Concert Reviews

Haydn’s “The Creation” Concert Saturday 17th November 2018

Music Inspires A New Painting

Ramsbottom Choral Society and Concert Orchestra presented their first concert of the season on Saturday 17th November at Bolton Road Methodist Church, in a stunning performance of Haydn’s “The Creation” with soloists Suzanne Mather (soprano), Louis-Charles Gagnon (tenor) and Samuel Jackson (Bass). It was the first time that the two young male soloists from the RNCM had performed this work and they both gave amazing performances and showed enormous talent and great musicality. It was Suzanne’s fourth performance of Creation with the society and her beautiful voice thrilled the audience. The orchestra created some authentic 18th century period sounds using natural horns (without any valves) played by Lawrence Yates and Jonathan Gibson and also by the use of a genuine harpsichord which was played by the renowned harpsichordist Peter Collier.  The large orchestra was led by Julie Procter and the choir was in fine form, their renowned sopranos hit all the high notes and all the voice parts were very secure, with a strong sound from alto’s, tenors and basses, with good annunciation of the words. The performance was conducted by Barry Sugden.

On display in the foyer of the church was a painting exhibited by local artist Phil Jones, illustrating “The Creation” as described in Genesis and as portrayed in Haydn’s music. Phil is a member of the choir as well as being a long-standing member of Bury Art Society and had been inspired to do the painting while learning Haydn’s Creation.

The audience went away buzzing after this evening of glorious music.

Bury Artist Phil Jones


‘MESSIAH’ Ramsbottom Choral Society and Concert Orchestra Saturday 25th November 2017

Ramsbottom Choral Society and Concert Orchestra under the Direction of their Long Serving Musical Director – Barry Sugden together with four amazing soloists, graduates of the Royal Northern College of Music bravely and with excellent success presented to a packed audience at Bolton Road Methodist Church the seasonal offering of Handel’s magnificent oratorio ‘Messiah’.

It has been said that the work presents a ‘Wall of Sound’ and this was wonderfully achieved by the Society last weekend. The four part numerically strong chorus of (total Number) comprising Sopranos, Altos, Tenors and Bass’ along with the expanded concert orchestra led by Julie Proctor with Organist – Alan Beedie were faultless in their presentation. The oratorio was fronted by Ann Wilkes (Soprano), Ingvild Schultze-Florey (Alto), Ryan Hunt (Tenor) and Samuel Jackson (Bass).

Handel’s work tortures Sopranos and Tenors calling for a succession of prolonged high notes which the Choral met with exciting ease without losing sympathy for the drama of the work. In a similar manner the Altos and Bass’ were intelligently presented and never overpowered the presentation.

The impressive large orchestra was in fine form and seemed to include extra new musicians setting an opening benchmark of excellence with ‘Sinfony’. This reviewer has to record that he awaited with anticipation for the trumpet work during the Hallelujah chorus. Congratulations to the instrumentalist concerned coupled with amazing work by the entire Chorus during what is for many the highlight of the oratorio performed to a traditional standing audience.

All of which leaves space for the appreciation, admiration for to be heaped on the four talented and charming soloists with each offering deserving of praise to the highest degree.

The evening was graced by Cllr Dorothy L Gunther – Mayor of Bury Metro Borough who just happens also to be the Society Chairman. She must have left with pride for the Society in particular and for Bury in general.

Treble Cleff.

Samuel Jackson (Bass), Ryan Hunt (Tenor), Dorothy Gunther, Ann Wilkes (Soprano), Ingvild Schultze-Florey (Alto), Barry Sugden (Conductor)

Concert review

Ramsbottom Choral Society & Orchestra Verdi Requiem Concert on 5th December 2015

There was a splendid musical experience on Saturday December 5th for those who attended the performance of Verdi’s Requiem, given by the Ramsbottom Choral Society and Orchestra. This work is so dramatic and pictorial, from the pen of the master of opera, that one could easily imagine oneself at the theatre instead of the Bolton Road Methodist Church! Indeed, one critic described the work as ‘an opera in ecclesiastical robes’

The performance was a visual spectacle as well as an auditory one, as the orchestra was considerably augmented; behind the four horns were two trombones and a tuba, and on the opposite side six trumpets and four bassoons, and a full range of percussion including the important bass drum, in addition to the usual chamber orchestra.

The work opens very quietly on low strings, and the choir creeps in pianissimo – a magical opening, with lush, romantic harmonies. The succeeding setting of the Kyrie features some beautiful and lyrical ensembles for the soloists.

The ‘Dies Irae’ which follows is the best known movement of the work; as it opened with four short chords for full orchestra (played with impeccable precision) there was a discernible frisson in the audience of recognition and anticipation. The fearsome and impassioned entry of the choir makes huge technical demands which Ramsbottom Choral took magnificently in their stride.

As always, they never fail to meet a challenge – and this must be one of the most challenging passages in the choral repertoire.

Maurice Rushby gave a superb rendering of the bass solos, notably the ‘Tuba Mirum’ which is heralded by a trumpet fanfare.

Suzanne Mather sang soprano, and Margaret McDonald mezzo soprano. Their voices blended perfectly in their duets and they conveyed the profound

meaning of the text with great sensitivity. Verdi imposes huge demands on the technique of his soloists, with the soprano part culminating in a high ‘C’ (two octaves above middle ‘C’!) held for nearly three bars in the final part of the work. Suzanne was more than equal to the challenge while Margaret McDonald’s wonderful, expressive interpretation of the music was an inspiration to everybody.

Craig Jackson was an excellent tenor soloist, conveying the sense of his moving solo, ‘Qui Mariam absolvisti’ and meeting the composer’s technical expectations with skill and musicianship.

The recurrent theme of the Requiem is the fear of the Day of Judgement and this is splendidly conveyed in the music – for which the credit must go to Verdi!

However, the final accolade has to go to Barry Sugden, the musical director. The complex events do not organise themselves; they take months of planning, studying and rehearsing; this superlative performance represented the culmination of all that hard work and effort. It was a great musical undertaking, thoroughly enjoyed by all the participants as well as the audience.


Photo Soloists and Conductor

From left to right Maurice Rushby, Suzanne Mather, Margaret McDonald, Craig Jackson, Barry Sugden


Ramsbottom Choral Society & Orchestra Concert Summer Concert May 9th 2015 Songs from the Shows.

The Ramsbottom Choral Society and Orchestra brought this season to a close with a wonderful evening of light music. The Musical Director, Barry Sugden put together a programme full of interest and contrast with solos, small ensembles, instrumental numbers, as well as employing the full resources of choir and orchestra. It was a perfect programme for a beautiful evening with a hint of spring in the air.

Bolton Road Methodist Church was packed with an enthusiastic audience. It is no surprise that this concert attracted large numbers as there is little more enjoyable than listening to familiar music with great tunes and charismatic performers.

There is always a two-way communication between audience and performers, generating a warm and encouraging atmosphere; the choir were smiling and clearly enjoying the moment, and as Barry introduced every item, his cheerful and welcoming approach set the tone for a lovely evening.

The choir is large, over fifty participants, and produces a rich sound characterised by excellent intonation, rhythmic precision, good articulation of the words and a wide dynamic range. The soprano section is particularly strong, with many solo quality voices. The subgroup of the choir, the Andantino Singers, are outstanding and delivered some virtuoso items in the course of the programme.

The concert opened with a selection from “The Dancing Years” by Ivor Novello. After the sparkling orchestral introduction there was a magical moment when the choir entered quietly in the low register, before the familiar tune took them soaring up to the heights. Wendy Porter contributed a solo to the selection interacting with the choir in “My Life Belongs to You”. Wendy’s rich voice and instant communication with the audience are perfect for these lovely romantic melodies.

As a contrast to the big sound of the full ensemble the next item was a solo performance by Maurice Rushby of “Some Enchanted Evening”. Maurice is a regular visiting bass soloist to the Ramsbottom concerts and his acting skills match his excellent singing as this lovely sentimental number was delivered with deep feeling, sometimes whispered, sometimes passionately powerful.

The first of three Gilbert and Sullivan numbers followed, the choir negotiating the tongue twisting words with characteristic skill, accompanied by a lighter textured orchestra.

The next item was an interesting one and exemplified the skill with which this programme was devised, we have had a big sound from the choir and orchestra, a lighter number from the choir, a bass solo, and now eight ladies from the Andantino Singers sung a delightful setting of “Little Polly Flinders” in the style of Mozart. This was a very clever pastiche and could so easily have come from the pen of the great master himself, starting in the style of a piano sonata and gradually becoming more dramatic with an operatic cliché at the climax as Polly’s mother scolds her daughter for spoiling her nice new clothes! The piano part was brilliantly executed by Barry Sugden.
Barry remained at the piano to accompany an excellent performance by the gifted tenor (what a wonderful asset for the choir, tenors are like gold dust) Barry Jackson of a couple of contrasting American songs set by Aaron Copland, the first simple and lyrical, the second a humorous virtuoso piece with an equally demanding piano part, reaching a climax of speed and rapid diction which was truly impressive and elicited a great ovation from the audience.

The ladies of the Andantino Singers returned, accompanied by the gentlemen this time, to sing two beautiful songs, “In the Still of the Night” had a subtle piano, bass and drums accompaniment, with a hint of Latin American Rhythm underlined by the pizzicato bass. This is one of Cole Porter’s greatest songs, reaching a moving climax on the words “Do You Love Me?” This was followed by an arrangement of “Autumn Leaves” including a long introductory passage which is rarely heard in this song; it was a complex arrangement both rhythmically and harmonically and the Andantino Singers did it full justice with great precision and attention to dynamics.

There must be something in the Ramsbottom air to have produced so many gifted musicians. Harry Butterworth, whose wife Pat leads the orchestra, contributed two superb arrangements to the programme. “I Dreamed a Dream” from “Les Miserables” was set for string quartet and harp, with the harp part played by Harry on the synthesiser. “Love Never Dies” by Lloyd Webber was a duet for violin and piano played by harry and Pat together.

Wendy Porter, who is a regular member of the excellent soprano section, contributed two further solos to the programme, “Almost like being in Love” from “Brigadoon” and “If I Loved You” from “Carousel”, with great skill and musicianship.
The full orchestra and choir closed the first half of the concert, opened the second half and brought the concert to a splendid close. All three selections were arranged by Barry Sugden and demonstrated his skill and imaginative use of the resources. The splendid tunes from “Oklahoma” were accompanied by sparkling orchestration using the percussion section to full advantage. We heard the horse’s hooves in “The Surrey with the Fringe on top”. A high spot of this selection was “People Will Say We’re in Love“ which was sung as a duet by another excellent soprano from the choir, Justine Thomas and the tenor Brian Milligan. Both brought their subtle dramatic skills into play here with great wit and charm.

“The Merry Widow” selection opened with a brass fanfare, and the orchestration perfectly captured the idiom of Viennese romantic operetta, with the violins playing the soprano melodic line an octave up and the judicious use of pizzicato to lighten the texture, in the opening song “Vilia”, for instance.

The selection from “Mary Poppins” which concluded the evening, once again gave the orchestra the chance to shine, with a big sound, and many witty and humorous touches like the quirky piano interjections in “Step in Time”

Before the final selection for the full ensemble we were briefly whisked to the opera, as Justine and Maurice performed “La ci Darem la Mano” from Mozart’s “Don Giovanni”. This was a brilliant performance, both musically and dramatically. Justine was an appropriately naïve and ingenuous Zerlina while Maurice was a wonderfully salacious and predatory Don Giovanni, finally about to have his wicked way with her as they left together hand in hand.

Finally it has to be the musical director Barry Sugden who was the real star of the show. As a conductor he emanates a quiet and relaxed confidence which can be seen reflected in the aspect of the performers. As an accompanist he displays a brilliant piano technique and sensitive rapport with the soloist. But behind the scenes he devotes an incalculable amount of time and effort in training the choirs and the orchestra and in arranging so much of the music for them to sing and play, with huge skill and imagination.

It was a thoroughly enjoyable concert and a great pleasure to leave with so many memorable tunes to revisit on the journey home.


Ramsbottom Choral Society & Orchestra Concert Concert March 21st 2015.

Ramsbottom Choral Society and Orchestra presented their third concert of the season with a performance of Handel’s Messiah at Bolton Road Methodist Church to a packed audience on Saturday 21st March. Our critic Apollo writes as follows:

“Surely, Handel would never have imagined that his oratorio Messiah would still be performed some two hundred and fifty six years after his death. His choruses were of professionals and the soprano parts were sung by boys and the altos by men. Handel generally gave his oratorios in theatres, never in churches, except for some performances of Messiah at the Foundling Hospital, London. Here Handel has the soloists as commentators on the story, not as participants in it.

In Ramsbottom Choral Society’s production the chorus and orchestra are amateurs which are a credit to all concerned and especially to the Musical Director, Barry Sugden, who brings music of quality to the North-West. This gives an opportunity to those who love singing and playing to entertain those who love to hear choral music of Handel and other important composers each year.

The soloists for the performance were, Suzanne Mather (Soprano), Emily Reaves (Contralto), Craig Jackson (Tenor), George Hulbert (Bass).

Whenever we hear the work, one can be sure of a memorably spiritual and emotional experience. On this evening we heard a pleasing performance from choir, orchestra and soloists. The message was clear and musical. Indeed, the lively performance, reassured everyone with the chorus in excellent voice from the start when they sang “And the Glory”. There was also some spirited singing from the sopranos in the choir when they sang “For unto us a child is born” aided by some dynamic playing in the orchestra to enhance the joyousness. George Hulbert was articulate and refined in voice from the start singing “But who may abide” Craig Jackson too sang with authority and clear diction in “Every Valley”. It was also a pleasure to hear the contralto Emily Reaves opening her account with “Behold a Virgin shall conceive” being joined with the chorus in “O thou that tellest”, Before the interval it was good to hear Suzanne Mather, especially singing “Rejoice greatly” a taxing piece for soprano and orchestra alike, buoyant and rhythmic which was performed well. At this stage one must not forget the orchestra’s contribution to the performance with the overture setting the stage and playing sensitively in the Pastoral Symphony.

In Part 2 the choir continued to sing effectively and were not overawed by the magnitude of the task ahead. Here Emily Reaves entranced us by singing “He was despised”. The singing continued to be bold and “All we like sheep” proved bubbly as intended with spritely effect, the sopranos at their best. Later, Craig Jackson sang his solos with dignity and precision to portray the Passion in all its solemnity before Suzanne Mather delighted us with “How beautiful are the feet”. George Hulbert was again impressive in “Why do the nations” with its florid passages, taxing both singer and orchestra alike. Afterwards the stops were pulled out for the “Hallelujah’ chorus which resounded throughout the hall in sheer exuberance.

Part 3 commenced with Suzanne Mather singing “I know that my redeemer liveth” before “The trumpet shall sound’, which it surely did thanks to Alan Saunders who enthralled the listeners with his trumpet playing. The final chorus “Worthy is the lamb” brought the evening to a fitting close.

The concert proved a huge success for all concerned and our grateful thanks go out to Barry Sugden who works tirelessly for Choir and Orchestra. This year the choir displayed a better balance with the men singing with conviction and our thanks to Patricia Butterworth, the Leader of the Orchestra and to those musicians who love to play and swell the ranks to reunite us with music to enrich the soul.”