The Cromwell Singers  Concert      “I could have danced all night!”

St Mary’s Church, Shaw, 4 June 2011


To quote from their programme notes, the Cromwell Singers “are a friendly group whose philosophy is one of combining musical enjoyment for our members and audience, whilst allowing singers to develop their musical skills in a supportive environment.” 


A first glance at the programme before Saturday’s concert began revealed that musical skills were certainly being tested with a wide range of items, including several that were completely new to me, and I eagerly awaited the unfolding of the evening’s entertainment.  Under the seemingly tirelessly enthusiastic direction of Rosemary Evans and the usual skilful and versatile piano accompaniment of Daphne George, the choir presented a lively and, in some cases, thought-provoking programme which met with unstinting approval from the audience. 


The first item the Jewish Al shlosha d’varim, despite its language challenges, was beautifully presented  with its message of truth, justice and peace.  The spiritual Witness which followed had excellent rhythms well brought out, as it recounted biblical incidents related  firstly  to Nicodemus and then Samson, the latter being at one point portrayed by Mike Barthorpe in his deep bass reference to the hair-cutting story!  The section finished with John Rutter’s well-known  composition of the early 1980’s (relatively early in his career) of The Lord bless you and keep you,  one of my own particular favourites, presented sensitively by the choir. 


If we had felt soothed by the Rutter, Arrival of the Queen of Sheba played as a piano duet by Rosemary Evans and Daphne George soon roused us from reverie!  Rosemary’s tongue-in-cheek comment about this much-loved piece was that (in one of her roles as a church organist) she might occasionally try to persuade brides-to-be that its title made it more appropriate for coming into church than going out!   On this occasion, it went at quite a lick, with pages being rapidly turned over as the many notes on the page were consumed by nimble fingers!  Something more sedate followed in the Andante and Allegro molto, KV381 by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart.   In its most refined sections, I could almost imagine myself dancing gracefully to it in period costume – (shades of “Armstrong and Miller” TV moments) and I had to give myself a mental slapped wrist to banish such images, and return to the beautiful notation being so ably rendered by the piano duettists! 


Back to the Cromwell Singers, for a pre-interval selection including some contemporary arrangements of two songs from “Mikado” and one from ”Pirates of Penzance”, Sullivan’s music having been given some clever and rather unusual harmonies in the arrangements by Bob Chilcott and Daryl Runswick.  This was not easy music, but the choir rose to the challenge.  Stalwart G & S followers might have found these arrangements rather unnerving at times, but for me it worked well and showed the choir’s ability to tackle something unexpected – I wrote “brave” on my programme!


Interval refreshments provided by the local Christian Aid committee were much appreciated by choir and audience, before we returned to the church for a rousing start to part 2, John Leavitt’s Laus Deo, which proved to be exciting and rhythmic in its syncopated setting.  Thomas Wood’s arrangement of Waltzing Matilda which followed told the story of the happenings at the billabong, with some traces of an outback accent appropriately discernable as they choir gave their spirited re-telling of the familiar events.


With lots of energy and enthusiasm still available, the duettists played a very spirited Polish dance Krakowiak Op55 No. 4 by Moritz Moszkowski – one of those tunes you don’t know that you know until you hear it.  Then, greeted with some amusement by the audience, there was some adjustment of the piano-seating arrangements (later becoming explicable), before Rosemary Evans and Daphne George began to play Theme and Variations Op6 by Randall Compton, and suddenly here was another tune that was familiar.  This was great fun, with sheets of music covered in notes, being played fast and furiously and then quickly discarded as the next page was reached - difficult music, and even more complicated when the two players got up at one point to swop seats at the piano and do a keyboard role reversal.  This was a real show-piece, greeted with much applause, and as the two pianists rose to take their bow, Rosemary was seen to utter “Phew!” 


To finish the concert, the Cromwell Singers performed Old Mother Hubbard by Victor Hely-Hutchinson arranged in Handelian style by J. Michael Diack (well-known for these skills).  The choir entered into the spirit of the story as they presented an old, sad tale in often sombre tones and with fitting expression, which delighted the listeners. 


Finally, to a medley of songs from Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” arranged by Strommen, during which the choir sang very tunefully, and included the cockney accents of Wouldn’t it be luverly? followed by the clipped elecution-lesson pronunciations of The Rain in Spain..  The piano accompaniment sparkled as the choir sang several other favourites from the show, till the reprise of I could have danced all night  brought the concert to a rousing finish (and gave the context of the title of the event). 


I know that this choir has gone from-strength-to-strength, giving much enjoyment to many people, building up their good ensemble singing, and venturing into more adventurous and imaginative musical arrangements under the guidance of Rosemary Evans (who certainly does her homework!)  At the same time, they have raised thousands of pounds over the years for charitable causes, and continue to welcome enquiries for their help in fund-raising events.  In her vote of thanks, Libby Goldsack, the St Mary’s Church representative of the Newbury branch of Christian Aid, was able to announce that several hundred pounds had been raised by this concert which would contribute “to supporting Christian Aid’s  emergency aid work and to helping the world’s poorest people to help themselves”.  As we made our way out of the church, we felt truly uplifted by this event, its varied content, and by its relevance to the wider world.



Carolyn Greenwood


Reproduced with the kind permission of Newbury Weekly News