmonic's Artistic Director, describes the songs as "fine examples of a composer best known for his magnificent series of contributions to the repertoire of English church music. The central movement, a picture of the fleet sailing at night, is a thing of particular beauty." He added "Stanford and Parry were important figures in their time, laying the foundations for the significant renaissance in English music which took place in the twentieth century."

Choir and soloist then made a stylistic shift, across the Atlantic and into the rich treasury of American theatre music. Songs from the shows included wonderful choral arrangements of classics of the genre, Summer time from Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess, Tea for two (No no Nanette – Youmans and Caesar), and Somewhere over the rainbow (The Wizard of Oz - Arlen and Harburg), possibly the most-performed number on TV in recent times! 

Also included was the ballad Blue moon (Rogers and Hart), originally intended to be featured in a film, and She was beautiful, an arrangement of Cavatina, Stanley Myers’s famous guitar piece that served as the signature theme for the film The Deer Hunter, with words by Cleo Laine and thematic material from Rachmaninov’s 2nd Symphony. 

The set was completed by fine performances by Michael Bundy, full of character, of I got plenty o’ nuttin’, also from Porgy and Bess, Without a song, also by Youmans, from the musical Great Day and Someone is sending me flowers, by David Baker, from The Shoestring Revue.

The musical programme was (almost) completed by a performance of Bob Chilcott’s Singing by numbers (1995), a sequence of seven short songs with a variety of vocal scorings; four settings of texts collected by the early seventeenth-century musician Thomas Ravenscroft were interspersed with texts from The Song of Solomon, Siegfried Sassoon, and a strikingly apt setting of a hilarious ditty by Spike Milligan. Bob Chilcott, formerly famous as a member of The King’s Singers, for whom he made many of the musical arrangements which gained them popularity, is now a successful and increasingly performed composer in his own right. Says John Bate: "His style proved, not surprisingly, to be approachable and fun for both audience and performers."

To conclude the musical proceedings, the audience joined in lustily with a roof-raising rendition of Parry’s immortal Jerusalem (William Blake), and the evening was completed in convivial fashion with wine and strawberries in the adjoining church hall. "The Choir certainly worked for their supper", says John Bate "and are to be congratulated on a very successful evening’s entertainment which was marked by a most happy atmosphere throughout." 

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July 21, 2010