Froncysyllte Male Voice Choir, Market Drayton Festival Centre - review
It’s artfully crafted, with soaring ambition and dramatic impact – and I’m not talking about the world-famous Froncysyllte aqueduct, but the sound of the male voice choir formed some 70 years ago in the adjacent village.
The sold-out Festival Centre audience warmed to that sound from the first introduction, delivered in gorgeously lyrical Welsh, right through to the British and Welsh national anthems at the end. The programme in between included arrangements of a piece from Wagner’s opera Rienzi, half a dozen show tunes, traditional Welsh songs, and popular American songs. Not to mention some warm-humoured shaggy dog stories from tenor Dave.
It’s my privilege as reviewer to highlight some of my personal favourites, so here goes:
I loved the sweet lilting melodies and deep second-bass line in Eric Whitacre’s The Seal Lullaby and the Welsh folk song Lisa Lân which followed it.
The choir’s version of When the Saints was the most cheerful I’ve ever heard.
And similarly I loved the playfulness of The Rhythm of Life (from Sweet Charity, by Cy Coleman). It was a thrilling arrangement, giving us a fusillade of staccato syllables as the tune was passed across the four voice parts, with a powerful harmonic finale. As the lyrics said: ‘The rhythm of life is a powerful beat, puts a tingle in your fingers and a tingle in your feet.’
Perhaps surprisingly on a distinctly secular Saturday night out, I was most moved by an arrangement of The Lord’s Prayer. The subdued opening lines, gently but clearly articulated, built to a rich and mighty crescendo on ‘thine is the power and the glory.’
The 45 ‘lads’ in the choir now hail from a wider area - in the triangle between Llangollen, Wrexham and Oswestry - and only about a quarter of them are Welsh-speaking. But their love for singing in the idiom and tradition of the Welsh male voice choir is cheeringly evident.
When I asked a group of them which songs they most liked performing they declared: “rousing stuff with a good Amen.”
Supporting the choir, singer-songwriter Alex Jayne gave us two short sets of mostly her own songs. Bright Lights and Home, to her guitar accompaniment, spoke of the attraction of the big city and 'a rubbish night out in Wolverhampton' respectively.
Alex mined a deeper vein with I Won’t Break, which she introduced with an ironic nod towards her ex 'who’s provided a lot of material'. With a finely nuanced piano accompaniment, it was a strong song about a young woman’s determination in the face of difficulties. Delivered without sentimentality, her performance was convincing and moving.
Originally from Shropshire, Alex dedicated her confidently dramatic interpretation of Leonard Cohen’s Hallelujah to her mother, who was in the audience. With tears welling, I suspect.
By John Hargreaves