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Summer Concert 2019

Fri. 31st May 2019 at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Parish Church

 by Alan Cooper

JANE MURRAY: Conductor



   JOSEPH FLEETWOOD: Concert Pianist

As I expected, Craigiebuckler Parish Church was packed to overflowing for Friday’s popular Summer Concert given by Aberdeen Orpheus Choir. Their wonderfully engaging conductor Jane Murray has a unique talent for choosing programmes which, as she herself said in her introduction to the concert, ‘would be sure to have something to appeal to every musical taste’. This was absolutely true. There were four parts of a Magnificat by the Italian early classical composer Giovanni Battista Sammartini (1700 – 1775) and two choruses from Handel’s Solomon for the more serious minded, but to complete the performance, Jane had chosen two highlights from Kander and Ebb’s glitzy stage musical Chicago, designed to send us on our way walking on air, ‘and all that jazz’!

Jane had also chosen composers of particularly attractive contemporary choral music, John Rutter, Bob Chilcott (remember him as the conductor of some of the Summer Concert in 2016?) and my special favourite Morten Lauridsen. The thing about Jane Murray is that she has impeccable musical taste. It ranges from early music right up to the present day. If Jane has chosen to programme a piece, no matter where it comes from in the repertoire, it is sure to be music of the highest order. In addition, the singers of the Orpheus Choir gave their wholehearted enthusiasm to all of the music projecting so many different styles with real gusto. This was certainly true of the piece that opened the concert. ‘Festival Sanctus’ by the American composer from Kansas, John Leavitt (b. 1956). The Latin words were sung in a contemporary rhythmic setting but Leavitt and the Orpheus Choir made them fit together so utterly convincingly. The different choral parts came through with particular clarity too. There was definitely a real Summer quality to this singing.

John Rutter’s ‘I will sing with the spirit’ had his usual melodic appeal sung by the sopranos to start with over a rippling piano accompaniment played beautifully by Erika Fairhead. Erika’s running bass stood out in the first of four parts of the ‘Magnificat’ by Sammartini. She was of course standing in for an orchestra in this work and she captured all the brightness of the strings in the following three sections. Harmonies from the choir were rich and the counterpoints smoothly delivered throughout the work.

The next choral section consisted of three works joined together on a theme of remembrance for the passing of the dead. In ‘Remember Me’ by Bob Chilcott, he had set words by Christina Rosetti in a way which made them sound bang up to date and very relevant to our time. These words were sung by the female chorus only. A beautiful clean and clear performance. The ‘Funeral March’ from ‘King Arthur’ by Sir Arthur Sullivan was for solo piano then the full choir sang the ‘Final Chorus’ sounding rich and fulsome. The final section had the same title as the beginning, ‘Remember Me’ but it was taken from the Disney\Pixar film ‘Coco’. I was amazed at how well the three pieces from quite different areas of the repertoire worked so well together succeeding in putting their emotional message across.

Two well-known pieces from the lighter side of the repertoire completed the first half of the concert. In the Rogers and Hart number ‘Blue Moon’, Graeme Morrice from the bass section of the choir added his bass guitar to the sound world. It worked splendidly well. He played bang on cue. This was followed by ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ a suitable title for the Aberdeen Summer so far!

The first of two pieces from Handel’s ‘Solomon’ was ‘From the East unto the West’ with rich choral harmonies, then ‘May no Rash Intruder’ enjoyed delicate soft singing from the choir with the piano suggesting the birdsong that is mentioned in the text.

I have a particular fondness for the music of Morten Lauridsen especially his setting of a poem by James Agee, ‘Sure on this Shining Night’. Lauridsen has a talent for choosing really meaningful poetry and setting it in a deeply felt way. The piece sung on Friday by the Orpheus Choir was another fine setting of a poem, this time by Dana Gioia. It was entitled ‘Prayer’. It echoed the feelings of the earlier section ‘Remember Me’ and was deliciously well sung, followed by Malotte’s attractive setting of the ‘Lord’s Prayer’. The audience really loved that.

The pieces which closed the concert were in a lighter vein. The first for male chorus only was a marvellous piece of fun created by our pianist and her page turner husband, Erika and Andrew Fairhead. They had created this piece based on words and music by Micheal Flanders and Donald Swan. It was, as the programme said ‘An affectionate tribute to the bus drivers of Aberdeen’. Graeme Morrice and Steve Stuart had solos as the two bus drivers travelling in convoy as they often do in Aberdeen. It was a great piece and the audience really loved it.

I have already mentioned the pieces from ‘Chicago’, ‘Razzle Dazzle’ followed by ‘And All that Jazz’. The Orpheus Choir really went for the full flamboyant spirit of these pieces and sent us on our way rejoicing.

There was far more than this in the concert however. Each year Jane Murray and the choir invite talented instrumentalists to come and give their own special interludes within the concert. This year’s choice really was extra special. It was the talented concert pianist Joseph Fleetwood who was a pupil of the Scottish pianist George Donald whom I knew well.

In the first half of the programme, Joseph played Chopin’s ‘Ballade in A flat Op. 47 No. 3’. Along with sparkling fluent runs, he made Chopin’s melody really sing out of the piano, making the instrument sound really good. Better still, I thought was his delicious performance of Schubert’s ‘Impromptu in G flat Op.90 No.3’, a golden outpouring of melody over a rippling background. In the second half of the concert Joseph began with another Chopin delight, the ‘Nocturne in b flat minor Op. 9 No.1 played with the utmost delicacy. This was followed by Rachmaninoff’s ‘Humoresque Op 10 No. 5’. It was lively, uninhibited and exciting. It fitted in so well with the idea of ‘Razzle Dazzle’ that was to follow. Yes, Joseph really was razzle-dazzling the piano in this marvellous piece!


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