Cockermouth Harmonic Society


For their Summer Concert on Saturday in All Saints Church the Cockermouth Harmonic Society presented a varied and attractive programme of part  songs, and of violin pieces performed by Julian Cann.

The choir under their conductor Ian Thompson rose to the challenge of the different works and sang with enthusiasm and obvious enjoyment. The balance was good, the rhythm mostly secure and the voices blended well.  Occasional intonation problems in the high passages did not detract from the overall excellence. Diction was not always clear but this could have been due to the acoustic in the church, so it might have helped to have had the poems printed in the programme.

Elgar wrote his ‘Songs from the Bavarian Highlands’ as a remembrance of holidays spent in Upper Bavaria with his wife Alice, who provided the poems. They were enchanted by the area and each song depicts life in the places they visited. The choir gave a lively performance with contrasts of mood from the fresh joyful voices in the lyrical ‘Sonnenbichl’ to calm peaceful singing in ‘Aspiration’  rising to a triumphant

climax at the end of ‘The Marksmen’.

The renowned composer Philip Wood is well known in Cockermouth and has written music for many local performers, both vocal and instrumental.  He writes to suit the different styles and abilities of the musicians, and yet is able to produce works of freshness and individuality that appeal to audiences of all tastes. His ‘Five Shakespeare Songs’ written for the choir’s 150th anniversary, received their first performance on this occasion. Here the choir was joined by the Bass – Baritone soloist Jolyon Dodgson who provided contrasts of mood with  sweetness of tone in ‘Pastorale’, a ringing declamation in ‘Festivo’ and raucous drunkenness in ‘Burlesco’ wildly waving his bottle around.  The men gave strong rhythmic and vocal support and the whole choir sang movingly in the sorrowful lament ‘Elegy’. A joyful song of thanksgiving brought this impressive work to an end and was rewarded with enthusiastic applause for both composer and performers.

Stanford’s ‘Songs of the Fleet’ began with ‘Sailing at Dawn’, the soloist singing with resonance and the chorus with richness and confidence.  The ‘Song of the Sou’wester’ represents a storm brewed up by the ‘giant who swings the waves’ with  wind and rolling sea depicted in the piano part.  Soft flowing lines in the accompaniment and gentle singing from the choir in ‘The Middle Watch’ were followed by a  lively  rendition of  ‘The Little Admiral’ in which the men excelled. The moving funeral oration ‘Fare Well’ was expressively sung by soloist and choir and led to a powerful climax, bringing the concert to a dramatic end.

Throughout the evening the choir was accompanied with great sensitivity and virtuosity by pianist Nicholas Butters. His playing in the Elgar Songs was characterful and charming, and in the Stanford Songs he brilliantly represented the different moods and tonal colours of a whole orchestra in this piano reduction.

The violinist Julian Cann, who has long been associated with the Harmonic Society as leader of the Lonsdale Ensemble, played two favourite Elgar pieces ‘Chanson de Matin’ and Salut D’Amour’.  These were expressively performed with a rich tone.

He also played ‘St Bega’s Sands’, written by his late father Roger. The piece is a rhapsody for violin and piano, in which the two players have equal importance. The pianist in this performance was Ian Thompson. The music is evocative of the unique area of St Bees, and has long melodic violin lines and a flowing piano part.  This heartfelt performance was a fitting tribute to the composer.

The evening was exhilarating and enjoyable. It was Ian Thompson’s last appearance as Musical Director. The choir will be very sorry to lose him as he has done so much to inspire them to many fine performances.   

Sue Ralph