Frome has a reputation for delivering hard hitting classical music and on Saturday 18th January, the town’s cultural status was elevated to a whole new level. The all Russian music programme was a delight for the people-packed pews of Christ Church. Featuring a wonderfully Rachmaninoff biased concert, concert goers were treated to some of the finest Russian choral music and piano music ever written. The local charity event featured belAcappella and members of The Christ Church Singers performing a selection of Rachmaninoff vespers, led by Basira Ward and Paul Dowbekin.
At the piano, Stephen Marquiss wowed the audience with passionate and elegant interpretations of Preludes by Rachmaninoff and a lesser known, yet equally delightful piece by his class mate, Scriabin. Stephen’s fluent and florid style was captivating and seating ourselves within view of the keyboard, we were able to see and hear Stephen’s mastery of the instrument resulting in exquisite phrasing and dramatic narrative drive. Witnessing a professional playing from memory is always impressive, removing barriers between musician, composer and audience and provided a continuous, mesmerising experience.
Basira took to the stage with renditions of solo songs from the most uncompromising solo Russian song repertoire. Accompanied by Stephen at the piano, Basira’s vocal power and control packed a powerful emotional punch and the enviable dynamic control melted the listener with every phrase. The audience-packed church breathed together at the end of each piece with the release of the candle-lit tension.
The choir performed the very challenging choral works with incredible vocal tone and control, under the masterful direction of Basira Ward and Paul Dowbekin. Russian vocal repertoire demands a great deal from singers in terms of pitch range and dynamic control. The choir did not disappoint, delivering each piece with incredibly focused voices, even down to the lowest notes in their range. Many choirs do not have the ability to tackle the repertoire and I had not heard such beautiful low notes since the St Petersberg Rossica Choir sang in Bath Abbey 12 years ago!
The organ solo piece by Glazunov was refreshing and Paul Dowbekin’s interpretation was gentle and moving. A great choice to balance the heavy-weight Rachmaninoff programme.
Other soloists featured within the vespers and were balanced beautifully by the choir. Ed Cotton (Tenor Soloist), Dorothy Forrest (Alto soloist) and Paul Feldwick (Bass Soloist) oozed dynamic control and impressive pitch mastery. Paul’s bass solo with piano accompaniment by Simon Davies was also delightful with rich enviable low notes. Many concert goers may not be aware of the difficulties presented by the extremes of the Russian choral repertoire. Very high and quiet notes test even the most seasoned professional and yet soloists were spot on and the choir always blended and made them shine throughout.
The evening was topped off with vodka, beautiful Russian culinary offerings and a quick lesson for the audience in how to wish each other a happy new year in the Slavic tongue. Anybody who knows Basira, understands that when you buy one of her concert tickets, you get so much more than just a concert. You become a participant in a unique experience, a witness to a drama and a passenger on a musical journey. Concerts like The Russian Evening, keep the town of Frome firmly on the cultural map.
So, it just falls for me to wish you a С новым годом – (Happy New Year)
Author of the How to Become a Confident Performer Book confidentperformer.co.uk