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Summer Concert 2018

Fri. 25th May 2018 at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Parish Church

 by Alan Cooper

JANE MURRAY: Musical Director, Pianist and Conductor

ANTHONY MOFFAT: Violin, Guest Soloist

ERIKA FAIRHEAD: Piano Accompanist

ANDREW FAIRHEAD: Piano in final piece

Aberdeen Orpheus Choir under their delightfully encouraging conductor Jane Murray were in finer voice than ever for their Annual May Concert. A selection of particularly attractive choral music, exuberantly well performed drew a capacity audience to Craigiebuckler Church on Friday evening. The Choir frequently invite a special guest performer to their Summer Concert. This year they had the renowned violinist Anthony Moffat, currently Leader of the Scottish Opera Orchestra. Jane told us that he had come to last year’s concert when the guest soloist was guitarist Ian Watt. Anthony enjoyed last year’s performance so much that he offered to become this year’s soloist and Jane immediately accepted his generous offer. He gave us four solo items as well as taking part in no fewer than five of the choral items adding extra brilliance to the fine singing.

The concert opened with the choir singing the Magnificat in C by the Italian baroque composer Antonio Caldara. I was immediately captured by the full strength of the choral sound and by the clarity of the diction. The Latin texts came through with remarkable distinctness. The second section was originally written for an alto soloist but on Friday this was the first solo contribution to the concert from violinist Anthony Moffat. It was absolutely marvellous, made even more fascinating when Jane Murray told us that the violin on which Moffat was performing had been made more than three hundred years ago when the composer Caldara was just twenty-five years old.

The precision entries in the third section and the transparent delivery of the counterpoint were praiseworthy and in the final Allegro the sheer boldness of the singing carried everything before it.

The next choral section contained three songs with a spiritual background. ‘Keep Your Lamps!’ had just the right thrusting vigour, a real punch delivered by the rhythm of the singing. The more gentle but enthusiastic American hymn, Amazing Grace had extra luxuriance delivered by Anthony Moffat’s violin ornamentation in the second last verse. The final piece in this section was ‘Joshua fit the Battle of Jericho’ sung with a bright faced enthusiasm that fully captured the heartfelt spirit of the words.

‘The Ground’ from ‘Sunrise Mass’ by the contemporary Norwegian composer Ola Gjeilo whose music was also heard in last year’s concert was dedicated to the memory of a stalwart member of the Orpheus Choir who sadly passed away in April. Right to the end, he attended choir rehearsals and this piece was one of the last he rehearsed. The final words, ‘Dona Nobis Pacem’ were, I thought, particularly appropriate.

The choir went on to give a rich and joyful performance of ‘How Lovely is Thy Dwelling-place’ the fourth movement of the German Requiem by Brahms, but here, sung in English.

‘The Windlass Ply’ from the Dramatic Cantata, ‘On Shore and Sea’ by Sir Arthur Sullivan was composed around the time that the composer was about to join forces with W. S. Gilbert but the words for this piece were by one Tom Taylor. There was fine lusty singing from the male chorus. The female chorus came in separately at first just as was often the case in the later Savoy Operas. Once again Anthony Moffat was on board to help the choir swing the windlass along with his violin.

So far, all the choral items were supported with real class by piano accompanist Erika Fairhead but the next piece, an eight part Madrigal entitled ‘Lay a Garland’ was sung a capella by the choir. They managed to project the music with admirable clarity and transparency.

‘Ballad to the Moon’ by the American composer Daniel Elder reminded me both in its text and its harmonies of ‘Sure on this Shining Night’ by Morten Lauridsen, a favourite of mine, so no complaints here and I enjoyed the choral version of ‘Song to the Moon’ from the opera Rusalka by Dvořák.

For the Southern American folk hymn, ‘The Wayfaring Stranger’ Jane had encouraged the choir to adopt the singing style of the American folksinger Joan Baez but most of them had never heard of her. All the same, with Anthony Moffat adding his encouragement on violin I thought they did rather well.

Last year the choir also sang a piece by Carole King and this year their choice was ‘I Feel the Earth Move’ and ‘On Broadway’ they seemed to be really enjoying this music.

The final choral piece supported by Anthony Moffat and Andrew Fairhead on piano, hitherto he was the page turner, was ‘Homeward Bound’ by Marta Keen. It had a particularly delightful melody sung enticingly to begin with by the male voices. The female voices came in with a hummed backing until finally the whole chorus came in with the words and it made a magnificent conclusion to the concert.

What about our marvellous guest soloist Anthony Moffat though. His four offerings covered almost every style of solo violin playing. He began with Fritz Kreisler’s ‘Prelude and Allegro in the style of Pugnani’. The Prelude was definitely “con brio” that is to say full of verve and ebullience and the Allegro was “con fuoco” absolutely on fire. ‘It ain’t necessarily so’ from Gershwin’s ‘Porgy and Bess’ was nice and jazzy while the ‘Theme from Schindler’s List’ was Hollywood heartfelt romanticism at its best.

The ‘Prelude from Solo Partita No. 3 in E Major’ by J. S. Bach was serious violin music also at its finest. Moffat captured both the echo effects of loud and soft along with the startling different violin voices sounding at the same time. It is always amazing to realise that these voices are all coming from just one instrument.

‘Chinese Rhythm’ by Cyril and Clifford Hellier (Cyril was a violinist and Clifford a pianist) reminded me of my radio days before we had television in Aberdeen. I thought of Workers Playtime. Would the Helliers have played this piece on the radio – or would it have been Yehudi Menuhin or perhaps more likely Max Jaffa? Happy days!

Anthony Moffat’s final solo offering was ‘Fascination’ by Fermo Dante Marchetti. I saw moonstruck smiles and at the end sighs of satisfaction from many in the audience during this piece.

This year’s Summer Concert radiated sheer enthusiasm from all the performers. Lovely Summer weather certainly helped and it was great to hear music that was new to me along with lifetime favourites. Thanks to everybody, Jane Murray, Anthony Moffat, the Fairheads and first and foremost the Aberdeen Orpheus Choir.

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