This is the fourth in a series of posts about the choir’s history. Scroll down to see the earlier posts.
David Williams as conductor (2)
During the years that David Williams was in charge, the choir continued to expand its repertoire, covering music from the 17th to the 20th century that could be sung by a choir of fewer than fifty singers. However, Southport singers were given the opportunity of singing in a larger scale work in 1978, when David arranged a joint performance of Verdi’s Requiem with Altringham Choral Society and King’s Macclesfield School Choir. In fact there were two performances, one on 20 May at Wythenshaw Forum, when Neil Chaffey conducted, and one the following evening at Holy Trinity Southport, when David conducted.
In 1980, the choir (without choral reinforcements) performed the Monteverdi Vespers of 1610, a major undertaking because of the forces involved. This was the first time that the choir had performed with a period orchestra (the Guildhall Waites), and the first time it had employed an international soloist: Ian Partridge. The ‘echo’ tenor, incidentally, was sung by Adrian Thompson, who went on to gain similar renown. He clearly pleased the choir, because he was invited back to give a solo recital the following year.
Furthermore Adrian Thompson was engaged to sing the Evangelist when the choir performed Bach’s St Matthew Passion in 1985. This was an even more ambitious undertaking than the Monteverdi, because of the forces involved. Stephen Varcoe sang the part of Christus, and the other soloists were Elizabeth Lane, Kevin Smith, Christopher Underwood, Barry Banks and Andrew Greenan. The orchestra was the Yorkshire Baroque Soloists. The performance was a big success, filling the church and giving audience and performers alike a moving and rewarding experience.
But there were setbacks from time to time. One of the most dramatic, and in this part of the country most unexpected, was in December 1981 when a sudden snow-storm prevented the orchestra’s leader, among others, from reaching the church, and the concert had to be cancelled.
Colonel Roger Hesketh
In its early years the choir enjoyed the support of a patron, Colonel Roger Hesketh, who also composed small pieces for the choir. During the 1975-6 season the choir sang his anthem, ‘My soul cleaveth to the dust’ and during the 1985-6 season they performed his setting of Psalm 23. Colonel Hesketh died in November 1987, and members of the choir sang Schubert’s setting of that Psalm, one of his favourite pieces, at his funeral. The Easter concert in March 1988, when works by César Franck, Gerald Finzi, Poulenc and Rutter were performed, was dedicated to his memory. Colonel Hesketh holds an exceptional place in the choir’s history, for he has never been replaced as patron.
In 1985 members of the choir sang carols in Wayfarers’ Arcade, under the direction of Margaret Cowling, and a collection was made in aid of Age Concern. Thus was started a tradition that continues to this day. The location has changed from Wayfarers’ Arcade, to the Cambridge Arcade, to more recently the Marks and Spencer on Chapel Street, and the charity supported has changed from year to year, but singing carols for Christmas shoppers in the town centre is an enjoyable part of the choir’s season. We have, over the years, also sung carols in other locations: retirement homes, Birkdale village, Speke Hall and even, in 2014, the Pontins in Ainsdale.
I expect my next post about the history of the choir to be my last on this subject, bringing things up to the present.