Review: Colin Druce's tour de force powers Beethoven celebration in Kenilworth

Clive Peacock reviews Warwick and Kenilworth Choral Society at St John's church, Kenilworth

What excellent use the Choral Society made of Kenilworth’s highly valued community asset, St John’s Church, for their early spring concert. Using the altar steps as built-in staging for the choir, finding a reliably sounding concert- grand piano, establishing links with Sinfonia of Birmingham and sourcing four excellent soloists, the Society created a recipe for success. It mattered little that the underfloor heating was not switched on as the building was heaving with an enthusiastic, supportive audience, a choir determined to be heard and one of Warwickshire’s brightest, most capable conductors, Benedict Wilson, in charge.

However, it was Colin Druce who took charge of the first twenty minutes of Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia, leading determinedly from the piano, something Beethoven allegedly did not do at the first performance; the composer is known to have improvised at the 1808 première. Druce gave a tour de force performance, sticking to the score. With flute, bassoon and clarinet wind section support; three cello desks distinguishing themselves, plus strong soprano delivery from Isabella Gage and more mellow tones from alto Emma Stannard, this Fantasia, with its hints of ‘Ode to Joy’, was well received as the hors d’oeuvre before the main course.

Intervals are excluded by Wilson and within minutes the main course, the great Ninth Symphony, was underway. The Sinfonia of Birmingham responded to Wilson’s crisp, easy-to-follow direction; once more the cello desks excelled, the bassoonists, too; the duet between trumpets and cellos with the wind section was memorable and contrabassoon entries noted. With those cellos leading the last movement’s ‘Ode to Joy’ , the choir in good, hearty voice and being clearly heard, and with all four soloists enjoying the warmth of the venue, Wilson brought the occasion to quite a climax achieving crisp, deliberate section closures.

* The concert took place on March 24. See wkcs.org.uk for details of future performances.