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Review of the Concert on 13th April 2024 by Andy Crane

Dvorak and Faure

In keeping with the spring bursting forth around us, Fairford & District Choral Society presented a full house with a concert of ‘new beginnings’ in Fairford Church on Saturday 13 April. Not only was this the first performance under the baton of their new conductor, Nia Llewelyn Jones, but the two works performed were also innovations in their day, each by a late nineteenth century composer aiming to forge a new style in their music writing.

Faure’s Requiem, though very familiar to us today, was, in 1887, a very bold departure from what had gone before - the result of his intention simply to ‘write something different’. Similarly, Dvorak sought novelty by bringing the spirit of Czech folk music into the Germanic late Romantic tradition in his Mass in D from the same year.

The choir, though not large in number, showed itself equally capable of making a big sound when needed and delivering the quietest of reflective passages. The soprano section was particularly strong and well-blended. In both works there was assiduous attention to dynamics and throughout the singers responded well to their conductor’s positive and expansive direction. Throughout, organ accompaniment was sensitively provided by Ian Crabbe.

The variations in style and tempi in the Dvorak call for alertness and agility, both of which were present in good measure. The delivery of the warm and melodic Kyrie section made for an impressive start to the concert. The tight control exhibited in the dramatic ‘Adoramus te’ fugue in the Gloria, was particularly pleasing as familiar motifs were shared around the voice sections - a really punchy performance! The quartet of soloists in Dvorak’s Mass largely play supporting roles, and these were performed by soprano Charlotte Newstead, alto Nicole Boardman, tenor Nicholas Drew and bass/baritone Nicholas Perfect.

After the interval, the choir, along with the soprano and baritone soloists, gave an admirable performance of Fauré’s requiem. Pitching, which can be challenging in this work, was good. The tenor voices, so important in the exposed sections of the Introit and Agnus Dei, blended well and had lost the occasional ‘over exuberance’ evident earlier in the concert. The closing ‘In Paradisum’ was beautifully controlled and sustained in a fitting end to this most enjoyable concert.

Congratulations to Nia and her singers. On this performance, they look destined for a very bright future together.

Andy Crane, 14 April 2024

Review of the Concert on 2nd December 2023 by Colin Dowdeswell

A Musical Journey in Oratorios

The Fairford and District Choral Society concert took us on a journey through oratorio excerpts through the ages.

With helpful and carefully researched introductions to each item read by James Chute, the choir treated us to music, ranging from Vivaldi, Bach and Handel to Mozart, Mendelssohn and Fauré. The contrasting styles and moods made for a pleasingly varied programme, and the choir’s enthusiasm transmitted itself to the audience, despite the temperature in the Church.

The choir’s conductor, Marysia Gorska-Saj, in this her final concert, did much to encourage the musical lines, and careful attention had been paid to speeds and dynamics.

The choir was ably accompanied by organist Ian Crabbe, who contributed further variety with solos by Bach and César Franck. The final item, a spirited rendition of the Hallelujah chorus, brought the evening to a rousing conclusion. The smiles told of a concert well received.

Colin Dowdeswell

Review of the Concert on 1st April 2023 by SC


Fairford & District Choral Society sang their Easter concert to a near-capacity audience in the beautiful setting of St Mary’s Parish Church, on Saturday evening, 1 April.
The concert opened with Stainer’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis in B flat. Marysia Gorska-Saj skilfully directed the choir, producing a range of suitable dynamics and well-tuned singing.

The soloists David McKee and Nicholas Drew each sang songs by Mendelssohn and Wolf respectively. Both are professional singers and this was clearly apparent in their performances.
The main piece in the programme was Stainer’s Crucifixion, an excellent choice to mark the start of Holy Week. Bass David McKee immediately captivated the audience with his opening solo, The Agony, and the well-disciplined choir sang with clear diction and great feeling. The audience joined the choir for the integral hymns and became a valuable part of this uplifting performance.    Nicholas Drew (tenor soloist) produced a spine tingling moment just before the final hymn singing so very quietly, “And He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost.”
Bravo to organist Robin Baggs for superb accompaniment throughout.


1 April 2023

Review of the Concert on 3rd December 2022 by Hilary Taylor

MessiahWe only usually associate the Messiah, Handel's Baroque oratorio with Christmas, but it was originally written for Easter, and first staged in Dublin in the New Music Hall, Fishamble Street at noon on April 13th 1742, doubtless to an audience as appreciative and spellbound as in St Mary's Fairford 280 years later. What a lovely performance. From the first notes of Tenor John Bacon's measured solo introduction, it was obvious that we would be in for a treat. I often think that local choral societies are seriously undervalued. It takes time and dedication to produce a big choral work like Messiah and to be able to see such a work in a local setting for such a reasonable price is wonderful. Where better than in Fairford's beautiful parish church? 

The rippling polyphonic lines-especially at speed-in this tremendous work are pretty taxing to sing, but the Fairford and District Choral Society under the direction of the brilliant Katrine Reimers managed it splendidly. The choruses were sensitively handled, with plenty of dynamic contrast and clarity of diction. Some of the entries can be challenging, but the choir sang them with confidence where I have sometimes heard groups falter... 

The acoustics suited the fine voices of the four professional soloists. They were engaging and commanded audience attention; the arias and recitatives in this piece deserved no less and the quartet of Charlotte Newstead-Soprano, Olivia Gomez-Contralto, John Bacon-Tenor and Bass Matthew Clark-who stepped in at the last moment, thank you Matthew! did full justice to Handel's masterpiece. Their solo performances were a pleasure to hear and most moving. 

This was storytelling matched in expressive content and nuanced, sensitive delivery. How lucky we were to have the opportunity to see such accomplished performers in a local setting. 

In the absence of an orchestral ensemble the accompaniment was well balanced between the heroic organist Robin Baggs, (I found myself wondering how many notes he had to play); and a well chosen, unobtrusive keyboard accompaniment. It was intriguing to see the keyboard played by Katrine while simultaneously conducting. This was no mean feat. The splendid insertion of Stephen Cutting's trumpet made a glittering, dramatic addition to the whole. My neighbour at the concert described it as, "Riveting."

I could go on about my favourite passages, alas too difficult to choose, but not to mention the Hallelujah Chorus would be churlish. Totally uplifting, no wonder it is an all-time favourite-the entire company of voices together in a universal expression of triumphant joy, and why not? Bravo Fairford and District Choral Society for a beautiful start to the Christmas period. I haven't heard you before, but from now on I am a fan!

Hilary Taylor
4 December 2022

Review of the Concert on 2nd April 2022 by TVJ

Spring Concert It is good to attend a pleasurable concert by the Fairford and District Choral Society which took place on 2 April 2022 after the enforced pandemic break. As we move from a difficult winter into Spring, I was struck by the sense of optimism which infused the evening from the first note to the last.

Part 1 of the concert was devoted to works by Mozart, beginning with an energetically executed performance of Mozart’s Overture in C, K399, ‘in Baroque style’, by organist Robin Baggs, and culminating in the composer’s ‘Mass in B flat’ K.275, a bright and joyful work featuring SATB soloists juxtaposed with the choir. The diction and vocal precision of both choir and soloists in this work under the direction of conductor, Katrine Reimers, was impressive, as it was throughout the concert.

The four professional soloists, Charlotte Newstead (Soprano), Olivia Gomez (alto), John Bacon (Tenor) and William Stevens (Bass) took us through a range of solos and ensembles throughout the evening, beautifully complimenting the choir and each displaying a wide range of vocal tone-colour, admirable breath-management and soaring legato lines.

However, for me, the outstanding performance of the evening was the first item of Part 2, ‘Mendelssohn’s ‘Hear my Prayer’, so sensitively executed by the soprano soloist and equally well delivered by the choir. I like Mendelssohn sung with the discipline of Bach (whose works the 19c composer championed), so that the romanticism in the music speaks for itself. Charlotte’s sensitive, lyrical legato line and her subtly managed dynamic nuances were here equally matched throughout by the choir, resulting in romantic warmth coupled with ‘baroque’ precision. This allowed the sensitivity, shape and drama of this lovely work to shine through. Bravo!

The Mendelssohn led us to other short romantic items and the programme concluded with Franz Schubert’s ‘Magnificat in C’ featuring both choir and soloists – a delightful end to an enjoyable evening.

3 April 2022

Review of the Concert on 4th December 2021 by Janice V Thompson

St Nicholas Mass It was splendid to be part of an appreciative audience at the Fairford and District Choral Society carol concert on 4 December, and particularly so after a year’s gap due to the pandemic. The evening was so warm and welcoming, despite the social distancing and mask limitations to which we have now become so strangely accustomed. In a well-chosen programme complete with excellent soloists, the audience was treated to Haydn’s short St Nicholas Mass followed by a delightful selection of Advent and Christmas Carols.

Haydn is thought to have composed the ‘Missa Sancti Nicolai’ for the Feast of St Nicholas on the 6th of December 1772 as a seasonal ‘thank you’ to his employer, Prince Nickolaus Esterhazy. The Fairford choir, conducted by music director Marysia Gorska-Saj, and uplifted by the support of organist Robin Baggs, delivered this whole lyrical work with a lightness of tone and diction aptly suited to the festive occasion. The professional SATB quartet was made up of conservatoire undergraduate Matilda Wale, recent graduates Nicole Boardman and William Pearson, plus Gloucester Cathedral Lay Clerk Nicholas Perfect. The ensemble created an excellent blend of song and together with the choir, highlighted the warm harmonies and lyrical legato lines of this delightful, lilting ‘Mass in six-four time’.

After a short interval the choir treated us to a balanced and enjoyable selection of Advent and Christmas carols, each thoughtful and reflective in nature. The carol choices gave us chance to enjoy the unique voices of each of the soloists, soprano Matilda and tenor William ably fronting Darke’s lovely ‘In the Bleak Midwinter’ and the rich mezzo of Nicole in ‘A Maiden Most Gentle’.

Of all the carols performed I most enjoyed the choir’s rendition of ‘A Spotless Rose’ by Herbert Howells. With a fine contrasting verse sung by bass soloist Nicholas, I thought the choir here demonstrated not only a particular clarity of diction and variety of dynamics, but also created a touching warmth of sound in its middle range; a quality I had also glimpsed on several occasions in the homophonic sections of Haydn’s Mass.

Following two lively John Rutter arrangements the concert drew to a close with well-loved audience carols. Despite the inevitable challenge which singing ‘Ding Dong Merrily’ in a mask brings (!) it was altogether a welcome evening reminding us of the true spirit of Christmas amidst these uncertain times!

Janice V Thompson
5 December 2021

Review of the Concert on 7th December 2019 by Janice V Thompson

Poulenc's Gloria and Vaughan William's Fantasia on Christmas CarolsFairford and District Choral Society welcomed a full church to the Christmas season on Saturday with a delightful concert featuring, Poulenc’s ‘Gloria’, Vaughan William’s ‘Fantasia on a Theme of Christmas Carols’ and other Advent and Christmas Carols.

The ‘Gloria’ was an apt and interesting choice as the central work of the evening. Originally written for chorus, orchestra and soprano soloist, this Mass clearly demonstrates Poulenc’s deep religious beliefs, his dramatic and eclectic influences and also his sense of humour. The choir conveyed the solemn words of the Mass with a lightness of tone and clarity of diction, and the devout piety of the choral music was effectively juxtaposed and commented on by the bright tonal colours produced by organist Sam Bayliss. The music was in turns dignified, lyrical, jazzy and playful and the warm tones of soprano Lucy Mellors added serenity to the occasion. The final ‘Amen’ drifted ethereally towards heaven, a sincere achievement by the assembled forces, ably led by guest conductor Jessi Pywell.

After an interval with wine the audience experienced ‘surround sound’ as the choir moved into body of the church, enfolding us in harmony and counterpoint in ‘Jesus Christ the Apple Tree’. After four well-chosen carols, we moved into Vaughan Williams ‘Fantasia on Christmas Carols’, ably led by Baritone Jack Bowtell, who steered this folk-song inspired work forward with precision and clarity of diction. It was good to also hear the sonorous tones of young cellist and musician Evie Perfect, adding to the majesty and mystery of the opening bars of the work. Mystical and, at times, sumptuous, these simple and direct folk-songs seem to arise from the mist of English countryside, created by the subtle sounds of the choir, often singing on pure vowels rather than words.

A most enjoyable evening, well-balanced between choir and soloists, giving all present a real flavour of Christmas.

Janice V Thompson
8 December 2019

Review of the Concert on 11th May 2019 by Janice V Thompson

Mozart Requiem & Mass in G major by Schubert It is always a joy to attend a choral concert on a summer evening and Fairford Choral Society’s performance of Schubert’s Mass No2 in G major and Mozart’s Requiem was no exception.

The two works, ably conducted by professional musician Marysia Gorska-Saj, neatly complimented one another, and the well-balanced choir performed both works with precision and musicality, demonstrating tonal warmth in the Schubert and a wide range of vocal colour in the Mozart. The diction was excellent throughout, and if there was the odd blemish of intonation in the upper voices it was quickly corrected. I particularly enjoyed the sixth movement of the Requiem, in which the choir effectively moved back and forth between the lilting legato quality of the initial weeping (lacrimosa), the terror of impending judgement (judicandus homo reus) and the quiet plea for mercy (huis ergo parce).

Soprano Lucy Mellors soared effortlessly above the choir in the Schubert Mass and blended effortlessly with her fellow professional quartet members (alto Olivia Gomez, tenor William Pearson, and baritone William Stevens) in the various ensemble numbers.

Robin Baggs, who at short notice stepped in as organist for the occasion, proved an excellent support to the choir throughout and added noticeable gravity to the drama of the Requiem.

The Requiem closes with the promise of eternal light (Lux Aeterna). In fact I felt ‘light’ had infused the singing at several points of the performance, even before I had read the conductor’s biography.

Janice V Thompson
May 11 2019

Review of the Concert on 1st December 2018 by Alice Gray

Concert: Karl Jenkins' Armed Man Choral SuiteFairford and District Choral Society's December concert was held in the beautifully atmospheric setting of the Grade I listed St Mary's Church, Fairford. The first half comprised Hummel's Mass in B flat Opus 77 where conductor Marysia Gorska-Saj and the society took us on a musical journey expertly accompanied by organist Sam Bayliss. The exquisite blend of voices was at times both rousing and poignant, while the upper parts were firmly supported by the tenor and bass lines.

After the interval Karl Jenkins' The Armed Man: A Mass for Peace Choral Suite was interspersed by heartfelt readings of poems from the First World War in a fitting tribute to the Fallen 100 years on from the end of the conflict. The lines from Urbs Dei - The City of God, and Dulce et Decorum Est were especially moving.

All of the vocal parts came into their own in Jenkins' opening Kyrie, particularly the flowing alto line. This was followed by the Sanctus where the Choral Society's precise diction really led the change of mood in the music. Throughout the suite the canon-style parts flowed around each other smoothly and the performers' sensitivity to the dynamics, led by Marysia, was not lost on the audience.

The sopranos beautifully led into the Agnus Dei and the work culminated in the finale God Shall Wipe Away All Tears as a final act of Remembrance. Overall, the performance was attuned to the musical sensitivities of the pieces and it was pleasing to hear such a strong tenor section which balanced so well with the other parts.

For those who missed this performance, the Society's next concert will be on 11th May 2019 where they will perform Mozart's Requiem, K626 and Schubert's Mass No 2 in G Major, D167, and I for one look forward to hearing them again in the future.

Alice Gray

Review of the Concert on 21st April 2018 by Ruth Foxman

Concert: A German Requiem by Johannes BrahmsFairford & District Choral Society gave their spring concert on Saturday in the historic setting of St Mary’s Church in Fairford.

The first half of the concert was a varied programme of vocal, piano and organ music all thoughtfully introduced by the soloists. Emily Griffiths (soprano) delighted the capacity audience with her incredibly expressive voice and face, clearly portraying the different characters of four Strauss songs she'd selected. Alison Howell gave a faultless performance on the church organ demonstrating a full width of colours.

Brahms’ German Requiem under the direction of Marysia Gorska-Saj included soloists Emily Griffiths, and the talented baritone William Stevens, accompanied on the piano by Alison Howell and Jo Scullin. The piano duet accompaniment was written by Brahms himself.

From the outset the choir performed as a single unit. No voices stood out, no entries were missed, and I was particularly impressed how calm and professional they were in sections where the piano accompaniment went adrift. Marysia is a very physically dynamic conductor, using her whole body to corral her troops. The choir were able to bring a slightly altered tone and attitude to each movement under her direction. The dynamic contrast the choir achieved in the second movement was stunning. The first entry was clear, with good diction, and beautifully sung, and the increase in volume with no less of vocal quality at the refrain was striking. The unscheduled accompaniment of lightning, thunder and rain only enhanced the drama.

Both soloists had wonderfully clear voices, and communicated well with the audience.

Brahms is not gentle with the choral parts, with basses and soloists alike pushed to their upper reaches. This was only slightly evident in the very last movement where the sopranos ceased to soar, and the effort to reach their top notes was clear, but it was a thoughtful, sensitive and thoroughly enjoyable concert. I'm very pleased I was able to attend.

Ruth Foxman

Review of the Concert on 2nd December 2017 by Joanna Kent

Joanna Kent The lofty nave of St Mary's Church in Fairford was filled with the voices of Fairford and District Choral Society on the evening of Saturday 2nd December.

Under the diligent and enthusiastic musical direction of Marysia Gorska-Saj the sixty strong choir gave the most moving performances of Vivaldi's Gloria and Haydn's St. Nicolas Mass, accompanied by professional organist Alison Howell. The choir were joined by four professional soloists; Natasha Page, soprano; Olivia Gomez, alto; John Bacon, tenor and Meilir Jones, bass.

The concert began with a most moving rendition of the St. Nicolas Mass by Joseph Haydn. The choir voices blended in perfect harmony and the hours of rehearsals were worth the effort. The clarity and diction should be noted, especially in the Credo. The solo performances, along with the choir resulted in a truly magnificent performance.

The programme then moved to several shorter pieces sung by the soloists, choir and an organ solo played by Alison Howell.
The first was a beautiful rendition of 'A Slumber Song of the Madonna' by Michael Head, sung by Olivia Gomez. She gave an emotional performance and the last note was the longest of the entire concert!
This was followed by an uplifting organ solo, 'In Dulci Jubilo, BWV 729' by J.S. Bach. Alison Howell gave the piece plenty of energy with Bach's use of major chords to fill the church with the sounds of the organ in St. Mary's Church.
John Bacon then sang the lovely calm and moving 'Domine, ego credidi' from A Christmas Oratorio by C. Saint-Saens.
The singing of pieces from oratorios continued with Meilir Jones singing 'Why do the nations' from the Messiah Oratorio. The theme may not have been quite as seasonal as the previous pieces but it was a great performance of a dramatic piece of music by G.F. Handel.
The choir joined Natasha Page to sing the well known 'Ave Verum Corpus' by W. A. Mozart written to celebrate the feast of Corpus Christi. The organ rippled along under the soprano voice with the choir joining in the rhythmic rippling.
The shorter pieces concluded with the choir singing 'Zion Hears the Watchmen's Voices' from Wachet auf, ruft uns die Stimme, BWV 140 by J. S. Bach. This piece is such a familiar piece that members of the audience were almost joining in. The choir gave a great performance before a well deserved interval when refreshments were enjoyed by the audience in an informal atmosphere in the church.

The concert resumed with a roof lifting rendition of Antonio Vivaldi's Gloria. Listening to the full performance by the choir with alto and soprano soloists, Olivia Gomes and Natasha Page, was delightful. The music had moments of contrast which the choir performed very well, under the captivating direction of Marysia Gorska- Saj.

The relatively small choir of amateur singers, who join without an audition, demonstrated tremendous passion and skill in their singing together. Marysia had dedicated much rehearsal time to teaching choir members how to use their entire body when singing, using Alexander Technique methods. The tone, pitch, expression and diction, as well as the skill of singing together as a team has shown in the resultant beauty of the performance. The hard work of Robin Baggs who accompanies the choir every week at their rehearsals must be noted. He patiently supports Marysia and the singers in their learning of how to give their best performance and is greatly appreciated by all.

Congratulations to everyone involved. It was a pleasure to be at St. Mary's for such a joyous evening.

Joanna Kent

Review of the Concert on 13th May 2017 by Andrew Wicker

The Creation Concert On Saturday 13th May, a large and appreciative audience eschewed the Eurovision Song Contest in favour of a much more sublime evening of music performed by the Fairford and District Choral Society. The gathered throng filled St Mary’s Church, Fairford for a performance of Haydn’s Creation featuring not only the choral society but a small orchestra and three vocal soloists.

"The Creation" by Joseph Haydn is one of the great oratorios in the classical music canon and rightly features regularly in the repertoire in many of the country’s choral societies. Taking inspiration from the Biblical account of the creation of the world, the oratorio, over three parts, presents the creation of the heavens and earth; the creation of living creatures; and the joy of Adam and Eve in exploring the creation. Although a fairly well-known work, it presents challenges for both the choir and soloists.

The three soloists were each featured extensively throughout. The Baritone, Owain Browne, provided a warm and authoritative performance throughout demonstrating why he has been featured at the BBC Proms. The Soprano, Charlotte Newstead, particularly excelled in ‘On Mighty Pens’ bringing to life the different birds featured in this aria with ease. A special mention must be made of the Tenor, James Edgeler. Drafted in only on the morning of the concert due to the indisposition of the booked soloist, this nineteen year-old choral scholar of Gloucester Cathedral sang with confidence throughout. James’s performance of the aria ‘In native worth and honour clad’ had a lovely sense of shaping to the phrases showing great potential in this young voice.

The standard achieved by the choral society was equally impressive. The intonation of the choir was especially well-maintained during the whole work; not an easy achievement in a non-auditioning, amateur choir. The balance between the four parts was sustained during the performance with the sopranos working hard in the face of a more numerous alto section! The choir demonstrated great dynamic contrasts and clear diction throughout. Good balance was also achieved between choir and orchestra with the Bristol Ensemble delivering an assured accompaniment.

The performance was held together remarkably well by the conductor Marysia Gorska. The chorus, ‘Awake the Harp’ with its vivace tempo marking and complicated contrapuntal texture can have a tendency to race away but was in this performance kept well-controlled. As an audience member, albeit one with experience of conducting and performing with choirs, it was obvious through her conducting of the choir, that Marysia has trained the choir in technique as well as teaching them the music.

Overall the performance did true justice to Haydn’s wonderful and uplifting music leaving this audience member pleased to have attended.

Andrew Wicker

Review of the Concert on 4th December 2016 by Bernard Crooks

Dvorak D Maj Mass and Lux Aeterna by Morten LauridsenThis concert featured two choral works having their first performances just over 100 years apart — Dvorak’s Mass in D in 1893, and Lauridsen’s Lux aeterna in 1997. Each piece brought challenges to the Society, which were tackled with enthusiasm by the singers, led with remarkable skill by their conductor, Marysia Gorska.

The pieces were hugely different, being written in different centuries, in different styles and originating in different countries, but similar in their spiritual background, with Dvorak’s inspiration having roots in the liturgy of the Catholic Mass and Lauridsen responding to his mother’s death whilst also drawing on a range of religious texts: in his own words he was immersed in “timeless and wondrous words” about light eternal (lux aeterna). It was Lux aeterna that concluded this inspiring programme, with each section of the choir giving moments of beauty and warmth, with dramatic contrasts of volume and well controlled, hardly audible, pianissimo phrases. (Congratulations to those who managed the final bass low D !)

The soloists in Dvorak’s Mass were not always comfortable in synchronising with the choir but there were some magical melodic passages, as in ‘Credo in Unum Deum’, where Olivia Gomez, mezzo soprano and the chorus sang together expressively and in true ‘harmony’. The soloists each sang songs between the main works, and this included a surprise item from Meilir Jones — a Welsh rendition of ‘David of the White Rock’, demonstrating both his delicate and forceful bass tones.

Organ accompaniment was provided by Robin Baggs, making good use of the range of stops on the newly restored organ in St. Mary’s Church.

The evening concluded with a special presentation to John Read, the choir’s founder, recognising ten years of tireless dedication in developing one of the county’s exciting choirs. John’s musical talent, as singer, conductor and composer has been a great inspiration to the town’s Choral Society and has included a performance in 2014 of his own Pilgrim Mass, composed as part of his studies with the Open College of the Arts.

The Fairford Choral Society’s next concert will be on 13th May 2017, when they will perform Haydn’s ‘Creation’.

Bernard Crooks

Review of the Concert on 1st May 2016 by Bernard Crooks

Handel's Messiah There was an atmosphere of excited expectation at the start of this concert, not only because it was to feature the magnificent oratorio ‘Messiah’ but because it was to be the Choral Society’s first performance under the direction of Marysia Gorska, their vivacious new conductor.

The programme notes reminded us of the Faulkner’s Dublin Journal report following Messiah’s premiere on 13th April 1742, which described the music as “ the sublime, the grand and the tender.” By the end of this performance, there was no doubt that we had experienced each of these, delivered with energy, delicacy and a dramatic interpretation by conductor and performers.

The choir sang with enthusiasm, responding to clear direction from their conductor. Highlights were the lightness of fast semi-quaver passages, crisp diction and strong singing, as in ‘Glory to God, good will towards men.’ Contrasts of volume and intensity brought the story to life as the choir made the most of the text with feeling and emotion. In ‘He trusted in God’, all parts contributed to the sense of drama in a well paced passage and the use of a semi-chorus (‘Lift up your heads’) heightened the question and answer conversation, with increasing layers of sound culminating in a forte full choir proclaiming ‘He is the King of Glory’.

Warwick Cole led the Corelli Ensemble which efficiently accompanied the singing. The placing of players to one side of the chorus did not prevent a good rapport between them, and the Ensemble was particularly sensitive in the more poignant moments of the work; they provided powerful support in the moments of drama, in particular when a solo trumpet joined the bass soloist in ‘The trumpet shall sound’.

Four soloists provided the Recitatives and Airs between choruses, responding well to the range of moods required in Handel’s writing. The stunning performance by Martin Le Poidevin, bass, demonstrated not just the power of his voice but also the superb skill in holding our attention: we believed that he was speaking to each of us with his descriptions of ‘darkness’, ‘rage’ and ‘mystery’.

Alison Bell, alto, met the challenge of the florid ‘Refiner’s fire’ and delivered ‘He was despised’ with delightful interplay alongside the accompanying strings. Charlotte Newstead sang the soprano Airs with agility and joined with Alison in a duet in which parts were well matched and sung with feeling and confidence.The concert began with tenor, John Bacon, singing with sensitivity and calmness in ‘Comfort ye’, speaking the words that anticipated the coming of the Messiah.

The combined forces, led so capably by the conductor, should be congratulated on a memorable evening. We wait with eager anticipation for the Society’s next concert!

Bernard Crooks

Review of the Concert on 28th November 2015 by Andrew Crane

Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle Fairford & District Choral Society performed on Saturday for the last time under the baton of their founding musical director, John Read. The work chosen for this farewell concert – Rossini’s Petite Messe Solennelle – embodies a wide variety of styles and provided an opportunity to show how much has been achieved by a choral society with only modest financial resources but with a great will to succeed and a strong local following.

Rossini’s mass was first performed in 1864, late in a musical life made famous by operatic masterpieces including The Barber of Seville and William Tell. Despite its liturgical basis, Rossini was not able, and probably never intended, to disguise the operatic pedigree of this substantial work. The accompaniment is unusually scored for piano and harmonium and was expertly delivered by Robin Baggs and Jonathan Hope.

Soprano Charlotte Newstead, mezzo Alison Bell and bass Martin Le Poidevin, all previous performers at Fairford, were joined by tenor John Bacon. Although in the Gratias trio the blend was not entirely successful, the solo, duet and quartet movements were well executed, particularly enjoyable being the tenor Domine Deus, the most overtly operatic and melodic aria, and the bass Quoniam.

Rossini presents many challenges for the chorus, not least cohesion in the extended fugues - Cum sancto spiritu and Et vitam venturi saeculi. Both, however, were accurately delivered in a convincing and spirited fashion at a very satisfying tempo. Such was their success that any tonal imprecision in the highly chromatic opening Kyrie was easily forgiven by the appreciative capacity audience.

John paid tribute to all those who had worked with him to support the Society since its inception. He wished his successor Marysia Gorska every success and encouraged all to return for her first concert, Messiah, on 1st May, before leaving the rostrum for the final time, amid loud and sustained applause.

Andrew Crane

Review of the Concert on 15th March 2015 by Penny Pitt

Fauré Requiem Concert The Fairford and District Choral Society’s latest outstanding concert was dominated by an exciting range of French music. It opened with Fauré’s prize-winning early work Cantique de Jean Racine, thoughtfully conducted by John Read. The choir, accompanied by the Dionysus String Ensemble who set the tone with their beautiful sonorities in the opening section, sang sensitively, capturing the beauty of this prayer for God’s grace through their focused interpretation.

This was followed by a dazzling virtuoso performance by Marije Vijselaar, a Dutch harpist and member of the FADCS, of another Fauré piece, his Impromptu for Harp in D Flat Major. The audience were visibly thrilled to hear such technical brilliance combined with an ability to convey the emotional nuances of the music. The Dionysius Ensemble then gave us the one non-French work of the evening: Mendelssohn’s String Symphony No 3 in E minor. This little heard piece proved an excellent choice for this talented group of musicians.

Before the interval, we were treated to some very well-known and beautiful solos and duets by Gounod and Franck. Charlotte Newstead (soprano) was accompanied on the harp in Gounod’s Ave Maria. Her wonderful breath control, particularly apparent in the final phrases, allowed for an invigoratingly fresh interpretation of this well known piece. Equally beautifully judged was Martin Le Poidevin’s O Salutaris, another much-loved Gounod song, accompanied by the highly gifted organist Robin Baggs.

The second part of the concert was devoted to Fauré’s Requiem, combining the talents of the choir, organist, string ensemble and soloists. The choir rose to the challenge of this exquisite work, with the dynamic contrasts brilliantly drawn out under John Read’s expert direction. The soloists were again outstanding, with a genuinely moving Pie Jesu and a chilling Libera Me. This wonderfully thought through concert programme was extremely well received by the capacity audience, a testament to the quality of performance that we have come to expect from F&DCS.

Penny Pitt

Review of the Concert on 15th November 2014 by Andrew Crane

Kettledrum Mass Concert Choral director John Read set his singers a demanding, but appropriate, test for the Fairford & District Choral Society’s WWI commemoration concert ‘With Songs to the Battle’ on 15 November. The programme notably included the première of John’s Missa Sancti Jacobi – A Pilgrim Mass, set for chorus and soloists. The work was inspired by a pilgrimage John took to Santiago de Compostela a decade ago and includes references to his musical experiences on the journey. John recognised the fact that the lives of a soldier and a pilgrim have one thing in common - both involve a lot of walking. The mass, though, is far from pedestrian in its composition and the choir were kept on their toes with complex rhythms, frequent changes of tempi and dynamics and testing intonations. One or two rather tentative entries did nothing to spoil an impressive performance in which the differing moods of the movements were well conveyed, including a fine crescendo to the fortissimo conclusion of the Gloria and a sensitive rendition of the beautifully melodic writing in the Gradual and Alleluia. This is certainly a work that must be heard again.

The changing moods in Haydn’s Mass in time of War also make considerable demands on the chorus, but they responded well to the conductor’s direction and maintained a good forward movement throughout. The quartet of soloists – Charlotte Newstead (soprano), Alison Bell (mezzo), Christopher Palmer (tenor) and Martin Le Poidevin – delivered a beautifully balanced blend and Martin was particularly impressive in the Qui tollis peccata mundi section of the Gloria. The most direct allusion to war comes in the Agnus Dei, where drum rolls on the timpani (played by Paul Berrow) and the muted ensemble of the chorus created perfectly the composer’s intended sense of foreboding.

The evening ended with Songs of World War I in which the audience were invited to join in the choruses. After Adam Bayliss’s trumpet rendition of the last post and John Herrington’s reciting of the Ode of Remembrance, narrator Oliver Ashford-Smith introduced selected songs from the time of call-up at the start of the war to the weariness and longing for peace towards the end. The soloists showed their talent for song (as well as liturgy) and Robin Baggs gave a masterly and sensitive accompaniment on both organ and piano. The evening concluded with all in St Mary’s Fairford joining to sing Elgar’s Land of Hope and Glory.

Andrew Crane
Coates, 16.11.2014

Review of the Concert on 10th May 2014

St John Passion Concert On Saturday 10 May The Fairford and District Choral Society gave its most ambitious concert yet, performing J S Bach's St John Passion. This musically dramatic re-telling of the betrayal, trial and death of Jesus is widely acknowledged to be one of the greatest pieces of Western music written and is a challenging task for the soloists, the orchestra and the choir alike.

All three rose to this challenge. The soloists from the Ensemble Sine Nomine gave a moving account of the gospel story with the tenor Nicholas Drew giving a fine performance of the very demanding role of Evangelist. They were accompanied by the Corelli Ensemble under the direction of Warwick Cole and their playing was particularly noteworthy for the sensitive accompaniment of the recitatives. The choir under the direction of John Read gave a confident and dramatic account of the choruses with their difficult entries and complex polyphony with only minor lapses but were able to also sing the reflective chorales with understanding and feeling, rising gloriously to the last hope-filled chorale and their by then well-earned place in "Abraham's bosom".

The Choral Society's next concert is on 15 November in St Mary's Fairford and will include Haydn's Mass in Time of War, the premier of John Read's Pilgrim Mass and songs from the First World war.

Keith Salway

Review of the Concert on 1st December 2013

Concert 1st December 2013 An enthusiastic audience came along to Fairford and District Choral Society’s Christmas Crackers concert in St Mary’s Church on Advent Sunday evening.

“…the choir held its own and dealt especially well with the repeated staggered entries in This Little Babe. The solo movements, sung by soprano and mezzo-soprano Grace Carter and Louise Viner, provided a lovely contrast…”
Andy Crane – Chairman of Cirencester Choral Society.

Vaughan Williams’ Fantasia on Christmas Carols was accompanied on organ by Robin Baggs with Henry Herford the baritone soloist.

Andy says “… the sopranos gave a very good account of themselves with a succession of top As in Come all you worthy gentlemen. The soloist sang with appropriate verve…”

The novelty in the Christmas Cracker was the beautifully executed Aria in classic style for harp and organ by Marcel Grandjany.

Six improvisations by Organist Robin Baggs provided a spot-the-carol quiz in the second half. Conductor John Read, in festive mood, led the audience in Advent hymns before sending them on their way.

Below: The Harpist, Ruth Kenyon and Bass, Henry Herford.

Concert 1st December 2013
Review of the Concert on 13th April 2013 by Penny Pitt

Concert 13th April 2013 ‘Music for Two Elizabeth’s’ was the intriguing name given to a wonderful evening of music making by the Fairford and District Choral Society on Saturday, April 13th. The resulting programme guided the audience on a musical journey encompassing choral pieces from the times of Elizabeth I to the more recent times of our present monarch, Elizabeth II.

The first piece, ‘Sing Joyfully’ by Tudor composer William Byrd, set a high standard for the evening’s performance. An unforced soprano tone at the opening perfectly matched the demands of Byrd’s choral music style. Close following of the conductor, John Read, allowed for a convincing and engaging interpretation, particularly noticeable in the final section. Works by Orlando Gibbons (1583-1625) and Thomas Tallis (1505-1585) completed the early music section of the concert which included an absolutely breathtaking performance of Gibbon’s organ work ‘The Queen’s Command’ by the organist for this concert Robin Baggs. This was the first of three solo organ pieces which he performed immaculately and with great subtlety; members of the choral society rightly consider themselves fortunate to have such a gifted regular accompanist.

Works by Benjamin Britten, Holst, Finzi, Vaughan-Williams, Parry and Elgar, gave us a real sense of the flowering of English choral music from the later part of the nineteenth century onwards. Here the Choral Society was able to show how it is able to tackle a wide range of musical styles with real confidence and evident enjoyment. There were many highlights including a very early work by Britten ‘Hymn to the Virgin’ (1930) which called for two choirs singing in English and Latin. Both groups here achieved a contemplative style and sang with great discipline producing a moving account of this work.

The choral society was joined for this performance by two talented young singers, Charlotte and Georgia Hall who sang solo parts in Britten’s Te Deum and Vaughan-Williams ‘O Taste and See’. The tuning and pure tone they achieved was a sheer delight, rightly acknowledged by the enthusiastic audience at this well-attended musical offering.

Penny Pitt

Review of the Concert on 10th November 2012 by Penny Pitt

Concert 10th November 2012 The exciting and varied concert given by Fairford and District Choral Society on Saturday 10th November was a musical treasure not to be missed. The carefully balanced programme contained many musical delights and this performance proved, once again, that the choral tradition for which this area is so renowned is still very much alive.

The choir were wonderfully supported on this occasion by the addition of five highly talented professional singers - Charlotte Newstead, Janet Upton, Alison Bell, Alexei Winter and Martin Le Poidevin - who set the tone at the start of the concert with their delicately phrased and truly moving rendition of ‘O Quam Gloriosum’. This motet for All Saints’ Day, by the Spanish composer Tomas Luis de Victoria, is a superb example of his vivid, impassioned style. The choir followed with a full toned and highly persuasive account of Parry’s famous celebratory introit ‘I Was Glad’.

There were many special moments of the evening including a stunning performance by soprano Charlotte Newstead of the brilliant and technically demanding ‘Exsulate Jubilate’, the sensitive and flawless organ playing by the accompanist Robin Baggs (a treat in itself) and the emotional range achieved by both choir and soloists in the Handel ‘Dettingen Te Deum’. The touching singing by the soloists in this work and the attention to dynamics and word-painting by the choir clearly impressed and moved the capacity audience.

This ambitious, non-auditioning choir are trained and ably conducted by John Read who has done so much to inspire and encourage music lovers of the Fairford area. This performance shows yet again that live music–making continues to play an integral part in the life of the market town and neighbouring villages.

Penny Pitt

Review of the Concert on 31st March 2012 by Raymond Fenton

Concert 31st March 2012We were treated to a most adventurous programme. Perhaps some of their most difficult works since they were founded in 2006. The concert was entitled Jewels for a Jubilee and so to celebrate her Majesty’s diamond jubilee we all stood up to sing two verses of the National Anthem.

The concert then started by Robin Baggs playing on the organ William Walton’s march, Crown Imperial with great precision. Joined by the four excellent soloists Fiona Dobie, Soprano, Natanya Phillips, Mezzo, Peter Harris, Tenor and Henry Herford, Bass, the choir performed Mozart’s Coronation Mass in C. There was some excellent singing during the Credo. The Sanctus starts slow, is difficult and has sustained high notes for the sopranos which then leads into the magnificent Hosanna in Excelsis which the choir obviously enjoyed singing.

After a short interval the choir returned to sing all four of the Handel Coronation Anthems. The first one, Let Thy Hand be Strengthened ends with a stirring chorus of Alleluia. The second anthem, The King shall Rejoice has a very difficult third movement which they tackled well, but as to be expected was a little untidy in places. The third anthem, My Heart is Inditing was sung with confidence though voices were beginning to get a little tired. Then finally the last anthem is the well known Zadok the Priest which formed an excellent ending to a most enjoyable concert.

Raymond Fenton

Review of the Concert on 12th November 2011 by Raymond Fenton

The concert was started by the choir of Fairford Primary School who sang two songs. “This is our World” and “Lean on me”. Both songs were sung with great enthusiasm. The first showed how they were able to sing in two parts and the second showed off the very sweet sounds of the children’s upper registers.

Concert 12th November

Next the Choral Society sang Mozart’s famous anthem Ave Verum Corpus K618. After a few rather untidy notes at the start the choir gave us a beautiful rendering of this lovely anthem written as a setting of a 14th century Eucharistic hymn in 1791.

This was followed by Mozart’s Missa Solemnis in C Major K337. John Read, the conductor, held the choir together for some excellent singing including the very difficult Benedictus where all parts cross each other and many are syncopated. Four excellent soloists sang with them. Fiona Dobie – Soprano, Natanya Phillips – Mezzo, Nicholas Pritchard – Tenor and Henry Herford – Bass, while Fiona Brown accompanied on the organ.

After a short interval Fiona Brown gave an organ solo - a chorale prelude based on “How brightly beams the morning star” by Flor Peeters, a difficult work played with great precision. The Choral Society returned with a work commissioned by Durham University in 2007 on the occasion of its 175th anniversary, “Morning Star” by Arvo Pärt. This work involved splitting the soprano and bass lines into two parts which was rather difficult for the basses as they were already short of a few members through illness, but they coped well.

Finally the choir performed the J.S. Bach cantata “Wie schön leuchtet der Morgenstern”, again with Fiona Brown accompanying on the organ - an exceptionally difficult part which she played superbly. Three of the soloists returned for this work. Soprano, Tenor & Bass. They all sang well but special note must be made of the wonderful tenor voice of Nicholas Pritchard. The chorus parts were sung with great precision by the choir.

Raymond Fenton

See the Programme.

Review of the Concert on 9th April 2011 by Raymond Fenton
Stabat Mater Concert

For a choral society that has only been in existence for four years the performance of Dvorak’s great work Stabat Mater was an amazing feat, especially considering that the choir only numbers a little over 40 members

Lasting well over an hour it is a very substantial and at times difficult work and the Fairford & District Choral Society gave an excellent performance together with four professional soloists. Katherine Crompton (soprano), Sioned Ellis (mezzo soprano), Nicholas Pritchard (tenor) and Henry Herford (bass).

Great credit must be given to John Read who has conducted and trained the choir since they started, and also to some magnificent organ playing by their accompanist Fiona Brown. We now look forward to their next concert on Saturday 12th November.

Raymond Fenton, 21st April 2011

Review of the Concert on 13th November 2010 by Raymond Fenton

Bach’s motet Jesu, Priceless Treasure is the only one that has come down to us scored for five voices. It is the longest, the most varied and probably the most difficult. It would originally have been sung unaccompanied but most choirs have no hesitation in doubling the parts with the organ. Fairford & District Choral Society was only founded three years ago, so it was a brave venture on Saturday 13th November in St. Mary’s Church, to tackle this motet and, due I’m sure to much hard work and supported by four Lay Clerks from Gloucester Cathedral the performance was excellent.

The opening chorales were sung with confidence and accuracy. The fifth section, “Death, Death, I do not fear” was lovely although not particularly easy, especially with the basses semi-quaver runs. The next section, “Ye are not of the flesh” with more semi-quaver runs coming in all five parts is exceptionally difficult to sing and it is true to say that at times the parts found it difficult to all keep together. The chorale in compound time, “If therefore Christ abide in you” was particularly well sung with very precise singing.


After a short interval we were treated to a very fine performance on the organ by Fiona Brown who played César Frank’s Pastorale which starts quietly and increases in volume to a middle section with some very precise staccato playing which is then followed by a tuneful legato passage.

Finally the choral society treated us to a very moving performance of Fauré’s Requiem which is always a favourite. I was particularly impressed by the singing of the Offertory which starts as a duet between altos and tenors, later to be joined briefly by the basses before the rich voice of the baritone soloist, Henry Herford takes over before the movement is completed by all the voices. Following the Sanctus, always a highlight we had such pleasure listening to the clear soprano voice of Liz Gravestock singing the beautiful Pie Jesu. More delicate singing followed with the Agnus Dei which starts off with the tenors who were augmented by the alto section before being joined by the full choir who made a very smooth transition from C major to Ab major and then later back to F major before the reprieve of the opening chorus. Another lovely baritone solo starts the Libera Me before the full choir takes over quietly and builds to a great climax before closing the movement with soft and delicate singing. Finally the Requiem ends with the famous In Paradisum which is definitely not as easy to sing as it looks, but the choir tackled it well with the whole Requiem ending very softly back in the key of D major.

Altogether a wonderful evening and one that the whole choir and their conductor John Read can be proud of.

Raymond Fenton, 14th November 2010

Review of the Concert on 27th March 2010 by Ed Brown

St Mary’s Church, Fairford played host on Saturday night to a somewhat dichotomous programme of sacred music. The first half, a world premiere of “Pilgrimage”, a new work by local composer, and conductor of Fairford and District Choral Society, John Read. The second, Stainer’s Crucifixion, a piece planted firmly in the 19th Century. Fairford and District Choral society performed both admirably.

Pilgrimage, split into eight sections, interspersed with narration, chronicles a journey undertaken by the composer and a friend from Caen to Santiago de Compostela in north western Spain. It was certainly effective in conveying the sense of travel, both spatial and spiritual. There were strong influences of folk music, and Read’s scoring had a wonderful openness to it, sections of full choir with minimal accompaniment contrasted with, at times, a solo flute or voice. Indeed, the music was so effective in conveying the transitions from preparation to wilderness to reflection, combined with the pictures projected above the choir, that the spoken narrative in between each section of music was barely required as an aid.

Stainer’s Crucifixion and Pilgrimage Concert

The choir performed well; in sections such as the 17th Century French song, they achieved the required lightness of tone, and their tuning was impressive throughout. The soloists stepped up to the task, holding up well in contrast to the choir in the antiphonal sections. There could, perhaps, have been a little more angst in the section entitled “suffering”, and a little more malice in the “wilderness”. But, overall, this was a well drilled performance, and it did the considerable merits of the work justice.

Stainer’s crucifixion is a piece that can, at times, teeter on the edge of drudgery if sufficient energy is not expended on the part of those performing it. But for some slight flagging around the “Appeal of the crucified”, Fairford and District Choral Society managed to keep energy levels up, an impressive feat given that this was over an hour of music. At times, the balance suffered slightly from the smaller number of male voices in the ensemble, but this is not to detract from the section’s performance. There was a suitably rambunctious sound on “Fling wide gates”, and, again, the choir showed itself to be well versed in dynamic contrast. Both the soloists - Peter Burrows tenor and Derek Walker bass gave very good accounts of the work.

Evidently well rehearsed, and effectively delivered, this was a thoroughly enjoyable event, both for the packed audience, and, by the looks of things, the choir. All in all, an evening of music that both Read and the Fairford and District Choral Society can be proud of.

Ed Brown

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