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Christmas Carol Concert 2018

Fri. 14th December 2018 at 7.30pm

Craigiebuckler Parish Church

 by Alan Cooper

JANE MURRAY: Conductor

ERIKA FAIRHEAD: Piano Accompanist for the choir

HARRY WILLIAMSON: Organ Accompanist

SPECIAL GUEST SOLOIST:

   LAURA SMITH: Clarinet, accompanied by

   COLIN SINCLAIR: Piano

The Sanctuary at Craigiebuckler Parish Church was packed to capacity for Friday’s Christmas Carol Concert given by Aberdeen Orpheus Choir and guests. In fact, before the doors were closed, it was standing room only. Under their conductor Jane Murray, the choir has grown in every respect. There are more men and the choral balance is impressive. I was heartened when I discovered that Jane Murray was going to be able to conduct the concert. Her husband Gordon passed away very recently so this was not going to be an easy task for her. Throughout the concert, she displayed her customary warmth and confidence on the podium. This is the secret of her ability to inspire not just the choir but the audience as well to sing for her. We did that lustily in all four of the popular congregational carols accompanied by Craigiebuckler’s regular organist, the splendid Harry Williamson. This Christmas concert was dedicated to the memory of Gordon Murray. I knew him way back when we were just boys, living close together in Gordon Road, Mannofield. We used to go out on our bikes with Gordon’s dog Rogie galloping along after us. There was a full colour picture of Gordon out walking in the country on the first page of the programme. Gordon was great fun as a boy, he enjoyed singing even then and he grew up to be what the English poet Chaucer would have called “a veray parfit gentil knight”, in other words, a thoroughly decent gentleman. Today’s concert did his memory proud. The Orpheus Choir always sing well for Jane, but today from beginning to end they really sang their hearts out. One of the special delights of Jane’s Orpheus Choir Concerts is her wonderfully imaginative choice of new or unusual music. The Choir’s opening piece was a perfect example. It was ‘The Coming of the Lord’ by Pepper Choplin (b. 1957). Hey, what a marvellous name for a composer. He is a graduate of the University of North Carolina. The work is a new choral piece but it contained both short and longer quotations from ‘O Come, O Come Emmanuel’. The first thing I noticed was the rich choral singing with wide spanning chords, perfectly in tune and well balanced between the various sections of the choir. The words too came through with perfect clarity. This was followed by Mendelssohn’s Christmas hymn, ‘Hark! The Herald angels sing’ The descant by David Willcocks had fine soaring singing from the sopranos in the choir. One of our guest musicians, clarinettist Laura Smith, joined with the choir in Celtic Communion arranged by Mark Hayes. It is based on the Gaelic tune ‘Bunessan’ which is possibly better known as the melody for ‘Morning Has Broken’. ‘Kling no Klokka!’ is a Norwegian carol arranged by Gordon Thornett (b. 1942), a graduate of Manchester University and later a member of the London Symphony Chorus. The title in English is ‘Ring out, church bells’ but the choir sang it in Norwegian. The piano accompaniment played by Erika Fairhead had definite bell like sounds of several sorts. ‘Verleih uns Frieden’ (Grant us thy Peace) by Mendelssohn, a setting of words by Martin Luther was sung by the choir in German. There was a fine opening section by the male voices before a kind of contrapuntal dialogue between the male and female voices of the choir. ‘Ecce Novum’ sung in Latin was the first of two pieces in the programme by Ola Gjeilo (b. 1978) a Norwegian composer and pianist who now lives and works in the USA. This choral piece with warm harmonies had a delightful rippling piano accompaniment. We all joined in with the Sussex Carol, ‘On Christmas night all Christians sing’. Arranged by David Willcocks. It had, of course, another particularly fine descant. ‘Amid the Falling Snow’ composed by Enya and Nicky Ryan had words by Roma Ryan. In Friday’s arrangement by Audrey Snyder, the sopranos had the tune at the beginning and then the men towards the end. The first half of the concert ended with a lavish performance of ‘White Christmas’ with a piano duet accompaniment played by Erika Fairhead and husband Andrew who was otherwise the page turner. The last few bars touched lightly on ‘Silent Night’. After our drinks and shortbread we were enlivened to join in singing Arthur Sullivan’s arrangement of ‘It came upon the midnight clear’. Another final verse descant had been arranged by David Willcocks. Willcocks is a necessity for Christmas and so is the next composer, John Rutter. The well known melody was made more interesting by two male duos from the choir and at the end the tenors soared aloft magnificently. ‘Spotless Rose’, the second setting by Ola Gjeilo, had rich scrunchy choral harmonies. It was followed immediately by a Bob Chilcott arrangement of Jingle Bells. It had delightful off centre counterpoints, yes, and bells too. We joined in with ‘Away in a manger’ another Chilcott arrangement with its simple melody for the congregation challenged by more off centre counterpoints from the choir. Jane Murray kept us all in perfect time. The final choral item was ‘Joy to the World!’ in a rich arrangement by another jolly looking American composer/arranger, Lloyd Larson. All this was only part of the delights on offer from Jane and her choir. I mentioned clarinettist Laura Smith at the beginning of the review. She had four solo pieces for us throughout the concert with piano accompaniments played splendidly by Colin Sinclair. The first was ‘Canzonetta’ by Gabriel Pierné, deliciously fresh sounding with dancing rhythms. Laura managed to fit in well with a very complex piano accompaniment in ‘Fughetta’, one of ‘Five Bagatelles’ by Gerald Finzi. Later on we heard another movement from the ‘Five Bagatelles’, ‘Romance’. It had a gentle piano accompaniment and delightfully soft willowy playing from the clarinet. Almost at the end of the concert, just before ‘Joy to the World!’ in fact, Laura and Colin gave us a lively free-flowing performance of Schumann’s ‘Fantasiestück III. Jane concluded with votes of thanks. She was not sure of getting to the end but she did and magnificently too. The whole huge audience gave her a well deserved standing ovation. May life and music be kind to you from now on Jane!

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