A cello concerto always gives a concert a special zing and those who go to the concerts in St Mary Magdalene Church in Woodstock tomorrow and Saturday will not be disappointed, writes Evelyn Hendy.

Jacqueline Johnson will be playing the Cello Concerto in A minor by Saint-Saëns with Woodstock Music Society’s chamber orchestra.

Jacqueline’s professional career has brought her across the world from Melbourne to Oxford where she now lives, combining chamber music and solo performances with orchestral work and teaching.

This will be her fifth appearance with the Society and she says: “I am delighted to be returning to play with my old friends in Woodstock Music Society, and especially pleased to be playing the Saint-Saëns Cello Concerto.

“This concerto is a wonderful vehicle for displaying the full range of what the cello can do – deep melodies on the low strings, delicate singing phrases in the middle range, and fiery writing for the A string.

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“There are virtuosic string crossing passages and declamatory statements, octaves and fast runs, and a magical scale which starts on the lowest note of the cello and travels to the very end of the fingerboard.

“Saint-Saëns was a master of orchestration, and he knew just how to score the orchestra so that the cello’s voice would always come through. The piece is full of wonderful melodies and an exuberant sense of joie de vivre which is quite irresistible.”

The second half of the concert is devoted to the oratorio The Light of Life by Edward Elgar. This uplifting music tells the Biblical story of the blind man whose sight was miraculously restored by Jesus.

A narrator, sung by mezzo-soprano Susanna Spicer, moves the story forward as we hear from the Blind Man (tenor Tristan Stocks), his Mother (soprano Hannah Bennett), and Jesus (baritone Quentin Hayes) while the chorus of Levites, Pharisees, Disciples and onlookers add their own voices to the drama.

Oxford Mail:

The oratorio has been overlooked by choral societies in recent times, so when the Elgar Society heard of this concert, they generously added some financial support, helping to bring this glorious music out of the shadows into the light.

Woodstock Music Society was formed in 1975 when a group of parents at the Primary School got together to present a musical evening. Such was its success that a seed was sown which flourished over the years to become what is now a choir of 90 singers with its own chamber orchestra.

Paul Ingram has been its music director for most of those years. He has been the driving force behind the presentation of a diversity of music from Bach to Bernstein, including major works such as Elgar’s The Kingdom and Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in Oxford Town Hall with Kidlington Amateur Operatic Society.

He says: “The Light of Life is a really fine work with some great melodies – Elgar on his journey toward Gerontius. Rehearsals have been challenging but rewarding, and singers and instrumentalists cannot fathom why the music is not more widely known.

“It was first performed at the Three Choirs Festival in Worcester in 1896 and contains some very beautiful string writing and decorative woodwind. The choruses are written in the grand choral tradition, typical of what became known as the Edwardian era.”

Oxford Mail:

Paul’s work with the choir and orchestra has covered a diversity of sacred and secular music. Although most concerts are given in St Mary Magdalene’s, the formation of a smaller chamber choir has added another dimension to the society’s musical activities. Every summer the singers go away for a few days to give concerts elsewhere. They have performed in several European cities, including Rome, Paris, Venice, Copenhagen and Berlin, and in cathedral cities in the UK.

Paul is enthusiastic about the society’s future plans: Bob Chilcott’s Requiem and a Haydn Mass in July, followed by a chamber concert in Newcastle. Then it’s back to Woodstock to rehearse a programme of French music with Gounod’s St Cecilia Mass as its highlight, and a new season begins...”

  • Woodstock Music Society present Elgar’s The Light of Life at Church of St Mary Magdalene, Woodstock, tonight and Saturday.
  • woodstockmusic.info