For their final concert of the year Durham University Hill Orchestra and Voices joined together in a summer musical extravaganza raising money for the Rainbow Trust. The Rainbow Trust support children with terminal illness and their families, and 50% of proceeds from the concert went towards their cause; around £160 in total. Both Hill Orchestra and Voices are completely non-auditioned ensembles but this did not detract from the quality of the evening.
To open the concert the two groups performed together in a rendition of Sibelius’ Finlandia. This patriotic Finnish tone poem was recently performed by the Hill Orchestra as part of the Music Durham ‘Around the World in 80 Minutes’ concert. The opening here was slightly untidy but soon settled and the ensemble showed off their finesse with powerful and brooding dark colours. Some balance issues did not detract from this emotive performance. This was followed by Bach’s Calm and Tranquil Lie the Sheepfolds from Cantata BWV 208, here specifically arranged for choir with a flute duet, performed by Katie Parsloe and Naomi Solomons. Their performance grew in confidence and showcased individual members of the ensembles in contrast to the powerful tutti.
Voices alone gave a rendition of Guide Me O Thou Great Redeemer which is often used as Wales’ Rugby National Anthem and on royal occasions. Voices had a balanced choral sound and their lines smooth. Bravo! Next it was time for DUHO again with Holst’s A Somerset Rhapsody which is one of his lesser known pieces. It begins with a lone oboe over a pedal in second violins; the oboe here is fantastic with an ethereal and mythical quality. The work is built on three folk songs that interrupt each other and, despite some untidy handing over of tunes between the instruments; there is a great building and relaxing of tension. The ensemble should be proud. To close the first half the ensembles joined together for I Vow to Thee, My Country with words rewritten at the outbreak of the First World War to speak of love and sacrifice. This particular arrangement is by Geo Knorr with a confident orchestral build up, well supported voices, and a reflective close.
The second half opened with selections from Les Miserables, a medley of the best known songs from the musical, based on the classic novel by Victor Hugo. This fantastic opening to the second half displays flowing strings, and rousing melodies, but with some intonation and balance issues. This is followed by David Bowie’s Life on Mars? packed with societal comments, this performance is confident and settles well. Unfortunately some of this initial confidence is lost, but the close is still effective. Next was time to showcase groups from within the choir again – this time the Sopranos and Altos. How Far I’ll Go is a hit song from the 2016 movie Moana and, regardless of some tuning issues at the key change; this challenging song is executed well – with great ukulele accompaniment!
Following on from the upper voices, it was the turn of the Tenors and Basses with Sherry. Particular credit must go to soloist Tomos Meredith and flamenco guitarist Valery Gusev. Some impressive falsetto was on display and it was good to hear the strength in the male voices, with fantastic blend and tone. Another classic now in Somewhere Over the Rainbow but in a more unusual ukulele version, performed by the Voices Exec. The lower voices occasionally overpower those in the upper register but this is an enjoyable arrangement and confident performance.
More familiarity followed in Symphonic Suite from Lord of the Rings with a wide selection of melodies from the film, with rich harmony and orchestration. This evenings rendition was particularly convincing, and the Hill Orchestra have frequently demonstrated their ability to build tension, particularly in the bass instruments! In complete contrast the orchestra were followed by Voices performance of You Can’t Always Get What You Want. Singers displayed fantastic range, though they could have been more supported, but their enunciation was very clear. Next the audience were treated to Trouble and My Broken Heart, a mashup of two Taylor Swift classic that many people pretend not to know the words to! The choir clearly enjoy this piece and give an empathetic and enthusiastic performance so that any minor slips are easily forgotten.
The penultimate piece, Don’t Stop Me Now, was orchestrated by Voices director Daniel Murphy and displayed the full talents of the orchestra and choir. The ensemble was slightly tentative to begin with but soon settled and both groups clearly enjoy this song. Balance was excellent and this was a powerful rendition that did justice to the original. To close the evening Voices and Hill Orchestra engaged the audience in the British classic, Jerusalem. This was performed with confidence and presence, and enjoyed by the audience too. A fantastic end to a wonderful summer evening!