Christmas Carol Concert 2017
JANE MURRAY: Director
and Piano Accompanist for the two guest soloists
ERIKA FAIRHEAD: Piano Accompanist for the choir
GEOFFREY ATKINSON: Organ Accompanist for the traditional
GRAEME MORRICE: Incidental Percussion
SPECIAL GUEST SOLOISTS:
MORAY JONES: Double Bass
ELIZABETH McCALL: Oboe
The Sanctuary of
Craigiebuckler Church was full to capacity for the
latest Christmas Carol Concert by the Aberdeen Orpheus
Choir conducted by Jane Murray. Her warm welcoming
personality made us all really want to join in singing
many of the well-known Christmas Carols accompanied on
organ and played with nice subtle touches of musical
variation by Geoffrey Atkinson.
of the concert followed a familiar three section pattern
established by Jane Murray. Along with audience
participation carols there were many fascinating musical
discoveries, some more recherché than others, for
example an attractive piece from the Sunrise Mass by the
Norwegian composer Ola Gjelo (b. May 1978). So many of
these pieces showed Jane Murray’s skill in seeking out
fine musical gems from the modern Christmas repertoire.
These provided a marvellous contrast to the familiar old
carols which we all enjoyed joining in with and they
kept our interest level at high intensity.
section of the programming was provided by two of the
finest young musicians from the Aberdeen City Music
School at Dyce. One of these was in itself very unusual.
It was a couple of solos played by Moray Jones on Double
Bass – not an instrument that often appears on the solo
circuit – but he was absolutely marvellous. So indeed
was the other ACMS soloist, Elizabeth McCall, who
excelled in two movements from a Telemann Oboe Concerto.
You do often find the oboe as a solo instrument.
Jane Murray got
us all warmed up with the first item, a carol for choir
and audience, “Unto us a son is born”. After that we
were in a wholly receptive mood for the choir’s first
item, accompanied on piano by Erika Fairhead. It was “O
Praise the Lord with one Consent” from Handel’s Chandos
Anthem No. 9. There was a marvellous sense of joyful
enthusiasm in the choir’s performance of this piece.
They seemed to be really enjoying singing it.
As Jane Murray
said, no Christmas concert can be considered complete
without at least one setting by John Rutter and on
Friday we had two: “All Bells in Paradise” in which the
singers paid proper attention to dynamic variations and
later, “What Sweeter Music” with nice contrasts between
male and female voices. This was followed by “The
Ground” from Sunrise Mass by Ola Gjelo. It had some
meltingly soft harmonies gently and transparently sung.
It was delightful.
One of the most
popular items from last year had been requested for a
second hearing by previous audience members. This was
Night of Silence/Silent Night in which the choir sang
the new piece by Daniel Kantor while Jane Murray
signalled to us to begin singing the old carol Silent
Night counter to the choir’s singing. It worked
splendidly well. I wonder if we will get a chance to do
it again next year?
Daniel Elder (b.
1986) is another young American composer whose “Lullaby”
begun with the female voices before the men joined them
softly and sensitively was contrasted vigorously by a
traditional African Carol “African Noel” in which the
choir, supported on drums by Graeme Morrice, recaptured
that sense of enthusiasm and verve which they had showed
in the earlier Handel Anthem.
The second half
of the concert opened with us all joining in “God rest
you merry, gentlemen” although the choir alone sang the
second and fourth verses. I thought we did quite well
although the choir were better – but then, they had the
Victor C Johnson
is an African American award winning composer from
Dallas in Texas. His anthem “In Winter” sung by the
choir had considerable atmosphere.
The Choir opened
Holst’s popular setting of “In the Bleak Midwinter” by
singing the first verse. We all joined in the rest of
the carol. Actually I prefer Harold Darke’s setting and
there is now a new version by Paul Mealor.
Lullay, a traditional carol in a setting by Philip
Stopford (b. 1977) nice and gentle with high soprano
solos sung by Jane Livingstone and Kate Simpson was
followed by a suite of popular carols under the title of
Christmas in the Great Hall by the slightly older
American composer Mark Hayes (b. 1953). It too had a
special atmosphere about it. I could just imagine the
big log fire burning in the great hall.
The two pieces
played on double bass by Moray Jones were really
special. In Fauré’s “Après un rêve” he made the double
bass sing out beautifully. Later in the concert, with
“Introduction and Tarantelle” by Carlo Franchi, Moray
surprised us with the astonishing range of which the
bass is capable as well as by the lithe dexterity of his
fingerboard work in the tarantelle.
In the first
movement of Telemann’s Oboe Concerto in e minor
Elizabeth McCall demonstrated the lively jaunty
personality of the oboe and then, in the second
movement, the smooth flowing singing tone of the
instrument was all there to be enjoyed. Both soloists
were accompanied expertly on piano by Jane Murray.
Elizabeth and Moray along with Erika
Fairhead on piano accompanied the choir in “Alleluia!”
by Johann Nicolas Hanff (1665 – 1711 or 12). This was
splendid, a rich and fulsome performance. Along with
Handel, these were the two earliest composers for choir
(although some of the carols are quite old) but Jane
Murray must be congratulated for programming music by so
many composers who are still living. This is what keeps
music alive and thriving, so well done Jane and your
Aberdeen Orpheus Choir.