Saturday 18 August, 4.00 pm, Cathedral of the Holy Spirit

Antonin DVORÁK : Mass in D Major (1892)

Felix MENDELSSOHN : Hymn of Praise (1840)

Jennifer Little, Pauline Rowe, Laurence Walls, David Morriss

Director : Alison Stewart   Pianist : Guy Donaldson

                                          Spirited Performance

                            Reviewed by Vivian Bevan, Manawatu Standard (20/08/2007)

Many are familiar with Dvorak’s symphonies and chamber works, but may have little experience of his choral repertoire. With their commanding performance of the Czech master’s D Major Mass the Palmerston North Choral Society demonstrated to a large and appreciative audience what we have been missing.

    From the gently lilting Kyrie and the brilliance of the Gloria followed by the drama of the Credo, with a fine contribution from alto soloist Pauline Rowe, the genius and simple sincerity of Dvorak shone through. Then to a spirited Sanctus and Benedictus with its climactic Hosanna and to a gently lilting Agnus Dei, ending the work as it started.

    Throughout, Dvorak demonstrates his mastery of form, design, and flair for melody. All four soloists made delightful contributions both individually and collectively. Right from that lovely opening I was much taken with Jennifer Little’s soprano voice, and enjoyed all the solos from tenor Laurence Walls and bass David Morriss.


Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, after the interval, opened with a stirring and exuberant performance of a truncated pianistic version of the Sinfonia by Guy Donaldson. Then on to a full-throated opening chorus with the re-energised choir. Once more lovely soprano solos, tenor arias, and the well-known soprano and alto duet, I Waited for the Lord, beautifully presented.

    After several resounding choral climaxes I detected some forced stridency among some of the sopranos with a few high notes not quite up to pitch - very common in un-auditioned large choirs. In the Mendelssohn the top line is the most difficult and this was the only blemish. The altos and the tenors did good work, and most impressive was the strong and confident bass line throughout the entire programme.

    Not only was the concert a triumph for conductor Alison Stewart’s direction, selection, training, and expertise, but praise also for skill and musicality of the accompanist, Guy Donaldson, whose authoritative command of the keyboard held all sections tightly together to produce a performance to be proud of.




Saturday 12 May, 7.30 pm, All Saints’ Church

Carl Maria von WEBER : Jubilation Mass (1819)

Franz Joseph HAYDN : Mass in time of war (1796)


Balanced, confident performance by city choir

                               Reviewed by Stephen Fisher, Manawatu Standard (14/05/2007)

For this concert the choral society chose to celebrate  the mass with performances of Weber’s Jubilation Mass (1818-19) and Haydn’s Mass in the Time of War (1796). Both composers were exploring the concert version of the form at a time when purists were trying to ensure the Mass remained true to its sacred use. Fortunately for us, their creative experiments reigned supreme and we have two masses full of musical interest, making for a very pleasant evening’s entertainment. The Jubilation Mass is an upbeat work written for a golden wedding , while the Mass in Time of war is probably an anti-war expression by Haydn, though the composer left no notes about his intentions. The latter work would have benefited from the inclusion of the timpani score - several movements use the instrument to ominous effect - but this performance was still a most enjoyable experience.

These works were indeed a big challenge to the choir, but one to which they responded well - balanced and confident throughout, singing with energy, commitment, good tone and a pleasing feel for the style of their material. Undoubtedly conductor Alison Stewart had spent many hours in rehearsal. The efforts paid off handsomely.

Roy Tankersley provided a stirring accompaniment on the organ throughout the evening. For both works the choir was joined by four young soloists, Natalie Stent (soprano), Rebecca Murphy (contralto), Richard Taylor (tenor) and Craig Beardsworth (bass), providing a thoroughly satisfying balance to the chorus, particularly in the quartet, although the fine technique of the lower voices was not quite matched by the still developing voice of Stent.

It is a pity that these fine works receive so little attention. This performance was testament to their rightful place in the vocal music tradition and Palmerston North Choral Society is to be thanked.

                                An evening of fine music

                                    Reviewed by Jenny Boyack, Guardian (17/05/2007)

Palmerston North concertgoers who braved the cold to attend Saturday’s Choral Society ‘Mass-fest’ enjoyed an evening of fine music. Weber’s short but richly-conceived “Jubilation Mass” provided a delightful foil for Haydn’s more extended “Mass in Time of War”. Both works exemplify the best of their respective time periods and have much to interest and engage the listener.

Under Alison Stewart’s direction, the Choral Society demonstrated a consistently disciplined and focused approach to their singing. In spite of numerical differences between the voice parts, Stewart was able to achieve a balanced sound across the full choir. A confident bass section provided a firm foundation for the rest of the choir to build on, with this particularly evident in the ‘pleni sunt caeli’ section of the Haydn “Sanctus”.

One consistent feature of the choral singing was the expressive approach to the opening of each movement. Another highlight was beautifully-shaped unison singing in which Stewart’s attention to unified vowel sounds shone through. At times though there were intonation difficulties and these detracted from the overall beauty. Attention from individuals and the choir as a whole to improving and sustaining vocal support would impact positively on the quality of the sound.

Although the strong tone colour contrasts between the soloists was a little disconcerting at times, their ensemble work showed a high level of musical communication and sensitivity. Rebecca Murphy displayed her warm alto voice to full advantage, and it was a pleasure to hear how former Palmerston North resident Craig Beardsworth’s voice has developed over the past few years. Tenor Richard Taylor and Natalie Stent were consistently secure and contributed some lovely moments to both works.

Organist Roy Tankersley worked tirelessly to deliver an ‘orchestral’ accompaniment on the beautiful All Saints’ organ with the variet of timbre and texture adding significantly to the strength and power of the music. Nowhere was this more obvious than in the opening of the Haydn “Gloria” with its sensitively-shaped dialogue between choir, soloists and organ.

Once again, the Choral Society has contributed a significant event to the Palmerston North choral scene. Congratulations to Alison Stewart and the entire musical ensemble for a most enjoyable performance.

                            Choral Society takes on masses

                                    Reviewed by Karen Carter, Tribune (20 May 2007)

A concert comprising two masses might be considered overwhelming. However, the two works provided a foil for each other, with their distinctive settings. The first, Weber’s Jubilation Mass, one of only three masses that he composed, was written in 1809 for the golden wedding of the German King and Queen. It is a celebratory work, intimate in nature and without the dramatic highs of some masses.

Although the numerical balance between the choir parts was uneven, their sound was clear, confident and well blended. This work demanded much of the soprano soloist whose tone was at times forced and lacked support, particularly in the upper register.

The second work, Haydn’s Mass in Time of War (1796), invokes the Napoleonic wars but is usually considered a call for peace. It features elaborate, contrasting sections with wide dynamic changes. The choir rose admirably to the challenges posed by this mass.

In both works the Benedictus was the showcase for the soloists. They worked well together and produced a pleasing, unified sound. The standout among them was Rebecca Murphy. Her beautiful even tone, controlled sound and lovely phrasing were highlights of the solo passages in the Agnus Dei (Weber) and Kyrie (Haydn).

Organist Roy Tankersley provided a strong colourful foundation for the singers throughout the works.

The concert was ably conducted by Alison Stewart who melded the musical forces into a single strong coherent voice. This was a very satisfying and enjoyable concert.                              

        G.F. Handel: Messiah (Saturday 9 December 2006)

                    Reviewed by Stephen Fisher, Manawatu Standard (11/12/2006)

The world’s most popular oratorio, Messiah, was undoubtedly a popular choice for the Choral Society to conclude its programme for 2006. With a massed choir of over 70 voices [about 100 including the boy sopranos] and players from the Manawatu Sinfonia numbering nearly 30, audience expectations were high as the performers filled the Regent on Broadway stage.

For such a large performance, the Choral Society had invited the Huntley School Choir to appear as guest choristers. The choir was joined by soloists Pepe Becker (soprano), Ellen Barrett (contralto), John Beaglehole (tenor), Roger Wilson (bass) and Craig Holdaway (trumpet), with continuo provided by Roy Tankersley (harpsichord) and Sasha Routh (cello).

Alison Stewart soon established firm control of the performance with her steady tempos and obvious understanding of the work, and after an understandably shaky start, the performers soon responded to her guidance, providing a pleasing, often thrilling performance of this sacred masterpiece.

As with so much well-known music, Messiah provides an obvious challenge, but no one could have been disappointed with the popular airs, such as Every Valley, The Trumpet Shall Sound and He was Despised.

All of the soloists delighted the ear with their glorious expression and tone.

Tankersley and Routh  were a superbly supportive continuo, the Manawatu Sinfonia performed with magnificent restraint throughout, and Holdaway’s trumpet added much to the magnificence of the occasion.

But the choristers themselves also shone throughout as they completed the story. They were surprisingly well balanced, no mean feat in itself, considering their placing on the stage and the acoustics of a proscenium arch theatre.

They sang with good tone, pleasing diction and a confidence that comes from many hours of preparation, leading to the thrilling second-half performance of Hallelujah where, happily responding to tradition, the audience rose to their feet to mark the occasion and then burst out into spontaneous applause - an applause repeated at the end where the appreciation was obviously genuine and very heartfelt.

                            Reviewed by Mary Ayres, The Guardian (14/12/2006)

Congratulations to conductor Alison Stewart on her direction of the PNCS performance of Handel’s Messiah. Surely this presentation affirmed that this oratorio remains a masterpiece and a star in the repertoire of choral music. Stewart combined a 100 strong chorus, instrumental ensemble, continuo and soloists, in a quality production.

Some tempi could have been a little more relaxed, to enable flexibility, and clarity of the contrapuntal entries and passages; and I felt the Pastorale lacked some mystique, as one prepared for the wondrous events to unfold.

However, there was much to be thrilled and positive about, especially approaching and proceeding through part 2.

Credit to the sopranos who, with the inclusion of the Huntley Boys Choir, sustained a true and clear tonal quality throughout.

The altos, possibly low in numbers, sometimes lacked the support and balance required in the fugal entries, but a pleasant tone emerged as confidence grew.

The basses sang with great abandon, and the tenor voices blended well.

Overall, Stewart engendered an excellent choral sound.

Without the stalwart support of the ensemble, including many young players, and the magnificent continuo of Sasha Routh, cello, and Roy Tankersley, harpsichord, there could have been no such grand performance.

The stamina required to sustain clarity, precision, and remain musically viable throughout was a demand well met.

Excellent soloists provided highlights such as He Was Despised, sung with sensitivity and beautiful tonal quality by contralto Ellen Barrett.

Soprano Pepe Becker excelled in the aria I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, with a display of vocal embellishment and purity of tone typical of the Baroque Soprano.

Roger Wilson added drama with his rich and agile bass voice, whilst John Beaglehole encompassed the tenor register with assurance, clarity and ease - Comfort Ye was a great start.

The Hallelujah Chorus, proclaimed in all its majesty, with glorious trumpet playing added by Craig Holdaway, brought a spontaneous salute from the audience, in age-old tradition.

We stood to honour not only the master, but as testament to an exhilarating performance. Prolonged ovation gave us the Hallelujah Chorus again - more standing, nostalgic chat, we had our fix for the night.

                               Reviewed by Kirsten Clark, The Tribune (17/12/2006)

Spine-tingling stuff at Messiah.

Handel’s Messiah did not disappoint.

The fabulous soloists John Beaglehole (tenor), Roger Wilson (bass), Ellen Barrett (contralto) and Pepe Becker (soprano) seemed to sing with little effort, beautiful tone and fine musicianship. Barrett’s performance of He Was Despised was chilling, and I don’t believe there was a person in the audience who wasn’t touched by it.

The choruses went from good to great. I have to make special mention here of the boys from Huntley School (who were not mentioned [named individually] in the programme). These choruses are not easy, and the boys’ behaviour and sustained attention for that length of time needs to be applauded.

The Choral Society sang well in the first half. But by the second half were really warmed up, and went from strength to strength.

I enjoyed the gusto and the enthusiasm of the members of the bass section, who appeared to be having the time of their lives.

I also commend the soprano section for its sustained high pitch in those long passages.

The small number of tenors was able to establish a balance with the large numbers in other sections.

However, the small number of altos, with their lovely warm tone, didn’t make the impact they needed to make when they had the theme.

The Manawatu Sinfonia played sensitively in a role that was largely an accompanying one, showcasing the talents and experience of our musicians.

The highlight of the evening was the Hallelujah Chorus. It was stunning.

Craig Holdaway’s trumpet added a bright sparkle to the sound, which seemed to inspire everyone to new heights. His clear tone soared above the singers and orchestra like a chiming bell. It was spine-tingling.

In summary, it was a fine night of music, and I take my hat off to Alison Stewart for all the effort that went into bringing all these performers together. Under her direction, a fine musical force has been created.

Handel’s Oratorio Judas Maccabaeus is rarely heard in the concert hall these days and so it was a pleasure indeed to hear the Choral Society perform Handel’s celebration of the victory of the Israelites, led by Judas Maccabee over the Syrians.

- Manawatu Standard, June 2006

The Palmerston North Choral Society, combined with the Arcadian Singers from Taihape gave a sterling performance of Handel’s oratorio Judas Maccabeus on Saturday night at All Saints’ church. Under the assured direction of Alison Stewart, the choral forces maintained energy and flow, creating appropriately dramatic contexts for the solo numbers they frame.

- Tribune, June 2006

Plaudits for conductor Alison Stewart, for presenting interesting and challenging works to further extend the choral society’s musical horizons.

- Manawatu Standard, Nov 2005

Choral Society celebrates St Cecilia’s Day in style.

- Tribune, November 2005

It was obvious that Alison Stewart had spent considerable time with the Choral Society working on ensemble, timing, and tempo, and they responded with the consistently best performance I have heard from them

- Guardian, May 2005

Choral Society puts on a feast of St Nicholas. Alison Stewart’s decision to have a second choir in the gallery for the Britten delighted the surprised audience and showed the quality of the Cathedral’s acoustics. The audience appreciated the use of trebles (from Huntley School) including a solo from Timothy Stewart

- Manawatu Standard, Dec 2004

When the Choir performed MESSIAH in 2001, the Manawatu Standard published this favourable response from Stephen Fisher:

Few musical works have ever caught the public’s imagination so vividly as Handel’s oratorio on the life and nature of Christ.... It was therefore a great pleasure to see such a large audience at the Regent last Saturday night for the Palmerston North Choral Society’s presentation of this perennial favourite, a fitting tribute for an event which would have taken many hours of organization and rehearsal.

Conductor Graham Parsons obviously knew his music well, revealing much of its sheer beauty.

The choir sang with excellent diction, but occasionally seemed a little nervous during the early stages of the evening. However, they certainly came into their own during the second half, where the huge contrasts between such choruses as Since By Man Came Death and Hallelujah were beautifully presented....

The balance between choir and orchestra was excellent throughout the evening, both complementing each other well....

Soloists Pepe Becker (Soprano) and Ellen Barrett (Alto) made welcome returns to the Palmerston North stage. Ms Becker has a beautiful bell-like quality in her voice and it is well suited for this work, while Ms Barrett sang with expressive richness, her second-half air being a memorable highpoint of the evening....

There is no doubt that just presenting such a large-scale performance of The Messiah is an achievement in itself, but the Choral Society must be congratulated on the quality of its work.

This is community music-making at its best, and it was most pleasing to see our community out in force for such an event.

In the Tribune, Ray Watchman made these relevant comments:

Overall, this was a good, robust community performance of Handel’s immortal oratorio...., and it was pleasing to see the Regent nearly full to capacity with an enthusiastic audience.

Graham Parsons had the music well in hand and was confident in his handling of such a large ensemble of instrumentalists and singers....

Soprano Pepe Becker and contralto Ellen Barrett gave a good account of themselves. Their ‘He Shall Feed His Flock’ was delightful....

The sustained ovation spoke for itself. An oratorio, celebrating the Lord of Christmas, generously given was generously received.




Saturday 8 December, 7.30 pm

Cathedral of the Holy Spirit 

Johann Sebastian BACH : Christmas Oratorio 1-4 (1734)

Rebecca Murphy, Richard Taylor, Richard Harris

Guy Donaldson, Jonathan Berkahn

Alison Stewart

A Christmas Treat

The Palmerston North Choral Society, directed by Alison Stewart. Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. With soloists Rebecca Murphy (mezzo-soprano and countertenor), Richard Taylor (tenor) and Richard Harris (bass). Harpsichord: Guy Donaldson. Organist: Jonathan Berkahn.

      Reviewed by: Karen Carter (The Guardian, 13/12/07)

Bach composed his Christmas Oratorio in 1734. The full work has six cantatas, one for each of the holy days associated with Christmas. Each cantata is divided into movements featuring different combinations of performers among the soloists, choir and accompaniment.

This performance consisted of the first three cantatas and the start of the fourth, taking us up to New Years’ day. Musical Director Alison Stewart hit the right note with her selection of this work. It was an inspiring choice to lead us into the festive season. Although not as well known as the perennial favourite, Messiah, it is a rich and dramatic work which deserves to be performed more often.

This was a stunning performance from an accomplished choir. From the opening procession to the final chorus the audience were held in thrall. The leadership and support provided by conductor Alison Stewart and accompanists Jonathan Berkahn and Guy Donaldson created a platform which enhanced both the music and the performers.

Although due to illness we were denied hearing perform Stephen Rowley (countertenor), Rebecca Murphy more than ably stepped into the breach with just three days notice. Along with Richard Taylor and Richard Harris the vocal soloists were outstanding - sensitive and subdued when required and glorious when in full voice.

A choir of this calibre is a significant asset to the community and the public recognised this with an excellent turnout and a venue close to full. Simply stated, this performance was sublime.

Reviewed by: Christopher Abbey (The Tribune, 16/12/2007)

Boy soprano memories and Jacques Loussier’s Play Bach hardly offer suitable credentials for appraising Bach’s Christmas Oratorio. So, this reviewer attended the Palmerston North Choral Society’s presentation with some trepidation.

No need! The Cathedral of the Holy Spirit’s spectacular arches, evening sunlight illuminating stained glass, and twinkling tinsel bestowed the perfect setting. The Palmerston North Choral Society delivered the rest.

As the first chords of the cathedral organ cascaded from the pipes, the choir entered from the rear, filing left and right down the aisles before bursting into the opening chorus. From that melodious moment the audience was captured not only by the religious theme but also the joyfulness that is Christmas. The choir moved to the traditional rostrum and transported us into a 260-year-old musical version of a most familiar story.

True, some harmonies did fragment and the tempo deserved more light and shade. The hymnal-paced chorale Thee With Tender Care I’ll Cherish and the regal Rejoice and Sing stood out accordingly.

Musical director Alison Stewart’s energetic commitment influenced everyone, and soloists and 58-strong choir responded accordingly.

Tenor Richard Taylor, although a trifle thin in his arias, suited the role of Evangelist with clearly enunciated recitatives that linked all facets of the well-known chronicle together.

Richard Harris’ strong bass and fluent delivery was particularly effective in adding variety and interest to some repetitive arias.

Soloist supreme, though, was mezzo-soprano Rebecca Murphy, who took over the counter-tenor/alto role at [a few] days’ notice. Her effortless rich mezzo suited both soprano and alto roles and she enchanted the audience with her relaxed professionalism.

Accompaniment, based around the organ, featured the talented Jonathan Berkahn. He supported the choir admirably while displaying a mastery of the score, though a trifle more tonal variety would not have gone amiss.

Guy Donaldson’s electronic tinkling harpsichord endowed background to chorale and solo, holding harmonies together and supporting the recitatives melodically.

The Choral Society chose to shorten the oratorio, ending it on New Year’s Day (Part 4). This did not prevent a most rewarding evening of 18th-century music presented in a lovely setting and celebrating our most popular festival.


                                            Achievèd is the glorious work!

                                    HAYDN’S CREATION

   Renaissance Singers, Palmerston North Choral Society, Manawatu Sinfonia

                            Regent on Broadway, Sunday, November 30, 3 pm

                                  Reviewed by Stephen Fisher,  Manawatu Standard
2008 has seen much fine music making from city musicians but yesterday’s performance of Haydn’s Creation was certainly the Jewel in the Crown as these combined forces came together in an immensely satisfying performance.

    The work itself presents some fine examples of Haydn’s most inventive writing as he presents the story of the creation of the Earth with some marvellous music for moments such as the coming of light, some glorious arias for all three soloists and some thrilling choruses.

    This performance was characterised by excellence in all aspects with the full wonder and majesty of Haydn’s score revealed throughout.

    As the narrating angels Morag Atchison, Richard Phillips and Hadleigh Adams were superb. Atchison has a gloriously warm soprano voice, Phillips a richly-expressive tenor voice while local lad now making a mark on the national scene, Hadleigh Adams, possesses a splendidly fine bass voice. All three made the most of their recitatives and arias much to the delight of the audience.

    The Creation makes many of its demands on the choir, but here the combined forces of the Renaissance Singers and the Choral Society were equal to the task throughout, giving us a beautifully controlled performance of great strength and compassion, while the Manawatu Sinfonia revealed the greatness in the score with sensitivity and expertise.

    Much of the success of the afternoon was due to conductor Guy Donaldson’s empathy with, and great command of, the score, his attention to detail, but always his understanding of the musical demands of the score and the shape of the work as a whole.  This performance brought well over 100 of the fine music makers in the community together and to see them all working so passionately to present an afternoon of such magnificent music ensures that this performance will linger in the memory for much time to come.

                                          Audience enraptured by stunning oratorio

                                            Reviewed by Christopher Abbey, Tribune

In the early 1790s Joseph Haydn visited London where he experienced Handel’s great choral works performed in Westminster Abbey. Inspired to create his own oratorio, he worked himself to a standstill over a period of 18 months before The Creation was first performed in 1798.

   Last Sunday, the city’s musical enthusiasts enjoyed another performance of this glorious classical work.

   Our resplendent Regent on Broadway’s stage accommodated two choirs and an orchestra easily and - from the opening crashing chords sounding musical chaos, through all six days of God’s creation of the Universe, to the Garden of Eden - this stunning oratorio enraptured the afternoon’s sizeable audience. A gathering, it should be noted, consisting generally of much older generations than some of the very young talented musicians in the compact Manawatu Sinfonia. Contributing the musical base for this harmonious masterpiece, the odd wayward sound was of little consequence as the orchestra glided through the melodious embodiment of the evolvement of our very being. Under the undulating baton of Guy Donaldson, whose contributions to the city’s musical world are priceless, the orchestra maintained a melodic platform for the choirs and of course the Archangels - the three soloists who linked the story with recitative narrative and song.

   Aucklander Morag Atchison (Gabriel/Eve) is a strong soprano whose song soared with pleasing precision, especially in her duets with Adam.

   Welsh-born tenor Richard Phillips (Uriel), although a trifle thin to begin with, fulfilled his billing delightfully, especially in the trios.

   However, it was Palmerston North-born bass, Hadleigh Adams (Raphael/Adam), boasting a rich strident voice that embellished aria, duet, and trio, who shone. His clear diction and whimsical smile enchanted the audience.

   The 88-strong heavenly choir fulfilled all Haydn’s wishes, rising as one to the conductor’s wave and singing forth like angels. No-one would have thought they were in fact two separate choral groups as they mastered some impressive harmonies while maintaining excellent diction and control. Best of all, they looked like they were enjoying themselves revelling in the cadence of a great work and knowing they held a rapt audience in the palms of their hands.

   It is eight years since these talented groups last combined and this reviewer sincerely hopes we don’t have to wait another eight before we can again appreciate the combined talents that abound in musical Manawatu. Three curtain calls testified to the success of this production. May we have many more.

Guy Donaldson conducting, Morag Atchison singing, stereo microphones recording!



                                                            Richard Phillips singing Uriel archangelically  







Gaye Carrington-Smith (Soprano)   Pauline Rowe (Contralto)    Paul Lyons (Bass)

Alison Stewart (Musical Director)     Guy Donaldson (Piano Accompanist)

                             FROM OPERA TO POPERA

                                                        Reviewed by Karen Carter

                                                                   The Guardian

An afternoon at the Opera is a new direction for the Palmerston North Choral Society. Capitalising on a renewed worldwide interest in opera, the Society presented an eclectic mix of operatic choruses, arias, solos and duets that have universal appeal.

    In a performance of two distinctly different halves, the first-half choruses concentrated on operatic classics from Purcell, Handel, Mozart, Puccini, Rossini, Wagner, Verdi and Borodin. The second half focused on “popera” - the works of Llloyd Webber, Schonberg, Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Gilbert and Sullivan, featuring selections from Phantom of the Opera, Les Misérables, Oklahoma and a medley from HMS Pinafore/ Mikado/ Pirates of Penzance.

    Given a chilly mid-winter afternoon, there was a surprisingly good turnout. Those who braved the sub-standard venue heating and waited out the rather long programme were richly rewarded.

    Performing in English, the choir had a sure grasp of musical styles, which ranged from the dramatic to the lyrical and comedic. Splitting into male and female choruses for some works was particularly effective, with ‘When the felon’s not engaged’ from the Pirates of Penzance a real crowd-pleaser.

    The guest performers were assured and commanding, and their operatic selections showed each voice at its best. Both individually and in combination, these were stylish performances which were clearly appreciated by the audience.

    Guy Donaldson’s contribution deserves special mention. His setting of the mood and sensitive and supportive accompanying were integral to the success of the programme.

    Alison Stewart introduced each bracket of items, summarizing for the audience the story of each chorus with a deft and often humorous explanation. Her direction of the performers maintained the high standards she sets, with superb interpretation, blend, balance and dynamic shading all to the fore.

    The Choral Society never disappoints.

                                    OPERA CONCERT CATERS FOR ALL TASTES

                                                    Reviewed by Stephen Fisher

                                                            Manawatu Standard

With this concert the Choral Society broadened its repertoire into the world of Opera, both classical and contemporary, presenting a selection of well-known and less familiar choruses, using arrangements by John Rutter, a contemporary English composer.

    The choruses ranged from Purcells Dido and Aeneas, written in 1689, through to Les Miserables. This was mixed with a selection of popular arias sung by Gaye-Carrington Smith, Pauline Rowe and Paul Lyons.   

    There was much variety in the concert, ensuring all tastes were catered for. All songs were brilliantly accompanied by Guy Donaldson.

    Both Gaye Carrington-Smith and Pauline Rowe repeated operatic material they had presented last weekend at Te Manawa - it was a delight to hear these two again, especially in a larger venue.

    Bass Paul Lyons included a selection ranging from Verdi [Macbeth] through to Anthem from Chess and several Gilbert and Sullivan items - the latter in particular proving very popular with the audience, who enjoyed his expressive presentation.

    The Choir presented a range of choruses including Verdis Chorus of the Hebrew Captives and Wagners Pilgrims Chorus, while more contemporary selections, including works from Phantom of the Opera and Oklahoma, made up the second half.

    While the choir was generally in good voice, several of the selections were taken at a considered pace, meaning they were slightly more difficult to sing. This might have been the reason the choir occasionally lacked the support and conviction I am used to,

    Managing the flow between items could also have helped the afternoon move a little more quickly.

    However, there is no doubt that the audience enjoyed the Choir’s performance throughout, particularly as this concert presented a greater number of items than usual, that were familiar to listeners who obviously appreciated their efforts.

                                OPERA IN ALL ITS DISGUISES

                                                            Reviewed by Roger Buchanan

                                                                        The Tribune

Opera - that most beloved and most loathed of genres. One of the latest “classical” forms to cross over into the “popular” idiom, thanks to groups such as The Three Tenors, Amici, and Il Divo.

    Crossover artists, though shunned by many a purist, have nevertheless done more to make opera more accessible to a wider audience than any look-down-your-nose-at us academic. Modern musical theatre has also helped to blur the definition of opera, with the likes of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables slotting easily into its defining characteristics.

    This, then, was the nature of the Palmerston North Choral Society’s concert last Sunday - a journey through the history of opera from Purcell to Lloyd Webber, through some of its popular choruses.

    Soprano Gaye-Carrington Smith, contralto Pauline Rowe, and bass Paul Lyons punctuated the programme with some well-known arias and duets. Some of the highlights of the soloist’ work for me included Carrington-Smith’s dramatic Puccini interpretations, Rowe’s Dido’s Lament - its poignancy simply and effectively delivered; and Lyons’ animated Gilbert and Sullivan characterisations.

    Choruses in an opera provide comment on what is happening in the story - they are generally powerful musical numbers, either in their dramatic excitement or in their introspective beauty. They stir the soul. Although the choral performances here warmed my soul, they never stirred it. That’s not to say there weren’t some lovely moments, but despite a pleasing well-blended sound, the choir was not always at one rhythmically.

    The second half of the concert featured the “modern” side of opera - often dismissed as “light” opera. (Come out of a good performance of Les Miserables and tell me it is light opera!) There were several excerpts from Gilbert and Sullivan, which were not lacking in the light-heartedness and humour for which they are known and loved by many, particularly in the excellent performances of Paul Lyons.

    Some of the memorable tunes of Les Miserables and Phantom of the Opera were presented as a medley. Medleys almost always disappoint as they tend to undermine the integrity and beauty of the songs that have been butchered to be strung together. I felt

this was the case here, though this is a criticism of the arrangements and not of the singing, which overall was well-executed. Some songs deserve to be heard for more than just a few lines.

    Conductor Alison Stewart handled the repertoire and the choir well, and generously gave us brief resumes of the operas being performed. Her personal touch was well received by the audience.

    Guy Donaldson negotiated the piano reductions and accompaniments beautifully. Accompanying opera on piano is never an easy task - the pianist is expected with his two hands to provide all the drama and infinite variety of a full orchestral backing - but Donaldson’s special gift for operatic accompanying shone through.

    Just a couple of final thoughts - have you ever noticed that the tune of Bring Him Home from Les Miserables is very, very similar to Puccini’s Humming Chorus from Madame Butterfly? Tut tut.

   And it’s a shame that some of the audience left at half time, due no doubt to the freezing cold church. Thank goodness there was the singing to warm the soul.


Soloists enhance a stirring performance




Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard)

The Choral Society regularly presents large-scale concerts that can be inspiring through the choir’s obvious joy of, and commitment to, their music.

   Saturday night’s concert proved no exception as they presented the wold’s most popular oratorio, The Messiah, to a large and enthusiastic audience.

   Celebrating 90 years of bringing to life the great choral masterpieces for our community, Saturday night’s performance must surely go down in the annals of the society as one of their major successes, because of the pleasing standard of music making.

   The excellent choice of soloists included soprano Pepe Becker whose I Know That My Redeemer Liveth, for example, was sung with an extraordinarily beautiful pure tone, while Ellen Barrett’s gloriously rich alto voice gave much character to the performance. Tenor John Beaglehole was also in good voice for his solos which included Every Valley, while Roger Wilson brought the evening to a wonderful climax with his rendition of The Trumpet Shall Sound.

   The choir itself, supplemented by members of the Huntley School Chapel Choir, sang with increasing confidence throughout, and while they may have lacked a little tone in the early parts they made up for this in the second half of the evening where their strength and conviction was splendid.

   It was pleasing to note the return of the tradition of standing through  the Hallelujah Chorus, this obviously being a cue for the audience in hearty voice, to sing along.

   The Manawatu Sinfonia provided a supportive accompaniment throughout, while Roy Tankersley was excellent on the harpsichord, and ably supported by Anne Pinkney on the cello and David Maas on the trumpet.

   As expected, the conductor Alison Stewart kept a tight control of the work.

   The Messiah was a remarkable achievement for the Choral Society, bringing celebrations for the 90th anniversary of the choir to a fitting climax indeed.

Energetic outing for seasonal favourite


Reviewed by Jenny Boyack (The Guardian)

It seems fitting that the culmination of Palmerston North Choral Society’s 90th year celebrations should be a performance of Handel’s The Messiah, the best-known and most-loved of the established choral repertoire. And the crowd of friends, supporters and music lovers in the Regent Theatre were not disappointed.

   Under Alison Stewart’s confident leadership, every aspect of the performance was carefully attended to. The overall character was energetic and forward moving and the choir had been beautifully schooled to match Stewart’s vigorous tempo. Apart from some tentative chorus openings, familiarity with the score shone through enabling listeners to anticipate and appreciate Handel’s masterly build-up of musical texture.

   Like ‘The Messiah’ itself, enjoying the musical presence of the four soloists was akin to being in the company of old friends, each with their time to shine. John Beaglehole’s opening recitative and aria were direct and unforced, and Ellen Barrett captured the depth of emotion that threads through the alto solos. Roger Wilson sang with his usual passion and assurance, and Pepe Becker’s soaring and fluid soprano line was an absolute delight.

   Underpinning the entire performance was the superb work of the Manawatu Sinfonia which seems to go from strength to strength. Mention must be made of Roy Tankersley (harpsichord) and Anne Pinkney’s (cello) sensitive continuo, ably supported by Lavinia Elder (double bass), Milja Albers-Pearce (bassoon) and Allan Rae (orchestra leader). David Maas provided a thrilling trumpet solo and Tim Jones some carefully-conceived additions to Handel’s original timpani score.

   Attendance at a live performance of The Messiah is, for many people, an integral part of their experience of the Christmas season and it is groups like the Choral Society which make this possible. Given the need to nurture and develop the ongoing tradition in generations to come, the participation of the Huntley School choir was particularly pleasing. Not only did they contribute to the wonderful visual effect on stage and to a clarity of sound in the soprano section, but it was also a delight to see how the older choristers mentored and supported the boys on stage.

   As did the audience on Saturday night, we offer the Palmerston North Choral Society sustained applause, a standing ovation, and the call ‘encore’!

Rapturous Messiah performance


Reviewed by Christopher Abbey (The Tribune)

Cards, crackers, cakes, trees, puddings - everyday words that adhere comfortably to the word “Christmas”. Synonymous with Christmas alone is the word “carol”, which chorally proclaims the festive season.

   Last Saturday, celebrating their 90th anniversary, the Palmerston North Choral Society heralded Christmas with its stirring presentation of Handel’s Messiah.

   Our majestic Regent on Broadway’s acoustic-screened tiered concert setting welcomed a near capacity audience as musical director Alison Stewart, resplendent in a cloak of many colours, raised her arms and the youthful 31-strong Manawatu Sinfonia launched into the overture to this most enduring sacred oratorio.

   Setting the scene, John Beaglehole’s splendid effortless tenor recitative and air assembled a platform for the first stirring chorus. Despite being seated until midway through part 2, his fervent delivery of two further airs clinched a stirring performance.

   The bass part was beautifully sung by Roger Wilson in his 55th performance of the role. Experience and perfect diction gilded a fine voice.

   Alto Ellen Barrett, who sang this role in the Cathedral of the Holy Spirit four years ago, was deceptively relaxed in a compelling appearance where her controlled singing instilled clarity and vision to the thoughts behind the music and lyrics.

   Finally, soprano Pepe Becker rose to launch the pastoral recitative. Her sweet renditions of her airs, especially at the start of part 3 and her duet with Ellen Barrett, were delightful.

   The Manawatu Sinfonia is one our city’s many musical assets. The strength and clarity of the strings encompassing the tinkling harpsichord of Roy Tankersley gave outstanding accompaniment for the ensemble, Notable too were David Maas’s sparkling trumpet solos. Orchestra, soloists, and choirs combined in reaching an unforgettable final chorus “For ever and ever. Amen”.

   For this reviewer, though, the choir is the show. The Choral Society has set itself high standards over the years and this Messiah is up there with the best.

   A masterstroke is the augmentation of numbers with the 23 voices of the Huntley School Chapel Choir joining ... the chorus. The tenor and bass sections were not overshadowed and maintained their balance admirably.

   The audience was entranced by the popular “All we like sheep have gone astray”, and, as tradition dictates, rose to their feet for the Halleluiah chorus.

   A lasting memory of this consummate evening of sacred music is the image of a 12-year-old’s enraptured face, glowingly involved in the music he was helping create. Long-forgotten memories of a bygone boy soprano.

   We are indeed blessed to have devotion and talent of this stature to grace our Regent stage. Rapturous applause ensured an encore, and the Halleluiah chorus guaranteed a deserved standing ovation.

Massed choirs provide an impressive experience



                                               ALL SAINTS CHURCH  SUNDAY 28 JUNE 2009

                                               Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard)

It is only a few short weeks since the Choral Society presented Last Night of the Proms this month, but ... along with the Bach Choir from Wellington they took to the boards again, this time presenting one of the great oratorios, Mendelssohn’s Elijah. This is Mendelssohn at his reflective best, writing some very beautiful airs and some magnificent dramatic choruses. In the demanding title role, Peter Russell was in pleasing voice, supported by Nicola Holt (soprano, most memorable in Hear Ye Israel), Felicity Smith (mezzo soprano, impressive in O rest in the Lord), and William Parry who also sang with agreeable voice.

   The massed choirs number nearly 100 and together they provided an impressive sound, from the moving opening chorus Baal We Cry to Thee through to the towering climactic Amen. Alison Stewart and Stephen Rowley each conducted half of the programme, and both must be very pleased with the achievements of their respective choirs.

   Throughout the programme, Jonathan Berkahn provided a superb accompaniment on the organ.

   The Choral Society is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year, but yesterday afternoon’s concert demonstrated that they are in very good heart to continue to make a fine contribution in this city for another 90 years.


                                                           Anniversary oratorio a mammoth effort


                                        Reviewed by Kirsten Clark (The Guardian)

On a bitterly cold and rainy Sunday afternoon, what a pleasure it was to walk into the warm, fully packed All Saints Church and listen to this oratorio live. The seventy-strong choir made up of Palmerston North’s Choral Society, the Bach Choir of Wellington, and four guest soloists, must have put in a lot of work to pull off this large and often complex work.

   I take my hat off to organist Jonathan Berkahn. There was no let up for this young man. The organ part must have been a condensed version of an orchestral score, and while the choir and soloists had time when they could rest, Berkahn was constantly on is toes, often with a very tricky accompaniment. I feared that he would be too loud for the choir and soloists to sing over, but his dynamics were superb, and always in support of the singers.

   Conductors Alison Stewart and Stephen Rowley shared the massive task of keeping organ, choir, and soloist together. The choirs’ fugal entries weren’t always tidy and successful, but bear in mind how challenging this music is.

   The acoustics in All Saints meant that the soloists were easily heard, even a wee lass called Tessa who played the part of the youth. There were lovely true top A-flats from this young girl.

   Guest bass Peter Russell sang the large principal role of Elijah. His voice was warm and extremely pleasant to listen to - especially in It is enough, O Lord. Russell does not have a big operatic bass voice - one that would have made Elijah a bit more intimidating, but I really liked his tone. Soprano Nicola Holt and mezzo-soprano Felicity Smith were gorgeous to listen to, especially in the better-known airs Hear Ye Israel and O rest in the Lord. Young William Parry sang well, but his voice didn’t match the maturity of the other soloists.

   The choir, as I mentioned, had some shaky moments, and the sopranos’ sound was pinched on the top notes, but when the voices found a chorus they all liked and felt confident with, we all enjoyed it. In particular. Thanks be to God and the penultimate chorus were standouts. Both were strong numbers that with the organ’s power and depth behind them were great ways to finish each half.

   Congratulations to all.


                                                                GABRIEL FAURÉ : REQUIEM

                                                                                        KARL JENKINS : STABAT MATER

                                                                            SAINT PETER’S CHURCH  19 JUNE 2010  4 pm

                                                                              Reviewed by Andrew Ninness (The Guardian)

Alison Stewart’s selection of the well-known and the contemporary for the PNCS’s performance at St Peter’s Church on Saturday was rewarded by a capacity audience.

   A work that musically encapsulates the sparkle of the contemporaries Monet and Renoir, Gabriel Fauré’s much loved Requiem opened the concert. Fauré commented: “altogether (the Requiem) is as gentle as I am myself”, something Alison Stewart and the choir endorsed with their approach.

   In a move from the strictly liturgical approach to a more humanist view, Fauré’s Requiem shares with Brahms, “a very human feeling of faith in eternal rest”. With the church walls vibrating from the bass notes of the organ during the Introitus, the effect was far more of a thundering Old Testament Jehovah.

   Whilst appreciating the artistry of Douglas Mews, the uneven balance between organ and choir in the challenging acoustic at times took a little lustre off an enjoyable performance of a beautiful work.

   The second half of the concert features the New Zealand première of Welsh composer Karl Jenkins’ augmented setting of the Stabat Mater. Whilst the original verses of the Stabat Mater are in Latin, Jenkins’ six augmentations include lines sung in Aramaic and early Arabic.

   It was a joy to hear Tania Verdonk excel in meeting the challenge of these pieces; she evoked the musical vitality one hears from Jordi Savall and Montserrat Figueras, so much so, I was waiting for the percussion to launch in the Incantation. In his scoring, Jenkins does include Middle Eastern percussion, but with the resources available, the effect was left to the imagination. It appeared some in the audience were far more challenged by the inclusion of Middle Eastern sounds than the choir, who sounded confident throughout the Stabat Mater, and in places (such as And the Mother did weep) quite sublime.

   I respect the inclusive ethos of Alison Stewart and the PNCS, shown by their support of individual  performance development, and look forward to their next programme. From the support shown for this weekend’s concert, the challenge may be in finding a seat.

Palmerston North Choral Society. St Peter’s Church, Saturday, June 19th. Reviewed by Stephen Fisher.


If the very full St Peter’s Church is anything to go by Gabriel Faure’s Requiem is a much loved work well, established in the choral repertoire. Last Saturday it was paired with a contemporary work – Welsh Composer Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater.


Jenkins made his mark on the international scene with Adiemus, the recording of which topped the classical charts on its release in 1995. It came to prominence in New Zealand with its use in the Sydney Olympics advertising campaign. With an actual background in advertising Jenkins has an obvious understanding of an audience, writing works of enormous appeal, including the Stabat Mater, which was given its New Zealand premiere by the Choral Society in last Saturday's concert.


Stabat Mater reflects the suffering of Mary, mother of Jesus at the time of his crucifixion and Jenkins’ setting is a dramatic evocation of grief, well drawn in Saturday’s performance. Featuring some stunning work from soloist Tania Verdonk her music a blend of the western and middle eastern choral traditions. She sang with glorious tone and all of the passion that the music requires.


Although the work was originally written for orchestra and traditional instruments, this performance was superbly accompanied by Douglas Mews on the organ. His work was sympathetic throughout, choosing stops that did go some way to adding a middle eastern sound to the mix.


The Choir itself obviously enjoyed the contemporary sounds and rhythms of this work and this enthusiasm contributed much to the success of this performance,  but the task of presenting the Stabat Mater along with Requiem, both very challenging works, would make enormous demands for any such choir, and occasionally this performance lacked the required conviction or emotional intensity.

However, the Choral Society is to be commended for having the imagination and foresight to bring these works to our concert calendar and I look forward to hearing them performing more of Jenkins music in the near future.

Report by Tim Jones:


I had a great seat in the front row next to Bob Skipp - I really enjoyed watching the concentration and effort of the performers up close. I thought the choir coped well with the many exposed parts in the Faure - go the 5 tenors! The Introitus had good dynamic contrasts - love that organ! The review in the Guardian thought the organ may have been a bit too loud at times - didn't worry me! It had a great effect, no doubt helped by an expert at the helm. Young Simon Harnden looked (and sounded) a bit nervous for his solo....Tania Verdonk sung very seductively in the Pie Jesu - she was great, and I think she smiled at me at least twice! Somebody right behind me thought the Sanctus was pretty good with that burst of slightly intrusive spontaneous applause! Sopranos a little bit flat at times in the In Paradisum, but great sense of peace at the end.

The Jenkins - ambitious choice - great stuff! Lovely opening, and an impressive extended forte ending. Loved the Incantation - quite an experience to actually see someone singing in that style. Likewise the lament - hearing English words made it more meaningful and emotional for me - beautifully sung. Enjoyed the melodic phrasing in the And the Mother... and Ave Verum was nicely conveyed. The Paradisi gloria had wonderful light touch on the organ at start - and impressive sustained forte at close - this must have been very taxing on the choir's lungs.

Enjoyed the concert immensely.


Response by Rolf Panny

From slow beginnings to a powerful crescendo: how the P.N. Choral Society overcame its own inhibitions from Fauré to Jenkins and in the end delivered some REAL music, even though the tenor and bass section were just a bit thin. 

   The Jenkins piece must stand out for its unique dialogue between choir and organ, at times subtle, at other times powerful, not to mention the interesting rhythmic changes between 6/8 and 4/4, letting the audience know that this a thoroughly modern piece remotely echoed modern jazz. 

   The soprano / contralto was a joy to listen to. Where does one find and train such vocal talent in the Manawatu hinterland? 

   Thanks for a memorable concert in a packed hall. 

Response by John Drake

I was sitting in the mezzanine floor [the gallery] and thought the singing was extremely good, enjoyed every minute, felt pangs of loss that I wasn't singing this one.


                                                                 TALES OF CHRISTMAS

              All Saints Church, Saturday 4th of December 2010, 7.30 pm

                                        Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard)

With an eye to the season, this choral society concert presented two different versions of the Christmas story together with John Rutter’s Brother Heinrich’s Christmas.

   Although rarely performed, Heinrich Schütz’s Christmas Story has many admirers, making this an interesting choice by our local choir. A traditional telling of the story, the work relies heavily on the tenor role, performed by Philip Roderick, who was in pleasing voice throughout , as was Janey MacKenzie in the role of the Angel.

    Christmas Story was followed by Jakub Jan Ryba’s Czech Christmas Mass, moving the scene to Bohemia as villagers discover the Star of Bethlehem. Roderick and Mackenzie were joined by bass Joe Christensen and soprano Tania Verdonk, both also in very fine voice.

    The evening closed with Rutter’s popular musical setting of the legend surrounding In Dulci Jubilo featuring our own town crier, Caroline Robinson, as narrator, who obviously enjoyed this very different occasion to display her talent.

    From the opening of the evening the choir sang with good tone and blend, and with confidence and strength throughout, although occasionally they seemed a little nervous in some of the polyphonic sections. In particular they brought great joy to the Ryba work which climaxed with a most festive finale.

    Douglas Mews was an obvious star on the organ. Although hidden by an acoustic soundshell, he provided the perfect accompaniment throughout.

    Conductor Alison Stewart’s careful control of these works contributed much to their success, ensuring the evening was a perfect way to begin our celebrations this festive season.



Saint Peter’s Church, Saturday 3rd of December 2011 at 7.30 pm

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard)

The world’s most popular oratorio, The Messiah by G. F. Handel, made a welcome appearance on our concert calendar on Saturday as the Choral Society presented the seasonal work to a “full house” at St Peter’s Church.

   The turnout recognises the fact that these well-known choruses and beautiful arias still attract an enthusiastic loyal following.

   The Messiah, rather than tell a story as is common for an oratorio, is an extended reflection on Jesus Christ as the Messiah, with Belinda Maclean (soprano), Debbie Donkin (alto), Nigel Tongs (tenor) and Joe Christensen (bass) providing the observations on the life of Jesus Christ.

   Nigel Tongs’s Comfort Ye My People provided a striking opening to the evening, ably matched by Joe Christensen in the bass role (The People That Walked in Darkness). Debbie Donkin’s lighter voice had pleasing tone, while Belinda Maclean’s I Know That My Redeemer Liveth revealed the beauty of this aria.

   The choir showed strength and conviction in the Hallelujah Chorus and Worthy Is The Lamb, and I was impressed by the haunting beauty of Since By Man Came Death, although some of the other choruses would have benefited from more rehearsal.

   Douglas Mews provided excellent organ accompaniment throughout, finding much colour on the fine instrument in St Peter’s, and, although the organ dominated at times, it always provided the necessary expression and impetus that the work requires.

   A live performance of The Messiah is always one to cherish, and this performance was no exception. Conductor Alison Stewart should feel suitably rewarded that this performance should prove such a popular attraction for the local audience.

Reviewed by Karen Carter (The Tribune)

The venue was filled to capacity with an audience set to enjoy the perennial crowd pleaser, The Messiah. Written by Handel in 1741, this oratorio is one of the best-known and most frequently performed choral works, and is always eagerly looked forward to.

   This performance by the choir was somewhat uneven. The later homophonic chorus numbers, such as Lift up your heads and the rousing Hallelujah were full-bodied and well controlled. The choir struggled in the more polyphonic numbers where it lacked its usual consistency and polish. Entries, phrase endings and intonation all needed to be much tighter.

   Despite these blemishes the choir’s pleasure in performing this work was obvious throughout and conductor Alison Stewart ably led the recital.

   Vocally, the best performance of the night came from the male soloists Nigel Tongs (tenor) and Joe Christensen (bass). Both exhibited a strong, even tone, big sound and attention to interpretation which led to a confident and powerful delivery. Given the nature of their roles they had ample opportunity to demonstrate their vocal skills and dexterity. From the opening tenor recitative to the final bass air they commanded the stage.

   As I was seated upstairs and at the back, the lighter tones of Belinda Maclean (soprano) and Debbie Donkin (contralto) did not fill the space in the same way or carry as well. I found it difficult to hear their lines.

   Using the many and varied colours of the organ to full effect, Douglas Mews added shading, pomp, triumph and delicateness to bring out the moods and emotions characteristic of this superb work. His continuous playing was outstanding and contributed to the solid foundation for the vocalists.

  The popularity of this work and enthusiasm of performers meant the concert was a festive occasion for all.

Reviewed by Paula McCool (The Guardian)

The Palmerston North Choral Society’s presentation of Handel’s Messiah was inspiring. Singing to a full house, the choir and its musical director Alison Stewart can be proud of their significant accomplishment.

   The two and a half hour performance grew in power and professionalism until the final Amen.

   The standout performances were from bass singer Joe Christensen, who conducts the Hastings Choral Society, and tenor Nigel Tongs, and an active member of the Renaissance Singers choir. These two powerful and charismatic performances were a joy to listen to.

   Organist Douglas Mews, who is keyboard specialist at the New Zealand School of Music, provided a confident and marvelous rendering of Handel’s music and the timing was superb.

   While contralto Debbie Donkin and soprano Belinda Maclean gave reasonable performances, it was difficult to get the full benefit of their voices from the back of the church; it was often difficult to hear the words, and one had to resort to the programme. It was definitely a night to sit right up the front of the church -- the closer one was to the choir, the more enraptured one became.

   The programme booklet was well put together and it was thoughtful to include the scripture references.

   The Hallelujah chorus was a climax of the performance. With everyone on their feet, including, the audience, and the organ music at a crescendo, one realizes why Handel’s Messiah has never waned in its popularity.

   If this is the standard of performance we can continue to expect from the Palmerston North Choral Society, its committee will have to look for a larger venue.


                                                                    SAINT JOHN PASSION

                                Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Saturday 28th of May 2011 at 7.30 pm

                                                    Reviewed by Jenny Boyack (The Guardian)

Portraying the events of Christ’s arrest and crucifixion, Bach’s St John Passion is inherently dramatic. However, the Palmerston North Choral Society’s performance on Saturday evening provided added drama when the tenor soloist was struck down with a throat infection. By chance, Gisborne man Gavin Maclean, father of Wellington-based soprano soloist Belinda Maclean, had planned to be in the audience and having sung the Evangelist role before, agreed to sing for this performance.

    All credit to him for stepping in at the last moment, and to Musical Director, Alison Stewart. Her calm demeanour in challenging circumstances communicated itself to choir, soloists and orchestra alike and assured the audience of a memorable musical evening.

    The Evangelist’s demanding recitatives thread the historical story of Christ’s last hours through the entire work, at times joined by Jesus - outstanding bass soloist David Morriss  - and by other important characters in the story, many of them sung with great commitment by Choral Society bass Ian Gordon.

    Other solo highlights included Belinda Maclean’s lilting I follow thee, David Morriss’s poignant Bethink thee, O my soul, alto Ellen Barrett’s The end has come! beautifully supported by Sasha Routh on the cello, and local tenor Nigel Tong’s expressive And then behold.

    The choir’s devotional commentary through chorus and chorale was confidently realised with excellent balance between the voice parts and good intonation overall. As the narrative moved towards the crucifixion, they changed to represent the strident calls of the crowd, and once again, under Stewart’s firm control, ably communicated the emotion and drama of the events.

    Allan Rae’s Chamber Orchestra made up the final thread in the musical texture, and their partnership with choir and soloists was unfailingly sensitive and secure.

    Special mention must be made of the harpsichord continuo. Working from two separate scores to accommodate Gavin Maclean’s familiarity with a different translation from the original German, Roy Tankersley delighted the audience with a display of extraordinary musicianship throughout.

    Our congratulations and thanks to all who ensured that the show did go on!

                                             Reviewed by Stepehen Fisher (Manawatu Standard)

It is clear that the stars were not in alignment for this presentation of Bach’s St John Passion.

   Three weeks ago the Choral Society lost its Evangelist, but quickly found a suitable replacement. That the replacement had to pull out [on the day] because of a throat infection meant huge difficulties for this performance by the Choral Society.

   The role of the Evangelist is pivotal to the success of this Passion. It is a role that makes considerable vocal demands on any soloist. The fact that Gavin Maclean took on the role at such short notice is certainly to his credit, but he was hampered by his use of an alternative version, and also by the fact that his close acquaintance with the Passion was not recent.

    David Morriss proved to be in excellent voice as he performed the bass role. He gave the proof to his reputation of being New Zealand’s premier baroque bass.

   Ellen Barrett is always a pleasure in concert and her performance on Saturday night could only enhance her reputation.

   Brenda Maclean proved to have a developing soprano voice that was pleasant to the ear.

   The choir sang with excellent tone throughout, particularly from the soprano section, and the many chorales were a delight to hear.

   The Allan Rae Chamber Orchestra provided a fine accompaniment, although sometimes I felt that they were a little under-rehearsed.

   Considering the circumstances, Roy Tankersley gave us a virtuoso performance on the harpsichord with Sasha Routh on cello, both contributing much to this performance of the St John Passion.

                                                    Reviewed by Karen Carter (The Tribune)

The St John Passion is a sacred oratorio that dates from 1783. It is an intense,  dramatic setting of Christ’s last hours, with soloists singing the roles of the Evangelist, Jesus, Peter, Pilate, maid and servant, supported by a large chorus and a chamber orchestra.

   The evening started on the back foot with the announcement of the withdrawal of the Evangelist, the main vocal soloist, because of illness.

   His last-minute replacement had a huge task filling such a demanding role at virtually no notice. This was a risky undertaking, which did not produce the best results. Hindsight suggests using sprechstimme or even speaking the part might have been the better choice.

   Despite the unfortunate set of circumstances beyond anyone’s control, there was much to admire in this performance.

   The huge amount of preparation required in presenting such a demanding work was clearly evident as the different vocal and instrumental forces combined in different ways.

   The chorus was at its best. The singers were in fine voice  -  balanced, strong, and stirring. They held together securely and provided a wonderful foil to the soloists.

   The impeccable professionalism of the continuo players, who had a busy role, fully supported all the vocalists. They were flawless in their delivery. The specially formed chamber orchestra were confident and added a fine touch as accompaniment.

   Among the vocal soloists, contralto Ellen Barrett and bass David Morriss were completely convincing in their roles. Their voices displayed a full-bodied maturity, range of colours, and an evenness of tone through different registers.

   Belinda Maclean, a young soprano, is one to watch for in the future. It was pleasing to also see choir members perform some soloist roles.

   The large audience was sympathetic to the difficulties this performance presented. Everyone involved in the performance is to be commended for the way they worked around an insurmountable problem.


                                                    Choirs strike rich vein

                                            Mozart Requiem and Rutter Requiem

The combined choirs of the Palmerston North Choral Society and the Renaissance Singers

Saint Peter’s Church, Saturday, June 23, 2012.

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard 25 June)

These local choirs must surely have struck gold with the decision to present two of the great requiem masses, Mozart’s “unfinished” requiem written in 1791, together with Rutter’s Requiem written in 1985.

    While much controversy surrounds the authenticity of Mozart’s Requiem, there can be no doubt that it remains one of the great masterpieces of the genre, foreboding, powerful and enormously affecting throughout .

    The performance, conducted by Guy Donaldson, featured the Brio Vocal Quartet as soloists: Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Jody Orgias (alto), John Beaglehole (tenor) and Roger Wilson (bass). While each contributed much to the majesty of  this performance, there is no doubt that the choir itself was the real star of this performance as they sang with great conviction, beautiful expression and excellent tone under the masterful baton of Guy Donaldson.

    Mozart’s mass was followed with John Rutter’s contemporary Requiem. Rutter’s expressive writing, beautiful melodies and lush harmonies ensure his music is immediately accessible and widely popular among modern-day audiences.

    Under Alison Stewart’s assured guidance, the dramatic intensity of the work came to the fore throughout, the choir again obviously very much at home with this work.

    The performance also featured excellent solo work by Sasha Routh (cello) and David Cooper on the oboe.

    Organist Douglas Mews provided a superb accompaniment on the St Peter’s organ, ensuring that the expectant full house must have felt very satisfied with this performance.


Reviewed by Stephen Fisher  (Manawatu Standard 15/7/13)

A perfect winter tonic to inspire

A stellar lineup of well-known and popular choral works guaranteed an enthusiastic audience eager to bathe in the glories. The Diamond Coronation celebration gave rise to the opportunity for the Choral Society to perform music including Handel’s Coronation Anthems and Mozart’s Coronation Mass, along with Parry’s I Was Glad. And it is indeed easy to see why this music would be so popular. These anthems are uplifting, stirring, inspirational, and celebratory, the perfect tonic for a cold winter’s night in difficult times. While Mozart may have felt a certain frustration at the time of writing this Mass, there is no doubt his music is attractive and a delight for the ear throughout.

    The Choral Society had assembled a chamber orchestra under the leadership of Stephanie Buzzard, providing a pleasing and sympathetic accompaniment to the work of the society, along with members of the Brio Vocal Quartet (Janey MacKenzie, soprano and Jody Orgias, mezzo) appearing with guest artists Jamie Young (tenor) and Roger Wilson (bass baritone), a lineup of much solo vocal excellence.

   The choir itself was in pleasing voice, singing with good diction and balance, and although there were the occasional lapses in tone, this was a satisfying performance from choir obviously deeply committed to its music.

   Conductor Alison Stewart was in complete control throughout the evening, choosing careful tempos for this performance and thus ensuring that the choir would easily handle the demands of the works. However, just occasionally I would have liked to feel the choir was a little more on edge, working harder to ensure the success of the evening.

   The programme came to a delightful conclusion with Parry’s I Was Glad, with the soloists joining the choir and Roy Tankersley accompanying the work on the St Peter’s organ. Together they gave us the unforgettable sound of joyous community music-making.

Roger Buchanan (The Tribune 17/7/13)

Music fit for royalty

One wonders what manner of events have been staged around the globe this year in recognition of Her Majesty’s diamond jubilee. No doubt the milestone has been the catalyst for many a concert, and Palmerston North joined the fray with the Choral Society’s performance of well-known coronation music.

   Handel wrote his Coronation Anthems for the Coronation of George II in 1727, his first commission as a naturalised British citizen. The opening strains of the famous Zadok the Priest were arresting and, aided by the live acoustic of the church, set an uplifting tone. The anthems were in general deftly handled (no pun intended) with agility around the demanding melismatic runs.

   Mozart’s Mass in C major, written in his early twenties, acquired the nickname Coronation after becoming the preferred music for royal and imperial coronations in Vienna. A well-controlled and stylistic interpretation was given by the choir, soloists and orchestra which was most satisfying. There was a hint of the choir running slightly out of steam towards the end, but it seemed to rally down the home strait and the work finished on a lovely high.

   Charles Parry’s I Was Glad, a setting of verses from Psalm 122, has been used at all British Coronations since Edward VII and also at the wedding of Prince William and Duchess Katherine. Given plenty of the requisite grunt by Roy Tankersley at the lovely St Peter’s organ, the piece was a fitting conclusion in the concert. I suspect Mr Tankersley would be a demon behind the wheel in a V-8 motor-sport event -- he knows how to drive a pipe organ and isn’t afraid to let rip when required. However, he also knows when to change down a cog or two and provide a sensitive accompaniment to the choral lines.

   The quartet of soloists, Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Jody Orgias (mezzo) , Jamie Young (tenor) and Roger Wilson (baritone) lent a professional contribution to the concert with fine performances from each. Their blend was interesting, though somewhat akin to the addition of a double-reed instrument to a trio of flutes: whilst an undoubtedly able singer, Ms Orgias’ voice has a timbre and resonance quite different from the other three.

   A chamber orchestra led by Stephanie Buzzard ably provided the instrumental accompaniment and the balance created an excellent partnership with the singers.

   Alison Stewart is to be proud of her efforts in skillfully putting together and leading a demanding concert. At all times she appeared in control, extracting a satisfying performance from her musicians

Ray Watchman (Manawatu Guardian 18/7/13)

A crown of choral gems for the Queen

Writing to the Palmerston North Choral Society on behalf of Queen Elizabeth II, her Lady- in-Waiting noted “Her Majesty hopes your concert will be a great success.”

   The concert was last Saturday evening’s choral celebration in the city’s St Peter’s Anglican Church to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth’s Coronation in Westminster Abbey on June 2, 1953. Her Majesty’s kind hopes for the success of the concert were by no means disappointed, with the choir, chamber orchestra, four vocal soloists and organist delivering a robust celebration that would have gladdened the heart of any monarch.

   All praise is due to musical director Alison Stewart for her competent, disciplined approach to the works presented. The Choral Society was well within its comfort zone and obviously enjoying the opportunity to present this concert, meeting the demands of four coronation anthems by Handel with confidence, and giving a satisfying account of itself in Mozart’s Mass in C Major, the Coronation Mass.

   Vocal dexterity and a high degree of musical precision are required for works such as these to succeed, especially so with Handel. Under Stewart’s direction, the choir and chamber orchestra rose to both these challenges extremely well, perhaps at the expense of some colour contrast. But rather that than to suffer a choral performance spiraling out of control into musical anarchy.

   The standard of the choral and orchestral performances was further enhanced by those of the outstanding soloists. Soprano Janey MacKenzie, mezzo Jody Orgias, tenor Jamie Young and bass-baritone Roger Wilson. The sheer professionalism of these four singers gave a wonderful lift to the evening, with MacKenzie and Orgias particularly delightful in duet. Palmerston North audiences are very fortunate in having opportunities to hear soloists such as these performing locally and with local ensembles.

   The show-stopper was also the last item on the programme, British composer Charles Hubert Parry’s monumental I Was Glad, a setting of verses from Psalm 122 written for the coronation of King Edward VII and performed at the wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2011. With the voices of the four soloists undergirding those of the Choral Society, and organist Roy Tankersley belting out a dazzling accompaniment on the St Peter’s pipe organ, I Was Glad was indeed a performance fit for a queen.

   The chamber orchestra led by Stephanie Buzzard, with Roy Tankersley on harpsichord, deserves a special mention. This ensemble of instrumentalists gave a great account of itself, launching enthusiastically into the spirit of the occasion and lending an authenticity to the “period” music.

   In all a memorable evening. Long live the Queen!

Palmerston North Choral Society (Director: Alison Stewart)

Saint Andrew’s in the City  Saturday 24th of November 2012

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher  (Manawatu Standard 26/11/12)

Taking its theme from one of John Rutter’s carols in the programme, The Choral Society’s final concert of the year celebrated Christmas. The glorious seasonal music which made up the evening’s programme no doubt put the whole audience in an anticipatory mood for the festive season.

   Three significant but very different composers made up the programme: Vivaldi, Benjamin Britten, and John Rutter. Vivaldi’s music has much charm and joy, reflected in the popular Gloria which opened the programme. This was followed by Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, a mystical setting of nine medieval lyrics, composed for Christmas in 1942.

   John Rutter’s Carols brought the evening to a close. Rutter, a prolific composer of choral works, has achieved worldwide popularity with his beautifully evocative music. Palmerston North audiences have enjoyed several of his works in recent years and this selection of carols was a welcome item on the programme.

   The choir itself obviously enjoyed the challenge of this programme, with something for everyone. Their infectious enthusiasm was a hallmark of the concert, spoilt only by the occasional intonation difficulty.

   They were joined by soprano Charlotte Grace, a young singer from Whanganui who has already made her mark in that city. She looks set to have a fine career in front of her. Pauline Rowe is a familiar voice for local audiences and, as always, it was a pleasure to hear her work throughout the evening.

   Most of the programme was accompanied by the very busy Roy Tankersley on the piano.

Reviewed by Karen Carter  (The Tribune  28/11/2012)

Chosen with the festive season in mind this programme mixed the traditional with the modern in a delightful selection of uplifting works which allowed the choir opportunity to celebrate “the best time of the year”.

   Opening with Vivaldi’s well-known Gloria, the presentation was traditional with a chamber orchestra, including harpsichord and continuo accompanying the choir. This raised the performance to a new level as it added authenticity, combining the vocal and instrumental timbres in a pleasing balance.

   Joined by soloists Charlotte Grace (soprano) and Pauline Rowe (alto), they received ample opportunity to display their considerable talents. Vocally well matched, they commanded attention in the solo and duet passages.

   Benjamin Britten’s Ceremony of Carols, composed in 1942, has eleven movements. The text in Middle English contrasts with the contemporary edgy settings which are highly reflective of the mood and lyrics of each carol. The choir’s triumphant performance of As dew in Aprille contrasted effectively with the overlapping entries of This Little Babe, while the soloists gave a polished performance in their duet Spring Carol.

   A final bracket of six carols by John Rutter rounded out the programme. These songs had the conventional verse-chorus structure and straightforward harmonies associated with carols.

   The choir was well supported in the Britten and Rutter works by Roy Tankersley on piano. Where it excelled was in those works which demanded a full chorus sound throughout, allowing for rich, warm textures which were balanced, yet tempered with dynamic variation.

   Conductor Alison Stewart is to be congratulated on a concert the choir obviously enjoyed singing and the large audience savoured hearing.


Entertaining music for Christmas

Saturday 28th of November 2016

Saint Andrew’s in the City

Nick Dow (Manawatu Guardian)

Christmas concerts are always popular affairs. The Palmerston North Choral Society delivered the goods last Saturday night, entertaining a large audience with more than thirty traditional and modern pieces spanning over two hours.

   The concert opened with O Come, O Come Emmanuel. Accompanied at the organ by Roy Tankersley, this was the first of several carols in which the audience was invited to sing along. This increased the sense of community in the performance. The choir followed this up with a bracket of short pieces, including Light of Lights Beholden (Indigo II) by New Zealand composer/lyricist Jenny McLeod.

   To complete the first half, the choir presented Christmas Crackers, a set of nine pieces with music by Auckland-based David Hamilton. The music was set to various texts dealing with Christmas from a child’s perspective. Soprano soloist, Shayna Tweed, was featured in a number of pieces. While always accurate in terms of pitch, projection was lacking in some cases. Overall, she did an admirable job given that she was a late replacement due to illness. Some of the pieces featured the men of the choir. They particularly enjoyed Just Doing My Job, putting the cheeky nature of the text across well.

   The music of the second half covered many different styles, including audience singalongs (Joy to the World), traditional carols (Away in a Manger) and 20th century works of the American popular tradition (Let it Snow). The Twelve Days After Christmas was a humorous spin on the well-known piece, but lapses in diction meant some of the words were lost. Current British composer, John Rutter, was featured regularly in this half, with the penultimate piece, The Very Best Time of Year, perhaps the most affecting.

A programme of this length is a tough ask, but the performers delivered and the audience responded.

Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard website)

Christmas has inspired writers and composers to fully explore the nativity, these works becoming an intrinsic part of the season for many who see the festivities of the time for reflection mixed with joyous celebration. Such was the nature of the Choral Society’s final concert this year, suitably titled ‘Tis the Season.

   The main work of the evening was David Hamilton’s Christmas Crackers. a suite of nine musings around the theme by such notable writers as Eleanor Farjeon and Alfred Tennyson, among others The work is for soprano and choir, and is a beautiful exploration of the nativity, from the delightfully humorous Nativity Play to the uplifting I hear the Angels Sing Again. The work is most appealing, rhythmically alive and  and full of Hamilton’s characteristic listenable melodies and harmonies.

   Under the attentive eye of conductor Alison Stewart, the Choral Society brought the season  alive with a most enjoyable performance, the occasional lack of attention by the choir overcome by a committed and colourful approach to this cheerful work and the demanding programme.

   With the programmed soprano suddenly unavailable, Shayna Tweed took on the challenging role at the last minute, one easily handled by this artist. Her beautiful voice revealed the great riches within the score.

   The rest of the evening featured a selection of traditional and non-traditional songs celebrating the season, all much loved by the audience. However, it was difficult to surpass the festive joy as the audience joined in with selected carols interspersed throughout the evening, each superbly accompanied by Roy Tankersley at the organ.

Saturday 25th of June 2016

Saint Andrew’s in the City

Palmerston North

Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard, 28/6/2016)

While elsewhere, people may shy away from working together, 2016 has seen choral groups within our city reach out to choirs in other centres to join together in their music making.

   Such was the case last Saturday as our own Choral Society joined with the Arcadian Singers  from Taihape to present A Night at the Opera.

   The programme for this concert reflected opera through the ages, from Handel’s Chorus of the Enchanted Islanders through to contemporary works, in selections from Les Misérables, Chess, and Phantom of the Opera.

   Such a programme, focussed primarily on chorus numbers, implies that this combined choir has been through a period of intensive rehearsals, and on Saturday night it was very evident that this work had paid off, the choirs obviously comfortable with their programme, which was sung with confidence, pleasing tone, and a joyous commitment.

    Joining the choirs for this occasion were two soloists: Alicia Cadwgan and Lindsay Yeo. Cadwgan was most impressive in a deliciously playful rendition of Bizet’s Habanera from Carmen, while Yeo’s Evening Star from Wagner’s Tannhäuser revealed a voice of great promise.
   With notable  piano accompaniment from Guy Donaldson throughout the evening, The Choral Society’s Musical Director, Alison Stewart conducted with much empathy for the demands of each work, while the Arcadian Singers’ leader Helen Gordon took the helm for several cheerful Gilbert and Sullivan numbers, all ensuring a pleasant evening’s music for both choir and audience alike.


Nick Dow (Manawatu Guardian, 30/6/2016)

The wintry weather was unsuccessful in deterring a large audience from attending the concert in St Andrew’s in the City last Saturday night, presented by the Palmerston North Choral Society in combination with Taihape’s Arcadian Singers.

   The audience were treated to a selection from a number of operas and musical theatre works. The combined choirs began strongly with choruses by Handel and Mozart, the latter featuring a solo by Alicia Cadwgan (soprano). Alicia was slightly tentative with her opening high notes, due to the effects of a cold, but her confidence soon increased and her secure sense of melodic line was always apparent.

   Isis and Osiris (from The Magic Flute ) was a solo performed by Lindsay Yeo (baritone). Lindsay’s strength is his low range, and this was highlighted well in this piece.

   Among the choruses in the first half there was a good range of moods being explored, from the cheeky interplay between soloist and choir in Habanera (from Carmen) to the emotion of the slower Priests’ Chorus (from The Magic Flute). Generally the choirs could work on the security of their pitch during quieter moments, and cutting off the ends of words together.
   The second half featured medleys and excerpts from Les Misérables, Gilbert and Sullivan, Chess, and The Phantom of the Opera. The G & S numbers were conducted by Helen Gordon (musical Director of the Arcadian Singers) and the rest of the half by Alison Stewart (the Choral Society’s musical director).

   It would have been good if the two conductors (and their choirs) had been introduced.

   Anthem (Chess) and the Les Misérables medley were particularly strong.

   The amount of work put in by the singers in rehearsals was clear, and this was enjoyed by the singers and audience alike in performance.


Saturday 28th of November 2015

Saint Andrew’s in the City

Palmerston North

Scottish Heritage Celebrated

Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard, 30/11/2015)

This year the Choral Society chose to bring its year to a close with a themed celebration featuring the music of Scotland, reflecting the fact that the major work of the evening, Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise, was said to have been written while he was reminiscing on a recent trip to the highlands. The second half of the evening featured a cheerful miscellany of Scottish music and dance.

   Hymn of Praise is a joyful and uplifting work, its glorious melodic characteristics being fully realised in this performance, which featured excellent contributions from soprano Imogen Thirlwall and tenor Nigel Tongs, The choir itself obviously enjoyed the evening and sang with much conviction throughout, while accompanist Guy Donaldson provided sympathetic impetus from the piano.

   The second half provided a break from tradition as the choir’s selection of traditional Scottish melodies was interspersed with the flavour of Scotland, here represented by brackets of highland dancing, jigs and reels, with even a real piper making a much-appreciated appearance.

   The choir showed versatility, from the Gaelic call to arms Canan nan Gaidheal to popular items by Scottish composers Roberton and MacMillan, mixed with traditional favourites including Loch Lomond or Mairi’s Wedding, the evening being brought to a close with Auld Lang Syne. The audience obviously enjoyed the variety, all under the thoughtful guidance of the musical director Alison Stewart, whose tireless work ensured the evening reflected the glories of this much-loved heritage.

Scottish concert impresses with variety and quality

Nick Dow (Manawatu Guardian, 10/12/2015)

A large audience was treated to an enjoyable programme given by the Palmerston North choral Society and invited guests. The performance had a Scottish theme and included instrumentalists and Highland dancers as well as the choir.

   In the first half the Society performed Mendelssohn’s symphony-cantata Hymn of Praise. The large choir was in good voice and took advantage of the possibilities of dynamic contrast.

   Male voices were outnumbered and sometimes difficult to hear in the loud passages; however, the balance was good in the softer-passages. Soloists were uniformly excellent.

   First soprano Imogen Thirlwell impressed with a very secure entry and comfortable tone, and had a good blend with second soprano Esmé Haigh during their brief duet. Tenor Nigel Tongs had a powerful  presence.

   This was impressive work -- not an easy sing. The audience showed its appreciation at length at the end of the half.

   The choir opened the second half with a bracket of three songs (Roberton). The first was accompanied by secondary student James French in a new initiative. The audience was then treated to a bracket of Highland dances by Penny and Kaylee Jongen.

   The choir returned for a bracket which featured the men and women only in successive songs. Then Stuart Easton performed a medley on bagpipes. Allan and Yvonne Rae performed a set of reels on violin and piano before the choir concluded the concert with a bracket of folk songs. The audience enjoyed participating in Auld Lang Syne.

   A varied and skilfully performed programme.


Saturday 20th of June 2015

Saint Peter’s Church, Palmerston North

Beautiful show amid the storm

Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard, 22/6/15)

Despite the small audience, obviously diminished by the continuing storm outside, the Choral Society presented a beautifully reflective programme featuring works by New Zealand composers on the theme of Gallipoli, together with Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater, a reflection on the suffering of Mary at the time of the crucifixion.

   The first half featured a new work by David Hamilton, A Call to Arms, based on poems of World War I, here featuring baritone soloist Joe Christensen.

   Hamilton’s music is always accessible for the listener, and the command of the conductor, Alison Stewart, ensured that both soloist and choir revealed the depths of the insightful commentary in the poetry.

   A further work by David Hamilton, Suicide in the Trenches, featured the choir effectively accompanied by a modified version of the Last Post, here performed by Deborah Rawson on clarinet, who replaced the cornet player, Barry Williams, who was unable to make the concert because of road conditions. This was an inspired replacement choice, the haunting mellow tones of the clarinet adding to the meditative nature of the piece.

   Accompanying these works were Colin Gibson’s Hymn for Anzac Day (words by Shirley Erena Murray) and Chris Skinner’s Sons of Gallipoli, both receiving satisfying performances, The Anzac theme was strengthened by the audience joining in on the New Zealand and Australian national anthems.

   The Stabat Mater completed the programme, a welcome return of a work first performed by the choir in 2010. For a few short hours, it was very easy to forget the raging storm outside.

Versatile choir delights

Nick Dow (Manawatu Guardian, 25/6/15)

The Palmerston North Choral Society concert happened to occur in the middle of a weather bomb.

   However, those that braved the wet and windy conditions were treated to a thought-provoking and involving programme.

   The society got into their stride early with a warm, full sound. The war themes of the various works were expressed well through the use of dynamic contrast. Alison Stewart’s direction was assured, and Douglas Mews’ accompaniment (piano and organ) was sympathetic.

   The first half consisted of short works sung in English. Baritone soloist Joe Christensen had an authoritative tone, featured particularly in Anzac Cove.

   Deborah Rawson’s ethnic woodwind was featured at various points, including David Hamilton’s haunting Suicide in the Trenches.

   Rawson also covered Barry Williams’ cornet parts, as he was unable to attend due to the flooding. The choir coped well with the thematic demands of the works, although at some points the melody was not clear above the other parts.

  A highlight of this half was Colin Gibson’s setting of Hymn for Anzac Day, clearly a choir favourite.

   The second half featured Karl Jenkins’ Stabat Mater, a work in 12 movements, primarily in Latin. Anna Gawn (soprano) had a relaxed and controlled tone, at its best during Incantation, sung in Arabic.

   The work overall can be demanding for the choir, with its intricate harmonies. However, apart from the odd passage where sustained notes were lacking in support, the choir coped very well.

   A very polished performance overall.


Mass Appeal

Mozart Requiem with Fauré Requiem

Saint Peter’s Church, Saturday 1st of July, 2017

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher

Manawatu Standard 4/7/2017

In an evening of musical grandeur, two of the great Requiems in the choral repertoire appeared together in the same programme. They were performed with commitment and joy by the Palmerston North Choral Society. While the coupling itself is not unusual, it is always a treat to experience these works together. They represent the best work of two gifted composers using the Mass to create some extraordinarily atmospheric music, characterised with passages of great ethereal beauty and enormous drama.

   With the Choral Society in pleasing voice and tone, their joy was obvious as they relished the magnificence of these works. They sang with confidence and empathy for their music as they allowed conductor Alison Stewart to explore the expressive qualities of the music.   An excellent ensemble of soloists had been assembled, including soprano Imogen Thirlwall, Elisabeth Harris (mezzo soprano), Joe Christensen (bass/baritone) and our own Nigel Tongs in the tenor role. Each proved to be in excellent voice as they added richness to the evening’s music

   Organist Douglas Mews provided a magnificent accompaniment for both works, further ensuring the success of the evening.

Reviewed by Nick Dow

Manawatu Guardian 6/7/2017

The Palmerston North Choral  Society had set themselves a lofty goal for last Saturday night’s concert. In presenting two complete requiems (both sung in Latin) their hard work in rehearsals shone through.

   In the first half the choir presented Mozart’s Requiem. Their singing was complemented by four soloists, including Palmerston North’s own Nigel Tongs. As well as Nigel’s bright , engaging tenor work, mezzo-soprano Elisabeth Harris stood out as particularly confident and assured.

   The choir worked best at higher dynamic levels. A highlight was Dies Irae (Day of Wrath) which made the most of the choir’s 60 singers, and was also a feature for organist Douglas Mews. The choir could work more on watching the conductor for dynamic contrasts, which would make further use of their potential. The Mozart is not an easy sing, but the choir delivered some powerful moments.

   Fauré’s Requiem, in the second half of the concert, contrasts with Mozart’s in a number of ways. It focuses more on the choir (with the organ not as prominent) and has more of a contemplative feel.

   Soloists Joe Christensen (baritone) and Imogen Thirlwall (soprano) returned for the Fauré, with Pie Jesu (Merciful Jesus) being a good fit for Imogen.

   There were some nice moments in the later parts, such as Agnus Dei (Lamb of God) and In Paradisum (Into Paradise).

   The choir could work on matching their Latin vowels, which will also help with tuning.

   The audience responded well to the music presented, and the work required to bring it to the stage,


Handel’s Messiah

Cathedral of the Holy Spirit, Saturday 6th of December 2014

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard, 8/12/2014)

For the occasion of its 95th birthday celebrations, the Choral Society decided to invite members of our community to join it for the world’s most popular oratorio, Messiah by George Frideric Handel.

    Always a welcome choice for local audiences, Messiah remains one of the great inspirational works of this genre, and there is no doubt in my mind that this performance was a most joyful occasion throughout.

    The society’s choice of soloists was excellent, with John Beaglehole stamping authority from the outset with Every Valley, and Ellen Barrett continuing in like manner with a very warm But who may abide.

    David Morriss’s gloriously colourful bass voice filled the church with The Trumpet shall sound, and Pepe Becker was an absolute joy throughout, but particularly in I know that my Redeemer liveth.

    The expanded Choral Society sang with great enthusiasm and joy, balanced and with a lovely warm tone. It was obvious that the beautiful acoustics of the cathedral ably suited the work of both soloists and choir.

    The chorus seemed to make light work of the difficult sections of their score, and provided many moving and uplifting moments, such as in And the glory of the Lord or Since by man came death.

    Guy Donaldson led the continuo with a great feeling of style from an electric keyboard in a marvelous performance, being only slightly marred by the unfortunate harpsichord sound. However, the accompanying orchestra made up for this with a superbly sympathetic accompaniment.

    The trumpet work of Clyde Dixon and Barry Williams added impressive tone colour when required.

    In this performance the work of musical director Alison Stewart is to be particularly noted. To achieve such an excellent standard of performance with an all- comers choir and then bring together the choir, orchestra, and soloists to provide such a satisfying evening is no mean feat, and represents hours of tireless work and unfailing dedication.

    A standing ovation from many in the audience rewarded all performers at the conclusion, and we, in turn, were treated to an encore of the most popular chorus in the work, Hallelujah, a chorus which had stunned us earlier in the evening.

    While the unassuming Alison Stewart may have encouraged the audience to sit during this encore, the immense appreciation was obvious, and we stood in admiration as a thanks to all concerned.

    Hallelujah, a most enjoyable night!.


A programme of New Zealand Choral works presented by the Palmerston North Choral Society on Saturday night (27/9/2014) at St Andrew’s in the City

Reviewed by Roy Tankersley (Manawatu Standard, 29/9/2014)

This concert was an enterprising venture, celebrating the home-grown creativity of New Zealand composers with a special focus on those who live in Palmerston North, namely Helen Caskie,  Graham Parsons, and Palmerston-North- born Jonathan Berkahn.

The opening work, David Hamilton’s ‘Missa Semplice’   (Simple Mass) with its immediately appealing melodic line contrasting with movements in mixed-metre dance rhythms, set the scene for an enjoyable choral experience.  Hamilton’s superb choral writing was given a convincing performance with well blended tone and subtle shading, sensitively accompanied by pianist Myra Smith.

Graham Parson’s skill as a musical painter of words was displayed in three contrasting Psalm settings.  The first two, Psalms 51 and 126, featured the choir adding commentary, perhaps not all that certain at times, to the serene vocal lines from soloist Esmé Haigh.  However, Parson’s setting of Psalm 26 and 27 ‘For you Lord Will I Sing’ was given a confident performance full of energy and drive.

Interludes of poetry and readings by Dorothy Alexander, Lucy Marsden and James Brown read by individual choir members allowed the audience space to reflect on other images relating to everyday life in New Zealand.    

Humour abounded in David Farquhar’s ‘Three Nursery Rhymes’ where the choir conveyed the wit  of ‘Sing a Song of Sixpence’ and ‘O dear, what can the matter be’  contrasted with a central lilting lullaby setting of ‘Golden Slumbers’.       

Helen Caskie’s brilliant ‘Three New Zealand Country Scenes’ had the choir sauntering through a ‘Country Winter’, capturing the nostalgic mood of ‘The Pioneers and singing with animation and liveliness in a foot-tapping care-free song entitled ‘Dipping’

For the audience the undoubted highlight was the final work in the programme; Jonathan Berkahn’ s  work for choir and 5 piece band entitled ‘The Third Day’.  The work focusses on the resurrection  part of the Easter story, blending traditional vocal idioms with Rock elements in full flight. The choir and the brilliant group of instrumentalists allowed the work to flow seamlessly from one movement to another with wide-ranging guitar sounds used to good effect with Berkahn on accordion leading the ensemble.  The choir conveyed their enjoyment with conviction and resonant robustness.

Conductor Alison Stewart is to congratulated on keeping the forces focussed  throughout an evening of such musical variety. 


Vespers : Sacred Music

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher (Manawatu Standard, 16/6/14)

St Peter’s Church, Saturday 14th of June 2014

This concert of sacred music centred around various settings of the choral music composed for evening prayer services by Scarlatti, Handel, Purcell, and Mozart, providing fascinating listening and reflection.

   The works themselves also presented considerable challenge for the choir, which, as could be expected, were responsible for the greater part of the evening’s music.

   It was immediately obvious that the choir enjoyed this challenge, being thoroughly committed to their performance, although the sheer scale of the task meant that some music was not as ready for performance as they may have hoped.

   Furthermore, the similarities between the works meant that the expressive light and shade within each item needed thorough exploration to ensure that the differences between the works were revealed.

   The sheer size of the challenge meant that such expression was not always as fully explored as it could have been.

   Although they played a minor role, soloists Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Katherine McIndoe (mezzo soprano), Linden Loader (contralto), Nigel Tongs (tenor) and Joe Christensen (bass) revealed the true beauty of their music throughout the evening.

   Most have been heard in Palmerston North before. However, newcomer Katherine McIndoe, still studying at the Hew Zealand School of Music, revealed much promise in this performance.

   Douglas Mews on the organ provided appropriate support, although he was a little dominant in the overall mix in the early part of the evening.

   Music director Alison Stewart obviously believes that it is through such programme challenges that her choir will grow in strength and stature, and such acceptance of the task by all involved promises much for forthcoming concerts.

Vespers : Sacred Music

Reviewed by Karen Carter (The Tribune, 18/6/14)

The four choral works presented by the Choral Society, along with invited vocal soloists, were all written for Vespers, an evening prayer service. This was an appropriate programme for a cold winter’s evening.

   Opening with two different settings of words from the psalms, the two versions of Dixit Dominus by Scarlatti and Handel each had its own style and character.

   The five vocal soloists were superb. Janey MacKenzie (soprano), Katherine McIndoe (mezzo soprano), Linden Loader (alto), local Nigel Tongs (tenor) and Joe Christensen (bass) were individually highly effective, and compelling in combination with the choir mainly functioning as backdrop.

   In the first half Douglas Mews’ organ rather overpowered the choir making it difficult to hear the words, although against the soloists it was in balance. This was redressed after the interval. Purcell’s Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis featured the choir on its own, bringing obvious enthusiasm, energy and enjoyment to the performance, even if it lacked some precision, rhythm and intonation.

   Finally, Mozart’s Vesperae Solennes de Confessore again featured the soloists, providing a strong finish, with projection assisted by use of a sound-shell.

   For a community choir somewhat down on numbers, Sacred Music provided an ambitious and challenging programme.

Out of this World.

Reviewed by Stephen Fisher   (Dominion Post)

Palmerston North Choral Society. Musical Director: Alison Stewart.

St Peter's Church. Saturday 30th November 2013

   With the festive season rapidly approaching it was entirely appropriate that the Choral Society should choose to present two contemporary seasonal English works to mark this joyous occasion.

   John Rutter's works have great audience appeal, and Magnificat is no exception.

The work is full of melodic beauty, rich harmony and great rhythmic interest, becoming a glorious acclamation of faith.

   However, it is the very appeal of the music which can hide the difficulties that the work provides for any community choir. This choir obviously enjoyed performing such a celebratory work, and while it may have not met all its challenges, the choristers sang with obvious enjoyment and enthusiasm throughout.

   The second half consisted of Karl Jenkins' Stella Natalis (Nativity Star) which, as it's title suggests, celebrates different aspects of Christmas. The intrinsic variety of the music within the score ensured that this work was the perfect complement to Magnificat. Northern hemisphere references aside, again the choir captured the essence of this charming work with much enjoyment and authority, even if the sound was occasionally a little thin, lacking in tone.

   Janet Gibbs provided an excellent accompaniment on the organ throughout the evening, while soprano soloist, Anna Gawn, featured in both works, had a mature voice which came into its own particularly in the reflective moments in the Jenkins work. Clyde Dixon provided the lively cornet line for Stella Natalis allowing the instrument to shine in perfect harmony with the organ and the choir.

   Musical Director, Alison Stewart is to be complimented on her choice of works for this programme as the joyful nature of these works provided the perfect launch of this happy season.