Full Score, Music Durham’s newest ensemble and the winners of the ‘Best Music Society’ category in the Palatinate Music and Theatre Awards, performed their first full concert in Durham Castle Great Hall on Sunday. Despite a late start and a little uncertainty in where to stand, their matching outfits offered a professional look.
The barbershop chorus began with ‘Somethin’s Coming’ from West Side Story. Although the intonation in the sopranos was slightly under at the onset, this was quickly adhered to and remained secure for the rest of the evening. The balance of the parts in the close harmony was good, dynamics very flexible and tight and choreography sound and original, although I would have liked to see more animated facial expressions. In ‘Java Jive’, they successfully expressed the comedic nature of the classic and pronounced the text clearly, though sometimes there was a slight lack of confidence in the choreography (which tended to be a recurring feature among some). As throughout the evening, the singing was very together and the phrasing thoughtful.
The quality of the whole ensemble was not diminished in the following quartets. First, a female quartet sang ‘You are my Sunshine’. They were clearly listening to each others’ breathing and thus created a cohesive performance, although there could have been more individual gestures and expression. The male quartet then sang ‘Moon Dance’. The word-painting and associated expressions (‘tremble’) were fabulous and frequently got a laugh out of the audience. The lead solo by Ralph Skan was great, with a warm yet light-hearted tone, and the group accompanied him sensitively. I felt more of the bass was needed with a more authentic double bass sound (‘dthm’), although facial expressions were faultless.
The first half concluded with the gospel-style ‘Wade in the Water’. The energy in the syncopation was good with well-executed matching choreography, but again I needed more individual swaying and movement with the music as per the style. The soloist, Alex Mackinder, had a warm, rich and impressive sound, especially with the conscious lack of vibrato. Although his southern American accent was convincing, occasionally I felt it became a little nasal at times (the first syllable of ‘water’).
In the second half, the King’s Singers arrangement of ‘Danny Boy’ was performed with feeling, though I needed to hear more of the melody sometimes. The ‘resident Irish’ baritone soloist, Ronan Burt, had a lovely, highly appropriate tone, compensating for his slight nervousness. I think with a little more engagement in the face and an assured, deep breath it would be faultless.
Next was Billy Joel’s ‘Lullaby’ by the male quartet. Although the singing was certainly passionate, the arcs and direction in the phrasing I felt didn’t match other numbers. In ‘A Red, Red Rose’ the dissonances were beautifully handled and cluster chords wonderfully balanced. Lines that were important came out of the texture and the intonation was spot on (particularly the bright fifths), although generally there could have been more resonance in the bass (especially at the end).
Although I was not completely convinced a conductor was always necessary, despite their basis on Barbershop Choruses like that of Westminster, the humorous hosting and audience interaction by the Musical Director Alex Mackinder and President Becky Brookes brought the show to life.
The directors and all the singers should be immensely proud of themselves in forming such a professional ensemble in so short a time. Look out for their increasing social media presence to follow their activities!