Rugby Philharmonic Choir since 1867

Rugby Philharmonic Choir

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Handel's MessiahHandel’s “Messiah”  Saturday 15th December 2017

Rousing choruses, splendid soloists, talented musicians and a standing ovation...that's how to celebrate a 150th anniversary!

This 150th anniversary performance of Handel’s Messiah by the Rugby Philharmonic Choir in the Temple Speech Room brought a near capacity audience to its feet – and  not just for the Hallelujah Chorus! In Handel’s idiom, the choir was in its element with wonderfully clear diction, rhythmic vitality and a sense of collective purpose which was entirely convincing.

The soloists, too, impressed from the outset with tenor Jack Dolan’s arresting and incisive opening Recitative and Aria reminding us of the operatic provenance of the Handelian oratorio; Samantha Joy Taylor’s alto providing many of the most affecting moments with her sweet and plangent tone; the soprano, Emma Griffiths, soaring effortlessly and with pellucid clarity in her big Arias, and bass, John Fletcher, achieving a hieratic power in the unfolding of the great mystery, and, with Nick Long’s powerful trumpet obligato, a compelling confidence in the world to come in the great Aria, The Trumpet shall Sound.

Conductor Mervyn Bethell succeeded in channelling the choir’s enthusiasm into a convincing expression of faith which was powerfully communicated to the audience throughout, never more so than in the sonorous and resplendent final Amen – and if some audience members could be heard quietly singing along, this only served to convey more strongly the sense of musical unity and community achieved in this milestone evening of music-making by and for the good people of Rugby.

In recognition of that milestone and of the close relationship between the Philharmonic Choir and Rugby School, a cheque for £1867.00 was presented to the Headmaster in aid of a charity which the Phil has supported for some years. The Arnold Foundation aims to transform the lives of boys and girls from some of the country’s most disadvantaged communities by providing them with a boarding education at the School. It will be noted that the sum involved was not a random figure!

Perhaps we should allow the final word to go to one of our distinguished soloists who no doubt expressed the sentiments of many who were present on this occasion: “As always it has been an unalloyed pleasure to work with the choir and to see so many people on the stage. This augurs well for the next 150 years! And what a lovely performance: well sung, well played and well conducted.”

 Joan Hamilton


Songs Of Praise, All Saints, NorthamptonChoristers full of praise for TV recording - Songs of Praise    August 2017.

Rugby Philharmonic Choir was invited to join BBC Songs of Praise to lend their voices to record a commemorative episode in Northampton.

More than 800 singers filled All Saints’ Church to the rafters to film a tribute marking the 20th anniversary of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. The mass choir recorded 10 hymns which included the patriotic I Vow to Thee My Country, Guide Me, O Thou Great Redeemer and Make Me a Channel of Your Peace.


  Banquet of Song marks One Hundred and Fifty years

July 2017.

Rugby Philharmonic Choir Summer 2017 Concert

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 dwellings 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, ninety 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 ninety-three, 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 hundred and fifty 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 16th December.

Rugby Philharmonic Choir.  Contact Mervyn Bethell at mail@rugbyphilharmonic.org.uk

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Updated February 2018