St Matthew’s Hall, Church Cross, 2005

‘Where is Aughadown?’ you might be forgiven for asking. Well, it is on that very dark road halfway between Skibbereen and Ballydehob. And there, believe it or not, is a very thriving community and a lovely old church, which hosted the West Cork Choral Singers concert on Saturday 22 October. It appears that many people do know where Aughadown is and it was to a full congregation that the charming Rev. Paul Draper gave a warm and humorous welcome.  Indeed, his likeness to Prince Charming took on an authentic feel when he produced an old shoe, which someone in the choir had left in his church after their last performance, and offered to give any willing claimants a personal fitting.

But I digress. The concert itself was a treat, not only for the excellence of the performances but for the relaxed informality of the evening as a whole.  It is a tribute to the performers and, in particular, to this formidable choir that they can introduce a comfortable ‘front room’ atmosphere to a large audience without any loss of quality in their performances. They gave us an entertainingly diverse selection of pieces, from the folk song ‘Gortnamona’, through the current flavour of the month ‘She moved through the Fair’, with a lovely solo by Aileen Hickey, on to the notoriously difficult ‘Amen Chorus’ from Handel’s Messiah. Even the inadvertent addition of a few ‘Amens’ too many somewhere along the line added to, rather than detracted from, the relaxed enjoyment of the performance.

One of the soloists was Cork legend Robert Beare, who always surprises us with the volume and quality of sound emanating from so spare a frame.  In addition to his splendidly performed classical arias, he sang ‘Rock of Ages’ arranged by George T. Llewellyn, grandfather of the choir’s very own MD, Diana Llewellyn. He also paid a warm tribute both to Diana and the choir’s accompanist, Annabel Adams, whose combined skill and passionate involvement have elevated the West Cork Choral Singers into a higher league than ever before. The other soloist, Brigitte Hammera van der Stam, had an impressive presence, with her lofty stature, raven hair, aquiline profile and a silky contralto voice – a comparative rarity amongst all the soprano soloists we normally hear. She sang an aria from Handel’s Messiah and a German folk song and ended with ‘Blow the Wind Southerly’ – unaccompanied, of course; a wonderful evocation of the great Kathleen Ferrier. To add to the ‘party atmosphere’, somewhere in the middle we were treated to a complete change of mood when the local traditional group, the Walsh family, roused us with their enthusiastic jigs, reels and slow airs played on accordion, flutes, whistle, banjo and mandolin.

Report by Geoffrey Phillips

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