RNCM Songsters were formed last year by post-graduate students at the Royal Northern College of Music and this year they have been coached by such distinguished art song practitioners as Alice Coot, Ian Partridge and Roderick Williams, writes Chris Robins.
Two of their members, soprano Teng Xiang Ting and bass-baritone James Berry – plus pianists Hayley Parkes and Emily Hooker – played Huddersfield Music Society’s December concert and were seriously good, as you would expect considering the mentors they have had this year.
They presented a heavy and technically difficult programme with much intensity, warmth of tone and accuracy.
Their programme included songs by Schubert, Fauré and Britten sung with varying degrees of sustained resonance and not so much tonal or emotional variety.
Vaughan Williams’ long and difficult group of nine songs under the title Songs of Travel found James Berry starting powerfully and suitably anguished throughout, but with vocal stamina waning towards the end.
He was much more effective in de Falla’s Seven Popular Spanish Songs, set higher in his register and lighter in texture.
On this evidence I wonder if he would be more comfortable as a baritone rather than bass-baritone as his career develops.
Ravel’s Five Popular Greek Melodies suited Teng Xiang Ting’s tone colour and temperament perfectly.
Ravel, arguably the best 20th century composer, was run a close second by Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) who wrote some 300 songs. Long neglected, he is now recognised as a major contributor to the song repertoire.
His teacher at the Royal College of Music, Charles Villiers Stanford who also taught Vaughan Williams, Arthur Bliss and Frank Bridge, described him as “potentially the biggest of them all.”
Two of his masterworks written while a student at the RCM, Sleep and Spring, were beautifully delivered by the two soloists.
Their piano accompanists were excellent throughout the concert, Hayley Parkes the more sparkling of the two, Emily Hooker more reflective and poetic.
It is good to hear what these musicians at the beginning of their careers can achieve already.
The University of Huddersfield also produces similar quality and its concert series is becoming more significant as the orchestral season at Huddersfield Town Hall goes into decline.
The university’s Chamber Choir is as seriously good as the RNCM Songsters.