Bedford Choral Society -  Current Season - 2016 - 2017


Bedford Choral Society 150th Anniversary Season
Second 150th Anniversary Concert

Saturday, June 17th 2017

Bedford Corn Exchange - 7.30pm

  • Ralph Vaughan Williams - Five Mystical Songs
  • Butterworth - On the banks of green willow
  • Malcolm Arnold - Sinfonietta No.2
  • Gustav Holst - St Paul’s Suite
  • Michael Hurd - Shepherd’s Calendar

  • Baritone soloist: Benjamin Bevan

  • Conductor - Ian Smith
June 2017 poster
Click to enlarge the concert poster

Continuing our 150th Anniversary Season theme of English Music the summer concert highlights two choral works, one more well-known than the other!

Vaughan Williams’ ‘Five Mystical Songs’ is a great favourite with choirs and audience alike. Its rousing finale of ‘Let all the world in every corner sing’ will elevate you to new emotional heights!

Michael Hurd’s ‘Shepherd’s Calendar’ is not so well-known. Written in 1975 for the Southampton Choral Society it is a setting of poems by John Clare. These evoke wonderful pictures of the countryside and the music, in a modern but very approachable style, portrays the scenes with consummate skill.

Orchestral pieces by Holst, Butterworth and Arnold complete the programme which should send you out into the summer evening with many melodies going around in your head!

David Moore

Benjamin Bevan - Baritone Soloist

Benjamin Bevan Our baritone soloist for the concert on Saturday, June 17th is Benjamin Bevan.

Bevan was born into a family of musicians and studied at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama. He made his UK operatic debut with Scottish Opera and has since sung many operatic roles including several performances with Welsh National Opera. Bevan made his Royal Opera debut in the 2013.

Following his recent debut in the U.S.A. he plans this year to travel to Japan to make his first recording with Masaaki Suzuki and the Bach Collegium Japan. Benjamin will also make his debut in Italy with the18th Century music specialists Collegio Ghislieri in Pavia. In the UK he will work with The BBC Philharmonic for the first time.

We welcome Benjamin to sing with Bedford Choral Society for the June concert in our 150th Anniversary season.


Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872–1958) - Five Mystical Songs

Ralph Vaughn Williams (1872–1958) Following the death of Purcell in 1695, English music went into a long period of decline that was not reversed until the late 19th century with the emergence of Elgar, followed by a whole new generation of talented composers. The leading figure of this younger group of musicians was Ralph Vaughan Williams, who for nearly sixty years remained one of the most influential figures in English music, his nine symphonies and succession of major choral works being widely regarded as his greatest achievements.

Like Elgar, Vaughan Williams was a late developer, reaching his mid-thirties before attracting serious attention as a composer. He eventually developed his own unique musical style, which was profoundly influenced by his love of Tudor music and his immensely important work in collecting English folksongs.

In 1908 Vaughan Williams studied with Ravel for a brief three months, and shortly afterwards produced a series of major works, including the song-cycle On Wenlock Edge, the Fantasia on a theme by Thomas Tallis and, in 1911, the Sea Symphony and the Five Mystical Songs, the latter a setting of poems by George Herbert (1593 – 1633). Despite his declared atheism, which in later years mellowed into what his wife Ursula described as ‘a cheerful agnosticism’, Vaughan Williams was inspired throughout his life by much of the liturgy and music of the Anglican church, the language of the King James Bible, and the visionary qualities of religious verse such as Herbert’s.

The baritone soloist is prominent in the first four of the Mystical Songs, with the chorus taking a subsidiary role. In the opening song, the lute and its music are used as a metaphor for the poet’s emotions at Easter. The second song features a simple but moving melody for the baritone soloist, who is joined by the chorus for the third verse. In the third song the choir can be heard intoning the ancient plainsong antiphon, O sacrum convivium, whilst the fourth movement, The Call, is for baritone solo. An accompaniment suggestive of pealing bells introduces the triumphant final song of praise, in which the chorus is heard to full effect.

John Bawden (

George Butterworth (1885 - 1916) - On the Banks of Green Willow

George Butterworth

Described by its composer as an "Idyll", and written in 1913, it is scored for a small orchestra consisting of two flutes, two oboes, two clarinets, two bassoons, two horns, one trumpet, harp and strings. Butterworth based The Banks of Green Willow on two folk song melodies that he noted in 1907 - "The banks of green willow" and "Green bushes".

A solo clarinet and strings create a pastoral scene with the title theme, followed by a short development and restatement of the tune. The mood becomes more sombre and agitated as a new theme is introduced. An animated motif leads to the main climax, which is surpisingly passionate for such a short work, before the music subsides to introduce Green Bushes hesitantly on oboe. This is repeated gently on flute, accompanied by harp, and the piece ends tranquilly with snatches of the variant title theme on violin solo, horn and oboe.

The premiere of The Banks of Green Willow took place on February 27th 1914, when Adrian Boult conducted a combined orchestra of forty members of the Hallé and Liverpool orchestras in West Kirby. This was, in fact, the 24-year-old conductor’s first concert with a professional orchestra (he also gave the British premiere of Hugo Wolf's Italian Serenade at the same concert). The London premiere took place three weeks later, and seems to have been the last occasion Butterworth heard his own music.

Butterworth was killed on August 5th 1916, during the Battle of the Somme. He was aged 31, and was a Lieutenant in the Durham Light Infantry. His body has never been recovered.

Malcolm Arnold (1921 – 2006) - Sinfonietta No.2 (1958)

Malcolm Arnold in 1986 Sir Malcolm Henry Arnold, CBE (1921 – 2006). His output of works features music in many genres, including a cycle of nine symphonies, numerous concertos, concert works, chamber music, choral music and music for brass band and wind band. He wrote extensively for the theatre, with five ballets specially commissioned by the Royal Ballet, as well as two operas and a musical. He also produced scores for more than a hundred films, among these The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957), for which he won an Oscar. (Wikipedia)

Arnold’s second Sinfonietta was the result of a commission from the Jacques Orchestra. This London ensemble, founded by the highly respected choral scholar and conductor Reginald Jacques in 1936, was formed to provide the instrumental accompaniment to Jacques’ critically acclaimed performances by the London Bach Choir. Soon after its formation, however, the Jacques Orchestra also began to present concerts apart from the choir and, from 1947, regularly presented orchestral programmes at the Edinburgh Festival. In 1960, ill health forced Jacques to forgo conducting and the orchestra folded. Arnold’s second Sinfonietta is testimony to the skill and fluency possessed by both Arnold and the Jacques Orchestra at the time of the work’s composition in 1958. It is scored for strings and pairs of flutes and horns.

Never one to be too far advanced of his audience, Arnold’s second Sinfonietta is generally more lyrical and serene than the first over the course of the first two movements. In the third and final stanza, the ensemble, led by the flutes, bursts forth in a frenetic, but entirely tonal, dance-like melody that, as with the first Sinfonietta, brings the piece to a brilliant close.

© Koch International

Gustav Holst (1874 – 1934) ) - St Paul’s Suite

  Gustav Holst St Paul's Suite (Op. 29, No. 2), originally titled Suite in C,[1] is a composition for string orchestra by the English composer Gustav Holst. It was written in 1912, but owing to revisions was not published until 1922. It is named after the St Paul's Girls' School where Holst was Director of Music from 1905 to 1934. St Paul's Suite was written in gratitude to the school. The suite is perhaps the most famous of the many pieces he wrote for students at St. Paul's.

St Paul's Suite has four movements:

I. Jig: Vivace (alternating between 6/8 and 9/8 time)

II. Ostinato: Presto

III. Intermezzo: Andante con moto (labeled "Dance" in the manuscript)

IV. Finale (The Dargason): Allegro (arranged from the "Fantasia on the Dargason" from his Second Suite in F for Military Band)


Michael Hurd (1928 - 2006) - Shepherd’s Calendar

Michael Hurd

The Shepherd's Calendar has four movements:

1 “With’ring and keen the Winter comes” Lento
2 “Come, Queen of Months !” Allegro giocoso
3 “O Love is so deceiving” Largo, sostenuto
4 “Harvest awakes the morning still” Andante – allegro – andante

Michael Hurd (1928 - 2006) began work on The Shepherd’s Calendar in early 1975 in response to a commission from the Southampton Choral Society.

Part one (from January) sets a melancholy, pastoral mood from the opening bars, chill strings underpinning a plaintive descending oboe phrase, suggestive of the shepherd’s pipe. Carefully paced writing for the chorus depicts the flight of winter flocks as various workers leave their tasks and head for the fireside. The baritone laments the loss of days gone by, simpler times, with childhood certainties now replaced by adult fears and disillusion. A repeated “Where are they now?” closes the movement, echoing the oboe phrase of the opening bars.

The third and for many the key section to this piece is a poignant solo for baritone. ”O Love is so deceiving!” is a Clare poem from his years in the St Andrew’s asylum at Northampton, unrelated to The Shepherd’s Calendar. The largo opening in Eb, shifting to G, features a similar falling phrase as heard at the opening of the piece, this time led by a flute, with harp accompaniment and a balancing string reply. The writing in this sustained introduction is particularly fine in its effective mood-painting and has led at least one observer to voice regret that Hurd never moved towards a fully symphonic orchestral work.

The fourth and last section, from September, chooses lines which evoke the collaborative village toil of harvest. Again, a flute leads the invocation, warm strings moving towards a portrait of a misty harvest morning. An example of the tiny but effective detail of Hurd’s choral writing is the attention given to the last word of the phrase “And toil’s rude joys” – a deceptively simple yet telling moment. The allegro section clatters into the bustle of harvest itself, then cutting through the mirth and jollity comes the despairing solo baritone once more, “O Love is so deceiving!”, a brief coda from the chorus drawing the work to a gentle close.

Michael Sergeant © 2011

Page Date : May 2017

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