Banquet of Song marks 150 years of Rugby Philharmonic Choir

Fine performances from members of the choir.
Fine performances from members of the choir.

Rugby Philharmonic Choir Anniversary Concert - Temple Speech Rooms - Diana Walls

When you are celebrating, you can do anything.

What, even offer Faure’s Requiem and the Pirates of Penzance in the same Concert? Yes, and other items too, but only if you are the Rugby Philharmonic Choir and have worked your socks off to do something challenging and memorable for a 150th anniversary.

You might have thought that a hot evening on 8th July and a plethora of Concerts in the Festival Season would thin audience numbers. When the choir filed onto the stage of the Temple Speech Room, a Gala occasion greeted them: full house.

After being congratulated by Dr Jonathan Smith, the opening number, ‘How lovely are thy dwelling fair’, came from the heart.

Brahms was composing this at the moment Director of Music, Mr Edwin Edwards, lifted his baton, in 1867.

And director of music, 2017, Mervyn Bethell, lifted his baton to a full stage, the Phil Choir, 90 members strong, fronted by a delightfully willing orchestra, led by Andrea Brogarde.

James Williams was at the organ and Jo Foote at the piano. Mervyn himself played a lyric by Grieg, Wedding Day at Troldhaugen, also written in 1867.

Faure’s Requiem, with its sublime melodies and subtle nuances, summoned memories of those departed who had played a big part in the life of the Phil, especially Doreen Long, to whom the Concert was dedicated. Serving the Phil was Doreen’s life and, at young 93, she retired as secretary, having sung herself as soloist and choir member.

How friends of the choir would have appreciated the sublime music, the exhilarating rhythms of Borodin’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor, and the Chorus of the Hebrew Slaves by Verdi.

It was a sumptuous banquet, topped by Gilbert and Sullivan soufflé to follow.

G & S fans might point out that the plot twists and theatricality of Pirates is more a diet of dark chocolate, here made palatable by the eloquent wit of narrator, Rex Pogson.

Soloists, Howard Walker, Mike Hansford, Jack Dolan, Phil Middleton, Emma Griffiths and Yvonne Rollins enjoyed themselves in lively interaction with each other and the choir. The lower voices in the choir had removed their jackets and sang with the lightness and freedom attained earlier by upper voices. It was happy and festive and all done with admirable control despite the heat.

How were they in 1867? we wondered, as we applauded one 150 years of quality singing.

It was a thrill to salute the dedicated work of gifted musicians and to recognise the talent in young performers.

We shall now want to discover the history of the choir in Rugby Art Gallery and Museum’s current exhibition.

And the future? We look forward to the next concert on Saturday, December 16.

Choir memorabilia

Do you have any memorabilia relating directly to the past of the Philharmonic Choir?

An appeal has been made for articles, artefacts and particularly pictures.

Visit the choir website www.rugbyphilharmonic.org.uk to find out more.