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Standing Ovation for Chepstow Choral Society “Messiah”

A prolonged standing ovation from a large audience was the deserved reward for Chepstow Choral Society, soloists and orchestra at the conclusion of a superb performance of GF Handel’s most famous oratorio “Messiah”. Indeed, this is probably the most well-known work of its type in the whole choral repertoire, and to give a performance of it in total (not a note was omitted!) requires stamina, commitment, much hard work in preparation – and dedication. All these elements were present in this performance at St Mary’s Priory Church, Chepstow on Passiontide weekend.

This was undoubtedly one of the finest performances by the choir in its thirty-five year history. Every member sang to the very best of their ability – and the enjoyment in participating in this concert was visible and prominent. This work is a hard “sing” for any choral group, many of the choruses are demanding both vocally and physically. Chepstow Choral Society members did themselves proud. The months of hard work and effort enabled the choir to give of their best on the night with confidence and commitment – again, to choose individual choral highlights would be difficult, but special mention must be made of the singing of For Unto Us A Child is Born, Lift Up Your Heads, Hallelujah, and the finale of Worthy is the Lamb, Blessing and Honour, and Amen.

The four soloists were Alison Wray (soprano), Helen Bruce (alto), Gareth Treseder (tenor) and Stephen Hamnett (bass), and all had performed with the Society previously. There is minimal joint ensemble singing in this work – the solos are indeed just that, and many of them are classic favourites. To single out individual solo highlights is difficult, given the superb quality throughout the whole performance but the opening tenor aria (Comfort Ye/ Every Valley) more than set the scene for what followed; all audience members will have special favourites, but He was Despised (alto), I Know that My Redeemer Liveth (soprano) and The Trumpet Shall Sound (bass) demonstrated that this was a quartet of professional soloists who were all singing quite magnificently. The orchestra was utterly professional in every aspect – led by Paula Kempton (whose two sons were also members of the orchestra), it was vibrant, excellent in every way and brought huge vitality, with some brilliant individual contributions including some tremendous trumpet playing, continuo performances involving cellos, double bass, and keyboard players, as well as beautiful string and woodwind intonation.

Immense credit and praise must be given to the Society’s Musical Director, Graham Bull, whose command of orchestra, soloists and choir set the standard for this memorable concert. There was musicality, the conveying of contrasting emotions as the Christmas and Easter Christian story was told, and the joyful conclusion arrived with hope and fulfilment.

Everything about this concert worked well, from its music presentation and including the staging, front-of-house, and all the other aspects that are required to mount a large event such as this. Chepstow is fortunate that this occasion was possible in their town, and that it will inspire new membership to continue this choral tradition.

The choir now take a short Easter break, before reconvening to commence preparations for their Summer Festive Celebration in the Arts Hall, Chepstow Leisure Centre, on Wednesday June 25th, when the programme will comprise a mixture of popular classics, lighter items, and will include invited guests Michael Lowe (baritone) and the Kempton String Ensemble

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