Todd - Mass in Blue & Wheeler - On the Breath of the Sky
Saturday 21 June 2014 at 7.30pm
Saffron Hall, Saffron Walden
Bethany Halliday: soprano
Will Todd Ensemble
SignuptoSing Saffron Walden Youth Choir
Janet Wheeler: conductor
Will Todd's Mass in Blue is an upbeat setting of the Latin mass for SATB choir, soprano solo and jazz trio. It is a brilliant blend of driving jazz grooves and clear, strong, choral writing against which the solo piano and solo soprano voice weave and blend in a delightful aural tapestry.
Bethany's virtuosic jazz singing is closely associated with this work. Her performances have been ecstatically reviewed. She also reprises the solo part in Janet Wheeler's cantata On the Breath of the Sky, having sung in the work's premiere in 2007 and subsequently recorded some of it. This cantata, to words by Nick Warburton, deals with the plight of the albatross and uses the same jazz trio backing as the Mass, with additional drums. Bethany and the Trio also perform a Jazz Set.
Review by Colin Durrant
Conductor Imperial College Choir and University of London Chamber Choir
One of the most refreshing choral concerts I have attended for a while, Saffron Walden Choral Society brought us a magnificent, inclusive and enjoyable concert on Saturday in everyone’s favourite concert hall.
The Will Todd Jazz Ensemble and members of the Saffron Walden youth choir, SignuptoSing, joined the choir for a real summer programme. The young singers displayed enthusiasm in their singing of two delightful songs – Wild Mountain Thyme and Waves and took a major role in Janet Wheeler’s On the Breath of the Sky. Janet is a very talented composer who sensitively set Nick Warburton’s words with a wonderful improvisatory beginning that captivated the audience. She deserves wider recognition.
The second half was devoted to Will Todd’s Mass in Blue. From the outset we were in the presence of an accomplished jazz ensemble who raised the bar for the choir. The score is an exciting one and most of the choir looked as if they were enjoying every moment. Where singers felt a freedom to move, this freed up their voices. This was particularly noticeable in the sopranos - who were really on form, but the choral ensemble was altogether convincing and blended beautifully with the instrumentalists. The music was moving, ecstatic, reflective and expressive. There are many choral settings of the mass, including contemporary ones, but this was different. It was so good to witness a traditional choral society stepping out of their (perhaps) comfort zone and singing jazz. The soprano soloist Bethany Halliday had a subtle and stylish voice and was utterly inside her performance, though she could have been amplified a little more in the ensemble sections. The instrumentalists were brilliant and successfully conveyed the character of the music.