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Christmas Carol Concert 2017

Fri. 15th December 2017 at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Parish Church

 by Alan Cooper

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 carols

GRAEME MORRICE: Incidental Percussion


   MORAY JONES: Double Bass


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.

The programming 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.

The third 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 harmonies.

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.

Lully, Lulla, 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.


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