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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.


Summer Concert 2017

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?    


Carols in December 2016

Fri. 9th December 2016 at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Parish Church

 by Alan Cooper

JANE MURRAY: Conductor



NATHAN FENWICK: Violin and Piano

RACHEL GROVES: Harp and Flute

Nearing the end of their sixtieth year, the Aberdeen Orpheus Choir founded by Alex Elrick in 1956 is in good hands under their congenial and warm hearted conductor Jane Murray. She made the capacity audience that turned out to hear the choir feel so welcome. We all really wanted to please her by joining heartily in those carols which invited audience participation. The choir seems to have more men these days and they were on raised platforms so we could see as well as hear them. The result was that the choral performances were particularly richly blended and especially in the final carol, Lo! He comes with clouds descending, the choral singing was thrilling and all encompassing even before the huge audience joined in the final verse. The choir, singing their hearts out, looked as if they were really enjoying themselves. The concert opened with a well known hymn, Rejoice the Lord is King. The tune was familiar but the organ introduction played by Allan Bicket was complex and quite modern – a really nice surprise. Jane Murray had invited two young guest musicians to take part in the concert. Harpist and flautist Rachel Groves has appeared with the choir before and it was great to welcome her back. She had a very special gift for the choir in her capacity not only as a performer but as a composer. Along with her, Nathan Fenwick was another young accomplished musician playing not just violin but later in the concert, piano as well. The two of them, Rachel on flute and Nathan on violin joined with pianist Erika Fairhead in accompanying the choir in Hosanna! Blessed is He who comes, by Constantin Christian Dedekind, a German poet, dramatist, librettist, composer and bass singer of the Baroque Era. This was an unusual piece but with the blend of instruments and choir an absolutely delightful one. It was followed by Glory now to Thee be given, by J. S. Bach, a more familiar work sung with particularly refined balance by the choir. We all joined with a will in O come, all ye faithful, before the choir delighted us with the first of two pieces by John Rutter, the Sans Day Carol, the words of which are related to the Holly and The Ivy but with a different and equally attractive tune. As in last year’s concert Graeme and Karen Morrice were drafted in from the choir as incidental percussionists in Tomorrow shall be my dancing day. The male voices excelled in Mendelssohn’s There shall a star from Jacob come forth from Christus and then Silent Night was twinned with a modern carol Night of Silence. This was a gorgeous combination given an extra lift by the accompanying blend of both piano and organ. The second half of the concert opened with an award winning composition by Rachel Groves. Her carol Joy, composed for her father Jonathan who sings in the tenor section of the Orpheus Choir was voted joint winner by the judges of the Times Carol Competition. We were honoured to be hearing its world première even before it is performed in London. It was a beautifully well crafted piece with an attractive and expressive melody and splendid choral crescendos sung beautifully by the choir. It sat well alongside three Christmas classics by composers whose names are associated with particularly attractive choral settings, Bob Chilcott, Eric Whitacre and of course John Rutter. A Christmas concert just isn’t a Christmas concert without John Rutter. A traditional Shaker Hymn, Simple Gifts, which has been used by several composers in particular Aaron Copland, was next. Rachel and Nathan gave the choral singing a special touch of colour in this piece with their contributions. Deck the hall was sung unaccompanied by the choir displaying the perfection of their blend followed by I will lead you home, by Chris Eaton and Amy Grant. It had a particularly delightful introduction for flute and piano. This led up to that glorious choral performance of Lo! He comes with clouds descending, and to send us on our way rejoicing, God Bless us every one, from Disney’s “A Christmas Carol” What an amazing concert to have everything from J. S. Bach to the film composer Alan Silverstri and all of it sitting so well together. Well done Jane Murray. But that was not all; our excellent guest soloists entertained us royally with two solo items each. Rachel gave us a performance on harp of Debussy’s First Arabesque, originally written for piano. I’m sure Debussy himself would have been delighted with Rachel’s performance; it worked so well on harp. In the second half, Rachel played a piece entitled Baroque Flamenco by Deborah Henson-Conant. The spirit of the flamenco was all there in this exciting atmospheric piece, even the stamping of the dancer’s feet was recreated on the body of the harp used as a percussion instrument. Nathan gave us a wonderfully well detailed performance of Bach’s Allemande from the Partita No.1 in b minor, BWV 1002 for solo violin and in the second half he moved to piano in a rousing performance of the Rhapsody Op.79 no.2 in g minor by Brahms. No one can say that this concert didn’t have something to please every taste. I look forward to the Choir’s summer concert at the end of May when their special guest will be the ace guitarist Ian Watt.


Special Guest: BOB CHILCOTT

JANE MURRAY: Conductor and Piano accompanist

ERIKA & ANDREW FAIRHEAD: Choir accompanists


RACHEL GROVES: Flute and Harp


GRAEME MORRICE: Incidental percussionist


Friday, 27 May 2016  

 by Alan Cooper

Founded in 1955 by Alex Elrick, their first conductor, the Aberdeen Orpheus Choir celebrates sixty years of successful music making this year. Kyle McCallum another past conductor for many years was present in Friday’s audience to enjoy the wide range of varied, colourful and reliably tuneful music that delighted the near capacity audience in Queen’s Cross Church.

The celebrity guest for this Diamond Jubilee Concert was the renowned choral conductor, composer and arranger, Bob Chilcott. He first came to my notice when he was listed as Robert Chilcott the young treble soloist on my record, which I still have, of a world famous recording made of Fauré’s Requiem in 1967. It was this recording that did much to popularise Fauré’s work in Great Britain.

As today’s programme informed us, Bob Chilcott was described in The Observer as “a contemporary hero of British choral music”. A former member of the King’s Singers, Chilcott has conducted the choir of the Royal College of Music for seven years and he has been Principal Guest Conductor of the BBC Singers since 2002. His catalogue of works reflects his broad taste of musical styles and his love of writing for singers. As Jane Murray, the present conductor of the Orpheus Choir said, we were privileged in having Bob Chilcott take part in the Choir’s Diamond Jubilee celebrations.

It was Jane Murray who conducted the opening Medley of pieces from West Side Story. Starting with “Tonight”, the choir, with a rhythmically exciting piano accompaniment played in stirring style by Erika Fairhead, brought out all the richness and warmth of Bernstein’s music. The female chorus were in fine fettle in “I Feel Pretty” followed by a caressingly attractive performance of “One Hand, One Heart” with the full choir. The men were to the fore in “Maria” of course and then there was the full choir on top form with a rip roaring rhythmically exciting attack on “America”.

Bob Chilcott took over as conductor for his own special arrangement of the “Londonderry Air”.  It had attractive vocal harmonies and counterpoints and the choir was well balanced along with the strong piano accompaniment.

The Skye Boat Song was an arrangement by the Choir’s founder Alex Elrick (1924 – 2007). Here the counter melody sung by the tenors was most impressive and Jane Murray, taking over the role of conductor once more, invited us all to take part in singing the melody. She followed this with another special Chilcott arrangement, the attractive American folk melody Shenandoah made to sound very polished in this version.

  Three songs from the Australian composer Ben van Tienen’s suite “Across the Dark” had a very lush piano accompaniment, (I note that van Tienen is himself a pianist). The singers had to work hard to get their words across but for the most part they succeeded.

To close the first half we all enjoyed the five movements from Chilcott’s “Songs and Cries of London Town” a wonderfully colourful vocal suite full of atmosphere. “Come Buy” throbbed with rhythmic excitement driven along by piano and with percussion, (drums and bell) played by Graeme Morrice. “London Bells” had a busy piano part that brought to life the hustle and bustle of London streets illustrating the dashing activities of the “maids in white aprons” mentioned by the choir.

“Composed upon Westminster Bridge” to a text by William Wordsworth had broad rich choral harmonies and finally in “Good Morrow!” the separate sections sung between male and female voices gave the music a special feeling of spaciousness.

The second half opened with “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz. Christopher Hussey’s setting had very attractive piano writing but I found the vocal arrangement rather too fussy for this basically simple melody.

The choir however excelled in their only unaccompanied piece, Rheinberger’s Abendleid – beautiful harmonies splendidly well sung. Possibly even more attractive was Eric Whitacre’s “The Seal Lullaby” Here was the perfect balance of piano and choir in a really fine atmospheric setting of words by Rudyard Kipling.

The two Shakespeare settings, “I know a bank where the wild thyme blows” by Sarah Quartel (b. 1982) and “Sigh no more, Ladies” by Cecilia McDowall) came across particularly well, the first with lovely clear diction from the sopranos and the second with rich singing from the whole choir.

After the concert, on the way to the car a gentleman stopped me to say that the piece he most enjoyed in the whole concert was “Sure on this shining night” by Morten Lauridsen with beautiful words by James Agee. I think I have to agree with him. This is a marvellous piece and it was sung with deep feeling by the choir.

Great fun however was had in the final piece when Bob Chilcott took over the podium once again to conduct his special arrangement of Buffalo Gals – helter skelter top speed and thoroughly joyful singing.

Jane Murray had also brought back two instrumental soloists who performed to great audience acclaim at last year’s Christmas concert. Rachel Groves is a multi talented musician. In the first half of the concert she played the Allegretto Melancolico from Poulenc’s Flute Sonata – a dazzlingly fluent performance with a splendid piano accompaniment played by Jane Murray. In the second half, Rachel moved from flute to harp giving us an equally virtuosic performance of the Valse de Concert by Alphonse Hasselmans – tuneful and rhythmically exciting.

Oboist Christopher Smith gave us a very popular piece in the first half. It was Gabriel’s Oboe by Ennio Morricone from the film The Mission- a smooth and well sustained performance. Christopher’s offering for the second half was another piece by Poulenc, the Élégie from his Oboe Sonata – a challenging work with some very high notes but Christopher managed splendidly well. Once again it was Jane Murray who provided the piano accompaniments for Christopher.

All the performers were brought on stage for a final round of applause but there was one member of the choir who was also brought forward to receive a special plaudit. Alto Stella Reid has been a member of the choir since it was founded. She has been a committee member for many years and is the current choir secretary. Today, after sixty years of loyal service she was presented with a Life Membership of the Choir. Perhaps Jane Murray could persuade Bob Chilcott to make an arrangement of Victor Young’s song “Stella by Starlight” just for her?

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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