All reviews published in the Guernsey Evening Press:  

Christmas Concerts 2017 by Mike Sproule

Over the two evenings of 15 and 16 December at St James Concert Hall, the Guernsey Choral and Orchestral Society and GCOS Children's Choir presented their annual festive concert with fine traditional carols, generously sponsored by DHL Express.

The emotional heart of this seasonal feast of music lay at the beginning of the second half. Here the Children's Choir, accompanied by orchestral playing of fine style and great delicacy, performed three short songs, all beautifully crafted and delivered. They were Neaum's simple and evocative 'Winds Through The Olive Trees', Chilcott's 'The Time of Snow' capturing a mood of oriental exoticism and mystery, and Walters's 'Babe of Bethlehem' which has all the joyfulness and cheeky panache of a number from a top Christmas musical.

It was a gem of a short set. The opening of 'Babe of Bethlehem' was spell-bindingly good, with crisp, clear diction and rhythmic singing of the highest order - they should go for Choir of the Year with this!

High marks too for the Senior Choir and Orchestra - irresistible flutes! - in a very expressive and dramatically assured performance of 'O Holy Night' by Adam arranged Rutter. Later, the latter's 'Jesus Child' swung nicely too, allowing the percussion section to join fully in the Strictly Come Choral spirit!

As for Santa, if on arrival he sounded a little frazzled and out of breath and got muddled between his reindeer and his donkeys - well! he was soon forgiven when we all launched ourselves into a rumbustious rendering of 'Jingle Bells'. It is always lovely to see children from the audience go up on stage and join in the fun - there is no little musical talent there for the future!

The evenings opened with Haydn's playful little Te Deum in C Major and Jenkins's ever-popular 'Gloria', full of Welsh wind and pan galactic gargle blasts.


May 2017 Concert: Review by Mike Sproule

At St. James Concert Hall last Saturday evening the Guernsey Choral and Orchestral Society presented a concert of two contrasting halves. It was generously supported by Canaccord Genuity Wealth Management.

In the first, soloists Robin Jeffcoat and Michael Mofidian, choir and orchestra, under the doughty direction of Alan Gough, brought a strong, devotional intensity to John Stainer's "The Crucifixion" in the recent arrangement by former cathedral music director, Barry Rose.

The addition of wind, brass, percussion and strings by Mr Rose brought colours to the music which raised it to an almost Sullivanesque level of intensity. If hymns needed more pruning or arrangement for concert purposes, that was a small price to pay to hear the work in this enhanced form.

After the interval, secular music was represented by the Overture from "The Wasps" by Vaughan Williams, a nice blend of French and English styles of composition. It gave the enlarged orchestra a chance to spread its wings and play with balance and flair.

The concert concluded with "Sea Pictures" by Elgar in the recently completed choral arrangement by Donald Fraser. Mr Fraser's skill has been to weave the new vocal parts into the existing version for contralto solo (for so long associated with the great artistry of Dame Clara Butt and Dame Janet Baker) and turn the piece into one where the choir really shone in moments reminiscent, in one movement, of Brahms's choral songs and, in another, of the 'Low born clods' chorus from Elgar's own "Dream of Gerontius".

This was an interesting and elegant programme much appreciated by an attentive audience."



MAJESTIC MESSIAH: May Concert 2016

Review by Mike Sproule

By 10.30 pm on Saturday the Guernsey Choral & Orchestral Society must have been both exhilarated and exhausted at the close of Handel's "Messiah", a massive and inspiring enterprise performed to a most appreciative audience at St James'. Both choir and orchestra were at the top of their form under the direction of Alan Gough who steered the ensemble through it with great skill. The choice of tempi caught at one expressive end, the childlike innocence of "Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion" (No.18), and, at the other, the sarcastically howling mob in "He trusted in God" (No.28). Alan Gough clearly put his all into this high-energy performance, and soloists, choir and orchestra responded with great elan.

I was grateful too, for the completeness of the work which is often made unbalanced by over-cutting, especially in the second and third parts.

It is almost churlish to single out special moments and numbers, nevertheless, from the very outset tenor Hiroshi Amako set the tone and focus. His "Comfort ye my people" (No.2) was sung with a measured, beautiful and heartfelt devotion, as was everything he did thereafter. He is a very talented performer and a joy to watch.

Special mention should be made too for "He shall feed his flock" (No.20), which had a particular tenderness and sense of wonder from the two young soloists, Hannah Poulsom (contralto) and Eleanor Broomfield (soprano). They sang as if they had been present at and deeply moved by the Sermon on the Mount, such was the simple purity of their performance of Handel's gorgeous music.

At the inspired heart of this work are the mighty Passion numbers in which the chorus is centre stage. They certainly did not fail us in expressive range, tone and commitment. "Surely he has borne our griefs" (No.24) was awesome and beautifully set up the magnificent fugue (so beloved by Mozart), "And with his stripes" (No.25).

A plea to GCOS: please perform "Messiah" in all its majesty at least once every five years so that all Guernsey musicians and music lovers, young and not so young, have the chance to perform or hear it in St James where the scale and acoustics of the hall are so perfectly suited to it.




Review of Christmas concert 2016 by Mike Sproule

Last Friday and Saturday at a luxuriant and gloriously decked-out St James Concert Hall, the Guernsey Choral & Orchestral Society and Children's Choir under the keen direction of Alan Gough presented their annual festive concert of traditional carols and music, generously sponsored by Guernsey Freight Services Ltd and DHL Express.

The evening opened with the orchestrally accompanied version of the 'Magnificat in A major' by Stanford. The sweetness of the finely blended wind and strings was all the sweeter to this listener's ear than the somewhat abrasive and pugnacious sound of the organ heard at most cathedral Evensongs. It made for a most effective overture.

Next, we were moved seamlessly into the sound world of Mendelssohn and his 'Hear My Prayer/O for the wings, for the wings of a dove'. In mood, content and dramatic style, it prefigures in so many ways the mighty oratorio "Elijah". It featured Guernsey's own soprano soloist, Susanna MacRae, who in her devotion and sweetness of voice caught perfectly the style of this much-celebrated music. On hearing this, one could not help feeling that Mendelssohn could have been composing with Miss MacRae and GCOS in mind.

I am not entirely convinced that Haydn's storm-tossed anthem 'Insanae et vanae curae', bewailing the 'vain and raging cares' of humanity, is quite the thing for the last, few, stressful shopping days before Christmas, but I think that the ensemble just about pulled it off!

The first half closed with the dreamy, nostalgic and astonishingly unique setting of 'Benedicite' (Bless ye the Lord) by Vaughan Williams. Again, Miss MacRae stepped forward to deliver the contrasting solos of personal devotion with a most pleasing attentiion to the intimacy of the dymanic range and a tender and expressive sense which never faltered. The choir and orchestra were magical in their support.

After the interval, special praise to the children and small orchestra who gave an enchanting performance of Rutter's 'Carol of the Children'.

This was followed by the beautifully composed narrative, as seen through the eyes of the children, of 'The Carol Singers' - an almost operatic scene - in which the children were joined by the main choir in role as the singers. Excellent!

The orchestra, now given full rein, clearly had a ball in Anderson's "A Christmas Festival" - a sort of concert overture of interweaving carols - and whose finale and coda allowed the brass and persussion to be unleashed in rare style.

To round things off, we were presented with a gem of a piece in 'Christmas Day' by Holst. It is a piece which is at the same time thoughtful, elegant and moving. Particularly effective were the long held unisons by the orchestra which divided the épisodes, as if the composer were pausing for breath between his Yuletide ideas. Lovely - and bravo to Mr Gough for steering the whole piece through with a heartwarming touch. 


 Review of Christmas 2015 Concert by Mike Sproule


What a hamper of Christmas goodies was served up by GCOS and Children's Choir at St James under the fine direction of Alan Gough on the Friday and Saturday before Christmas!

(On Saturday we missed Michael Sullivan's conducting contribution, thanks to changed travel arrangments - more of which from Santa later.)

First up was the Mass in B flat by Johann Hummel.

For all his sterling work as top pianist of his day, with Schumann and Liszt queuing up for lessons, poor Hummel will stand for all eternity in the shadows of his titanic contemporaries, Haydn, Mozart and Beethoven.

Nevertheless, it was lovely to hear this work sung and played with such finesse and devotion.

The fugal section which closes the "Gloria", with its no fewer than 218 repetitions across the ensemble of the single word "Amen", gave me particular pleasure as it reminded me how mischievously Berlioz had lampooned it in his famous chorus from Faust.

Especially effective too were the "Et Incarnatus Est" passage sung by the alto section and the elegant "Benedictus" (a welcome change of key here), which in a strange way seems to pre-echo the German Requiem and Liebeslieder Waltzes of Brahms.

Even stanger - in the opening of the "Agnus Dei" the ensemble conjured an almost Wagnerian glow, as if this music were a chorus from the missing nuptial scenes of Tristan and Isolde, complete with a variation on the famous "Tristan chord" sung early in the movement!

Choir and orchestra performed these sections with a rare tenderness and poise.

The orchestral version of John Rutter's "Winchester Te Deum" which followed is beautifully crafted as a piece, with more than a nod in the direction of Britten and Walton. It was vividly conducted by Mr Gough, and the softer, more reflective sections, frequently preceded by flute, oboe or clarinet solos, were heartfelt and lovely. Congratulations too to the choir and orchestra for the thrilling finale of the piece!

After the interval, there were several "stand out" moments".

Thank you, Father Christmas, for your witty observations on the perils of current local travel arrangements!

Musically, I treasure three "highs".

Firstly, the Children's Choir sang a gem of a piece in Walters' "Little Camel Boy". The children were beautifully prepared and presented and gave a tender, focussed and professional performance. Brilliant to have the audience join in with Silent Night as a hummed chorale theme in the final verse. Lovely orchestration too, especially in the woodwind, which again put the writer in mind of Berlioz - this time the pastoral sections of "L'Enfance du Christ". Lovely stuff!

Secondly, there was a sense of real fun for the orchestral strings in the movement from Hely-Hutchinson's "Carol Symphony" - a sort of Young Person's Guide to O Come All Ye Faithful!


Review of May 2015 Concert by Mike Sproule 

Three universal themes were explored by the Guernsey Choral & Orchestral Society under Alan Gough's sure direction at St James last Saturday - that the price of a nation's liberty is defiance of tyranny; that the cost of war in defence of that liberty is the pity and folly of human waste; and that the salvation of humanity rests with the virtue and heroism of ordinary people, willing to pay that cost in the name of faith, hope and love.

How fitting to do so at the time of the bicentenary of the Battle of Waterloo, the centenary of the darkest days of the Great War and the 70th anniversary of our liberation!

The first theme was expressed in Sibelius's great anthem 'Finlandia', exuberantly performed by the whole ensemble, and in 'Nimrod' from Elgar's Enigma Variations.

The second theme was performed very movingly by soloists, Amy Bottriell-Nye and Malachy Frame, choir and orchestra in Durufle's 'Requiem', which in this large scale version at times calls to mind the musical language of Britten's War Requiem. Mr Gough's control and mastery of his forces in this technically demanding piece was exemplary.

The final theme was celebrated by Stanford's grand Te Deum in B flat and in Vaughan Williams's sublime 'Five Mystical Songs', one of the highpoints of which was the beautifully heartfelt rendering by Mr Frame and choir of 'Love Bade Me Welcome'.

The choir excelled in the uplifting 'Christe Eleisons' of the Duruflé and the "Let All The Worlds" of the Vaughan Williams.

As for the orchestra, special praise for the strings in the Vaughan Williams, the Wind section in the Durufle, the brass in the Sibelius, and everyone in the radiant Elgar."



Review of May 2011 concert: Haydn's Creation - by Ed Jewell

Review of May 2014 concert: A Night at the Opera - by Bridget McRae



Review of Christmas Concert 2014: Haydn's Wind Band Mass:by Michael Sproule


Picture a hamper of Christmas delights and there it is, adorned with ribbons of love and affection, presented by the Guernsey Choral & Orchestral Society and Children's Choir at St James on the Friday and Saturday before Christmas.

Santa drops in of course with a merry quip and a yo ho ho. Not before the Choir and Orchestra have romped their way through a crisp and even account of Haydn's Wind Band Mass led by soloists, Deborah Bideau (soprano), Olivia Warburton (mezzo), Richard Dowling (tenor) and Malachy Frame (baritone).

Particularly enjoyable were the 'duet' for mezzo and flute (Charlie Cottam) in the 'Gratias agimus', the sprightly 'Benedictus' for the chorus, and the 'Agnus Dei' quartet with its gorgeous 'Mozartian' bassoon part (Jean Owen).

Later, bursting with excitement and festive energy, the assembled company break into those classic carols which, if Desert Island Discs only allowed Christmas music, would be on the one surviving disc when the others were jettisoned.

Short of Bing's White Christmas, this really had the lot - a jaunty sleigh ride and seasonal Tchaikovsky from the orchestra directed by Michael Sullivan, angelic children's voices in 'Walking in the Air' and the Rocking Carol, and Vaughan Williams's tender Fantasia on Christmas Carols in which Mr Malachy returned to the platform to solo with the choir.

Marvellously well done and a Happy New Year to one and all!

This poor man now has to venture forth to forage for the odd scrap of winter fuel but perhaps a good king will turn up and lighten the load ..."