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Carols in December 2015

Fri. 11th December at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Church

 by Alan Cooper

Aberdeen Orpheus Choir celebrate the 60th Anniversary of their foundation next year. As part of the celebrations, the Choir have invited Bob Chilcott to lead a special “Come and Sing” workshop on Saturday 28th May 2016. Like John Rutter, Bob Chilcott is renowned for his choral arrangements and he too has a fine portfolio of Christmas music. We were to hear three of his arrangements or compositions in Friday’s Christmas Concert.

Opening and closing the first half of the concert were two settings by another young composer Philip Stopford, Jubilate and Be Thou my Vision. As soon as the Orpheus Choir began singing Jubilate, the vim and vigour of their singing and the fine rapport of their vocal balance shone through. I was also impressed by Jane Murray’s direction, not just beating time but discretely signalling entries to the various sections of the choir. Each section, even the men at the back responded with a will. They all seemed to be enjoying their singing so much and that was communicated to us in the audience. Be Thou my Vision, Stopford’s second contribution was a fine setting particularly richly sung.

There were six carols where Jane Murray invited the audience to join in although in some we were required to sing only some of the verses. This was because some of these had very fine arrangements that deserved to be heard sung by the choir alone. Child in the Manger, specially arranged for the Orpheus Choir by Geoffrey Atkinson had marvellous organ interludes that were picked up in the harmonies for choir, and Good King Wenceslas arranged or should I really say recomposed by the late Jimmy Reith was absolutely marvellous – so full of imaginative choral surprises. A couple of more mainstream classical items, The Sanctus and Benedictus from Charpentier’s Messe de Minuit based on traditional French Carols and Handel’s Declare His Honour were both particularly impressively sung.

The three arrangements by Bob Chilcott were fascinating. There was Where riches is everlastingly with its lively percussion parts played by Graeme and Karen Morrice. The choir picked up on the rhythms and swung along with the drumming. Chilcott’s setting of In the Bleak Midwinter; simply called Midwinter had delicious harmonic writing.

No Christmas concert these days is complete without something by John Rutter and Angels' Carol, with lovely rippling piano accompaniments played by Erika Fairhead and firm delivery of the melody by both tenors and basses this was a real delight. Some of the carols had special accompaniments played by Rachel Groves on flute and Christopher Smith on oboe. Their playing added a special extra dimension to Charpentier’s Sanctus and Benedictus and in the Welsh carol, Sleep away, my gentle child, Erika Fairhead on piano and Christopher Smith on oboe were joined by Karen Morrice on clarinet – an attractive blend.

Rachel and Christopher were splendid supporting the choir in Buxtehude’s Jesu, meine Freude but they also had their own spots in each half of the concert. Christopher gave us a finely controlled version of the first movement from Marcello’s Oboe Concerto in d minor with nice phrasing and nuanced dynamics and in the Allegro from the Concertino for Cor Anglais in G, he made his instrument sound splendidly lithe and limber.

Rachel is a fine harp player as well as a flautist. Debussy’s La Fille aux Cheveux de Lin on harp was a beautifully relaxed performance and her flute solo, O come, o come Emmanuel was wonderfully sinuous. For these instrumental solos Jane Murray provided the piano accompaniments.

I should mention another two particularly attractive pieces, Diamond Bright by Lin Marsh with fine singing from the altos and the Scots Nativity by Allan Bullard with lovely gentle singing from the whole choir.

This most enjoyable Christmas concert concluded in joyous mood with Jingle Bells and then the second biggest earner in all music, White Christmas. The only tune to beat it is Happy Birthday. Perhaps we can all sing that to the Orpheus Choir next year?

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Aberdeen Orpheus Choir is a Charity registered in Scotland, number SC045709