The joy of singing, one year shy of 90 years, the Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir is uniquely placed on the National Choral map and definitely one to support. Tonight's St. David's Day Commemorative Concert held at University Church of Mary the Virgin, Oxford, with soloist Samantha Oxborough was just wonderful. Not only are the choristers joyful and angelic they are disciplined, true performers under the guidance and inspiration of talented Musical Director Helen Swift. One chorister was celebrating his 47th year with the choir and such dedication and lifelong love of singing is admirable.
With a combination of Choir, Musicians and Soloist, all three radiated charm and showcased their dedication to performance and engagement with the audience, making it a fun community event. Guest Soprano, Opera Singer, Birmingham Conservatoire trained, Samantha Oxborough shared the stage, singing while the choir hummed melodiously for 'Suo Gan' (famously featured in the movie Empire of The Sun) and later singing together in 'Morte Christe'. The audience were appreciative of her clarity of diction and engaging storytelling presence. She also showcased a range of solo pieces from well-known musicals. including 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow', 'Before I Gaze at You Again'. through to an opera aria 'Voi Che Sapete' from Mozart's The Marriage of Figaro. Samantha's bright musical future can only blossom as she embraces musical opportunities which may very well include gracing the stages of the world from Broadway to La Scala. Nominated by Oxford Welsh Male Voice Choir to perform in the upcoming National Welsh Choir Competition in May 2017 as the guest soloist, if Oxborough wins, she will be on stage amongst 1700 choristers and appear before an audience of 5000 at The Royal Albert Hall, London. All those present wished her luck and were heartfelt in their enjoyment of her performance this evening. An audience member's nodding and audibly cheery murmurings were indicative of the group around me.
Throughout the performance the choir were ably accompanied on grand piano by Tim Croston, who added a further charming dimension to the concert. Pipe organist Andrew Patterson played as the crowds mingled and were seated in the pews before the Choir began. Such a lovely sound, the Metzler Swiss Organ, built in 1986 and inspired by its 1676 replacement (destroyed by fire after WWII), added significant beauty and richness to the concert. An inspiration for upcoming conductors, Musical Director Helen Swift has a choral charisma that the choir wholeheartedly embraced which engendered a high quality of sound and interpretation of each piece. She introduced each song to the audience and charmingly included a childhood favourite, 'Fields of Athenry', sung so passionately yet delicate in delivery. The concert just kept on giving and a surprise of percussion instruments including Kazoos appearing in a clever rendition of 'Grandfather's Clock', showcased the theatrical and cheeky nature of the choir. Audience participation at this point rocking sideways and up and down at cued points went awry when the choir's theatrics got too engaging as did the infectious laughter. Dropping their heads in unison on the last missed word 'when the old man…' one woman seated closest to me call out 'Very Good'.
There is a truly generous community spirit thriving and exemplified by the communal singing of 'Blaenwern (Love Divine All Love Excelling)' by William Penfro Rowlands, 'Cwm Rhondda (Guide me O Thou Great Redeemer)' and the final commanding rendition of the Welsh Anthem. Topped off with the offer of wine and an abundance of traditional Welsh Cake carried on silver platters by cheerful, spritely daffodil button adored, Choristers. What more could this crowded Church wish for in a St. David's Day spectacular?