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Summer Concert

Fri. 26th May 2017 at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Parish Church

 by Alan Cooper

JANE MURRAY: Conductor and Musical Director

ERIKA FAIRHEAD: Piano Accompanist

IAN WATT: Guitar – Guest Soloist

Craigiebuckler Church was packed to capacity for Friday’s concert by Aberdeen Orpheus Choir. Their programmes are good quality and decidedly attractive, the singing is also of top quality and the choir which appears to be getting ever bigger, seem to be enjoying everything they do. The choir’s current conductor Jane Murray is not just good at her job, she has a warm personality that goes down well with audiences.

Possibly another attraction for this concert was the guest soloist Ian Watt, one of the country’s finest classical guitarists who contributed four generous sets to the concert. His playing was absolutely stunning so let me begin by detailing his performances. Ian’s programme ranged from sixteenth century Spanish music through his own guitar arrangements of popular piano classics by Mendelssohn and Chopin and on to the finest guitar arrangements of Granados and Tarrega that sit at the summit of the classical guitar repertoire. On to three pieces by Agustin Barrios, the Paraguayan virtuoso guitarist and composer who is regarded as one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

Two pieces by Luis de Narváez had elegant melodies with clean accompaniments. Mendelssohn’s ‘Venetian Gondola Song’ had Ian Watt bring out so many contrasting ‘voices’ from his guitar while Chopin’s Waltz in C# minor was a masterclass in refined fingerboard work.

‘Andaluza’ had a delicious melody with a dreamy accompaniment while, in Tárrega’s ‘Recuerdos de la Alhambra’, a mandolin-like melody rang out steadily above a harp-like accompaniment. How amazing was that complex multiple finger plucking of the strings?

Las Abejas by Barrios in English means The Bees and Ian Watt gave us a musical picture of some very, very busy bees. Julia Florida had a honey sweet melody while the Waltz in G Major was delightfully compelling.

On then to the choir’s performance. They opened the concert with ‘We praise Thee, O God’ from the Festival Te Deum by Sir Arthur Sullivan. Sullivan’s original performance in the Crystal Palace had a choir of 2,000 singers. I wonder what that sounded like. The Orpheus Choir gave us a rich full choral sound with Jane Murray bringing in the different vocal groups with perfect precision.

The second half of the concert opened with another serious classical piece, four movements from the Miserere in c minor by the Baroque Czech composer Jan Dismas Zelenka. This was a new one on me but Jane Murray said his music was particularly attractive. She was right and apparently Zelenka who worked in Dresden was much admired by both Bach and Telemann so that has to be good!

The rest of the choir’s programme was in a lighter vein but just as Jane Murray had chosen two rather unusual classical pieces, her choice in the rest of the programme was both fascinating, unusual and offered arrangements of the finest quality. We heard two groups of Robert Burns settings by the American composer James Mulholland, Butler University, Indiana. Jane Murray described his settings as “quirky” they certainly had amazing mixtures of slow music with languorous harmonies against very lively passages. His melodies matched the words nicely and the diction of the Orpheus singers was splendidly clean and clear. ‘A Red, Red Rose’ had some nicely held notes by the choir. Folksong settings centred round Liverpool by the Manchester based composer David W. Jepson were particularly attractive, well arranged and well sung.

Exactly a year ago the Oxford based composer Bob Chilcott came to conduct the Orpheus Choir and was a great success. This year the choir sang three of the songs from “Five Days that Changed the World”. The invention of printing used the famous typing sentence, “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog”. It uses all the letters in the alphabet. Chilcott’s setting was great fun and the choir certainly rose to the occasion.

The Abolition of Slavery was more serious and had lovely harmonies and then the ‘First Powered Flight’ captured the sense of discovery and advancement.

Ennio Morricone is famed for his film scores which are often humorously surprising like the donkey sounds in ‘Two Mules for Sister Sara’ but he can write a good tune too as in ‘The Mission’. Angelo Geremia, a baritone from the choir, sang the melody in Nella Fantasia with the correct Italian pronunciation. I loved it, as I did the two pieces that showcased the male and female voices separately. For the women there was Tundra by Ola Gjeilo and for the men ‘You raise me up’ a hit for Josh Groban or Westlife, a bit cheesy in their versions but far more tastefully sung by the men of the Orpheus Choir.

Jane Murray’s aptitude in finding good and tasteful arrangements came through in the last three pieces in the programme, Carly Simon’s ‘Let the River Run’ sounded dignified as well as rich and tuneful. ‘Goin’ Home’ the choral version of the tune from Dvořák’s “New World Symphony” was delightful. Perhaps best of all was ‘Here comes the sun’ composed originally by George Harrison of the Beatles but today in an arrangement by Alan Billingsley. For this piece Ian Watt sat in with two guitarists from the choir, Maria Gruber and Graeme Morrice.

Let me conclude by praising the eight soloists from the choir who lent their voices to several pieces and of course not forgetting the choir’s splendid accompanist Erika Fairhead.  Where would the choir be without her?    
 

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