A large and keen crowd gathered to hear Durham Dynamics in their first concert of this academic year, a ‘Christmas Showcase’. The audience was treated to a selection of songs, including some Christmas classics, and from the very first note, Dynamics put on a fantastic show.
The first song, an arrangement of Bruno Mars’ ‘Treasure’ by the group’s Musical Director Kate Arnold, had delightful energy from all members as they set the scene for the joyous and fun evening that was to follow. I would have liked to hear more from the men, as the accompaniment overpowered the tune at times, but the sudden key change was expertly executed, and this was a wonderful start to the concert.
Next came an arrangement of Clean Bandit’s ‘Rockabye’. The technically challenging opening by the sopranos and altos was very impressive in its togetherness and tuning, and praise must be given to the two soloists Mattie Taylor and Sophie Korine, who seamlessly passed the tune between each other and both sang with a gorgeous tone. The first festive number of the evening followed – Wham!’s classic ‘Last Christmas’. Despite an uncertain opening from the sopranos, the energy was back as soon as Edward Botwright’s consistently solid vocal percussion kicked in. The altos really shone in this song, as their confidence and ease of movement were a joy to watch.
‘Arnold’s beautiful harmonies were performed stunningly well’
The next song (another of Kate Arnold’s arrangements) ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’, showcased the choir’s skill in a slower, more exposed style. The tuning in the opening was wonderful, and Arnold’s beautiful harmonies were performed stunningly well. The arrangement also featured a fantastic climactic moment, which I felt the choir could have enjoyed more by starting quieter to give themselves space to build, and more dynamic contrast is something I would have liked to see throughout the concert. The altos could afford to take a step back in their moments of harmony to allow the sopranos and lower parts to shine through, as they seemed to sing at the same volume when they had the tune as when they did not. Having said this, the blend of voices was wonderful, and this song was a really strong performance.
We then returned to the festive theme with ‘Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas’, which further showed off the choir’s talent in harmonies and blend as well as the energetic numbers. The rhythms in this song were really tight, although sopranos could have more confidence in their top notes. The moment where tenor soloist Miles Zhou stepped out of the choir to sing alone was one of my favourites of the whole evening: his beautifully smooth voice was so soothing to listen to. While the key change seemed a bit unsure, this was a gorgeous end to the first half.
‘I couldn’t help but want to get up and dance with them’
After the interval, Dynamics started again with a bang – Arnold’s ‘ABBA Medley’. This was a highlight of the evening, as we were treated to seamless transitions between well-loved ABBA songs and some simple but very effective choreography, which I would have loved to see more of throughout the concert. The comedic moment from tenor Toby Wesselingh during ‘Angel Eyes’ was fabulous, and particularly enjoyed by the audience! Praise must again go to Edward Botwright’s vocal percussion in this medley for performing all the tempo changes seemingly effortlessly.
The party continued with another Arnold arrangement of Paul Simon’s ‘You Can Call Me Al’. I absolutely loved the formation of the choir in four lines, with the solo passing around the tenors. It’s unfortunate that there seemed to be a problem with the microphone, so we couldn’t really hear these solos until about halfway through the song, but the choir weren’t phased and continued to deliver a spectacular performance. Arnold showed off more of her arranging skill here, with several other familiar tunes appearing throughout the song. The choreography in this number was fantastic, although the usually solid tuning did suffer slightly perhaps as a result, but I couldn’t help but want to get up and dance with them throughout the whole thing.
In contrast was the slow and reflective next song, ‘Lonesome Road’. This really showed off the choir’s even, pure voices, and the blend and sensitivity were calming and beautiful. After this peaceful moment, we were again treated to a party, with Arnold’s arrangement of ‘Wavin’ Flag’. This was a clear favourite for the choir and the audience, as we sat back and enjoyed a group who showed us their love of performing together and entertaining us. The waving of the ‘Durham Dynamics’ flag was a wonderful idea, and the song was in my head all the way home!
‘the stage was full of people who clearly love to sing together, and their joy was entirely infectious’
It would perhaps have been nice to switch around the last two songs so that the entire choir was involved in an energetic finale, since there was no vocal percussion in the last number, ‘That’s Christmas to Me’. However, seeing the singers encouraging and smiling at each other was so warming, and this song brought us to the end of a wonderful evening.
Overall, this was a triumph of a first concert of the year for Durham Dynamics. There are a couple of balance issues in the group to be addressed: due to lack of numbers, both basses and sopranos were often overpowered in volume, and the altos and tenors could perhaps have adjusted to compensate for this. However, the stage was full of people who clearly love to sing together, and their joy was entirely infectious. Many congratulations must go to the group’s President Mathilde Francois, and to the Musical Director Kate Arnold, who arranged a staggering seven out of ten of the songs performed. I thoroughly enjoyed this concert, and I can’t wait to hear more from the choir throughout the year.