May 2017
THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS
SPRING CONCERT "FROM SCOTLAND TO HUNGARY, A MUSICAL JOURNEY"

St JAMES’ CHURCH, STONEHAVEN

Alan Cooper

“From Scotland to Hungary, a musical journey”, was the title of this year’s Spring Concert from The Stonehaven Chorus conducted by Ralph Jamieson. Later this year, in mid-October, the choir will visit Budapest in Hungary where they will give concerts, hence today’s programme which was a preparation for their exciting mid-European adventure.

The choir opened their performance with five Scottish items. The first, a rousing arrangement of MacGregor’s Gathering by the Choir’s conductor Ralph Jamieson set the Scottish background securely. To follow in a more gentle vein was ‘So Deep’, a setting of ‘My Love is like a red, red rose’ by one of Scotland’s premier composers James MacMillan. The sopranos had the tune, not the one we generally hear today, but rather the one Robert Burns himself would have known while the rest of the chorus provided an ethereal backing – very imaginatively done.

Rantin’ Rovin’ Robin, another Burns standard set by Ralph Jamieson followed on in somewhat similar style with today’s guest soloist, soprano Moira Docherty, carrying the tune while the chorus provided the hummed backing. The next two pieces were arrangements of Gaelic songs by Don French, one of the stalwart basses in the choir. Màili Dhonn was set for male voices only with the basses having a fine sturdy role. The second setting, Rubh nan Cudaigean for the female voices was what is known as a waulking song where the sound of the women beating out the rhythm as they worked on the tweed was provided by the stamping of feet. This worked spectacularly well.

Perhaps the choir will have to visit England on their way to Hungary? Hosannah to the Son of David an anthem by the English composer Thomas Weelkes was rousingly sung by the full choir.

From England on to Austria and two favourite church motets by Anton Bruckner, Locus Iste and Christus factus est in which the choral crescendi were particularly well done.

At last we were in Hungary with A Bujdosó by Béla Bartók and Ének Szent Istvan Királyhoz by Zoltán Kodály sung by the chorus, yes, in Hungarian. I am certain those will go down splendidly on their visit in October.

The second part of the concert was even better than the first. The choir sang with splendid transparent clarity in their performance of Paul Mealor’s Stabat Mater. Mealor is professor of composition at Aberdeen University which makes him an honorary Scot although he comes originally from Wales. I believe however that his family originates from Hungary. The words came across clearly and Mealor’s delicious harmonies shone throughout the piece. As the programme note suggested, there is a suggestion of the music of Carl Orff in the central section of the work, particularly in the use of rhythm and here the male voices in unison sounded magnificent. Equally brilliant was the singing of guest soprano Moira Docherty. Her voice soared over the choral accompaniment and here too, pianist Arthur Balfour came into his own with a starring role.

The rest of the programme was largely sung unaccompanied which is something of an achievement for any choir.

To complete the programme was another unaccompanied piece from Hungary, Zoltán Kodály’s Esti Dal a gentle goodnight song with the sopranos holding the tune supported by a gentle hummed backing from the choir. This was a choral texture that was something of a special feature in this concert. 

                                                                                                                              

 

The choir pictured after the May 2017 Spring Concert

 

January 2017

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS 
“COME & SING” MOZART: REQUIEM
ST. BRIDGET'S HALL, STONEHAVEN

 

On Saturday 28th January 2017 “The Stonehaven Chorus” hosted another very successful “Come & Sing” Event, inviting anyone interested in singing to come along and experience Mozart’s fascinating, final masterpiece, “Requiem”. Led by conductor Ralph Jamieson and accompanied by Arthur Balfour, all those who attended enjoyed the well-paced interesting instruction and gained some valuable new singing techniques. The event was well organised, very friendly and great fun. The Chorus shall be performing the “Mozart Requiem” in May 2018. Around 30 guests joined 30 Chorus members with enthusiasm, commitment and a desire to share in this musical venture. As a result, the Chorus are delighted to say that 5 of the guests have since joined as members of the choir.

Some photos of the day can be found in our “Photo Album”.

  

DECEMBER 2016

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS

CHRISTMAS CONCERT

STONEHAVEN TOWN HALL

Alan Cooper

This year’s Christmas Concert from The Stonehaven Chorus conducted by Ralph Jamieson offered an attractive selection of music ranging from top flight choral classics by composers like Bach, William Byrd, Buxtehude or Haydn along with works by contemporary composers like the American choral master Morten Lauridsen or our own John Hearne who for many years was the Choir’s conductor. In addition, there was John Rutter whose music is often regarded as a crossover to the popular music world although his carol Dormi, Jesu, was from the more serious side of his repertoire and then Walking in the Air by Howard Blake which is a great piece but definitely “popular” even if not “pop” music. As with most of the Christmas concerts I have attended, there were items requesting audience participation, six of them, ranging from traditional carols like Angels from the Realms of Glory to White Christmas. Ralph Jamieson had put a lot of work into his choice of these pieces and for I Saw Three Ships, his excellent keyboard players provided clever interludes between the verses made up of pieces with sailing or water connections. It was like the old television programme “Name That Tune”. There were ten in all, starting with the opening of Wagner’s Opera, The Flying Dutchman and including The Skye Boat Song, The Mingulay Boat Song or the Song of Volga Boatmen. It was great fun and definitely kept us on our toes and in the Christmas party mood. The performance opened with Vivaldi’s Gloria set in motion by our two excellent keyboard players Arthur Balfour and Andrew Cheyne creating between them the orchestral introduction before the Stonehaven Chorus in particularly fine voice sang the Gloria with well honed precision and energy. In Dulci Jubilo is a very attractive carol in an arrangement by R. L. Pearsall with a fine strong tenor solo sung by Paul McKay. The first of two choral works by Morten Lauridsen was O Magnum Mysterium which requires firm breath control by the chorus and they did very well. Veni, Veni Emmanuel in an arrangement by Zoltan Kodaly had a very fine section for the basses who gave it their all. The Heavens Are Telling from Haydn’s Creation was sung splendidly with a firm input from the three vocal soloists from the Choir, Zana Cohen, soprano, Paul McKay, tenor and bass Don French. Buxtehude’s Das Neugeborn Kindeleine (The Newborn little Child) featured a bountiful instrumental accompaniment with organ sound supplied by Arthur Balfour along with four string players, Teresa Boag, Ruth Kalitski and Philip Rose, violins and Hilary Cromar, cello. The chorus sang particularly well with their support. Arthur Balfour kept the organ mode on his keyboard for John Rutter’s carol Dormi, Jesu which was one of his more classically refined compositions. John Hearne’s Gaelic Carol Taladh Chriosta used nine of the sopranos for the melody while the others joined the rest of the choir in a hummed backing. It is one of John Hearne’s most popular pieces – and no wonder. It was delightful. Sure on This Shining Night is one of my favourite pieces by Morten Lauridsen – both the words by James Agee and the musical setting by Lauridsen are absolutely delicious. I thought it was a good idea for Ralph Jamieson to read the words of the poem before the performance. The text is certainly worth it. Arthur Balfour played the piano accompaniment. I heard the piece once in Aberdeen when the composer himself was at the piano. Arthur Balfour managed to pull the chorus back on track with his organ playing in Dona Nobis Pacem from Bach’s Mass in b minor and then as an encore, the choir sang a composition by Ralph Jamieson himself - a setting of the words, The Virgin Mary Had a Baby Boy. I thought it was absolutely splendid – a fine conclusion to a very happy concert. To give you an idea of how much fun this concert was, when we were asked to join in with the chorus in Howard Blake’s Walking in the Air, the extra verses from the Irn Bru commercial were tacked on at the end. I watched the faces of two little girls sitting along from me in the gallery. They were a picture of sheer joy.

Well done The Stonehaven Chorus!

May 2016

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS

B MINOR MASS : J S BACH

STONEHAVEN TOWN HALL

On Sunday 15th May Stonehaven Choral held their Spring concert in a packed Town Hall where under conductor Ralph Jamieson they performed J S Bach's B Minor Mass. This deep and searching work is a challenge for even the most experienced of professional ensembles but Stonehaven Chorus has every reason to be proud having sung with such confidence and musical conviction. The chorus were on top form and gave a truly stunning performance of this major work. Conductor and musical director Ralph Jamieson guided both choir and orchestra with a controlled and sensitive hand, maintaining a well paced and clear musical line to which chorus members could easily respond. Contrasts in mood were conveyed beautifully and convincingly, be it the lilting majesty of the Gloria, the inspirational and restrained intensity of the Et incarnatus est or the crisp and vital Osanna with its double choir. The sheer stamina of the chorus proved unassailable and they carried the music to almost unbelievable heights. Aberdeen Sinfonietta accompanied the chorus as they have many times in the past and as usual gave a superb and highly skilled performance which included many fine instrumental solos. The Domine Deus, sung beautifully by soprano Catriona Clark and tenor James Slimings, was accompanied by Margaret Preston's fine flute playing while orchestra leader, Bryan Dargie's smoothly accomplished violin playing danced magically alongside Emily Mitchell's lovely soprano solo. Colette Ruddy's singing of Qui sedes ad dextram Patris blended perfectly with Geoffrey Bridges oboe while her solo Agnes Dei was coloured to great effect by the superb organ playing of Arthur Balfour. Our final soloist Douglas Nairne's smooth bass baritone solo was a delight to hear. There was so much to admire throughout the work. The sheer variety that Bach injects into his settings makes for a real technicolor extravaganza with soloists, orchestra and chorus offering the audience a dazzlingly colourful musical experience. This concert was one of the most rewarding and memorable experiences for both the Stonehaven Chorus to perform and the audience to hear.

January 2016
THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS 
“COME & SING” J S Bach: B Minor Mass
ST. BRIDGET'S HALL, STONEHAVEN

On Saturday 23rd January 2016 “The Stonehaven Chorus” hosted a very successful “Come & Sing” Event, inviting anyone interested in singing to come along and experience the intense magic and majesty of Bach’s B Minor Mass.
During the day they explored a selection of the key choruses, led by conductor Ralph Jamieson and accompanied by Arthur Balfour, which culminated in a short informal performance. It was a truly uplifting and fulfilling day.
Around 30 guests joined 35 Chorus members with enthusiasm, commitment and a desire to enjoy making music together. As a result, the Chorus are delighted to say that 11 of the guests were encouraged enough to voice their intension to become members this session.
Below are some of the many delightful comments given by attendees’ feedback:
“Fabulous singing experience and vocal technique tuition”
“Exhilarating & good fun even though I found it very challenging!”
“Splendid day, not just a sing through but useful tips on technique. Friendly atmosphere.”
“Fun & entertaining for a difficult piece of choral singing. Loved the film and handouts. Made a wonderful sound and very exhilarating”
“Excellent venue, great welcome, enthusiastic, humorous, lively leadership, wonderful accompanist, divine shortbread! Thank you so much to everyone involved”.

Some photos of the day can be found in our “Photo Album”. 


June 2015
THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS 
JOINT CONCERT WITH “THE SACRAMENTO MASTER SINGERS”
ST.JAMES’ CHURCH, STONEHAVEN
Evelyn Watt

What a wonderful experience this was for the seventeen members who made up the “small but beautifully formed “Stonehaven Chorus” last Sunday and for the few others members who attended the concert but were unable to take part. Several months ago we were asked by David Fleming of St.James’ Church if we would like to share a concert with this touring choir from America, show them a warm welcome and provide some hospitality. As our May Concert was over and the choir had disbanded for the summer we knew that many would not be able to participate but managed to draw enough members together to form a small but balanced choir. Ralph Jamieson, conductor of the Stonehaven Chorus, agreed to take two Monday rehearsals and conduct on the Sunday of the concert. The pieces we performed were, “Ships in the Haven”, “Air Falalalo”, “The Lord is my Shepherd” by Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and “Nu hverfur sol”. We also sang a beautiful arrangement by Jonathon Quick of “Loch Lomond” jointly with the Sacramento master Singers. When Sunday arrived, Stonehaven Chorus President Marilyn Cusine, along with a few others, set up a wonderful finger buffet in St. Bridget’s Hall for our guests to enjoy between rehearsals and concert. Our choir gathered for a rehearsal at 4pm and the Sacramento Master Singers arrived around 5pm. There were 38 singers in their choir (normally 50, but some could not manage the journey) plus an accompanist and their conductor, Dr Ralph Hughes. The Chorus then merged with their choir to rehearse “Loch Lomond” and instantly realised how friendly and polite they all were and how Scotland had already made an impact on them. They had only arrived the day before in the UK and had travelled to Perth where they stayed the previous night. Still suffering a bit from jetlag, they showed no signs of it and were full of enthusiasm for this concert in a venue with “fantastic acoustics and peacefulness”. Their friendliness became even more apparent at “tea-time” when we shared our buffet and conversation, introducing ourselves and hearing about their trip, discussing our countries and our choirs. After a mad dash back to St.James’, they began the first set of their concert pieces by singing an arrangement of “Shenandoah” by James Erb. The SMS choir entered from the back of the church and surrounded their audience to sing this piece and the effect was breathtakingly beautiful. They then gathered around the grand piano for the rest of the concert. Among all of the wonderful pieces of music they sang, two by Scottish Composer, Sir James Macmillan, “Data est mihi omnis potestas” and “Lassie, Wad Ye Loe Me?” and an atypical “fun” a cappella arrangement of “The Stars and Stripes forever” composed by John Phillip in 1896, this arrangement by John Kuzma, were particularly memorable. Mid way through their concert, “The Stonehaven Chorus” performed their short recital of four songs and were warmly rewarded with rapturous applause from the audience. The finale of the concert was the joint choir singing “Loch Lomond”, for which the Americans had mastered a very convincing Scottish dialect. It sounded beautiful and it was a privilege to stand amongst them and be part of this amazing choir. The long standing ovation by the audience said it all….. Following the concert, more hospitality was provided in St.James’ Hall with nibbles and drinks and elated praise from and to both choirs. Some photos were taken for posterity and the amazing day ended with a sincere “haste ye back” and an invitation to visit them in Sacramento some day! They reluctantly departed back to Perth for another night and were then to be travelling to Stirling, Glasgow (to attend a workshop with maestro Sir James MacMillan on Thursday) and Edinburgh (to perform a lunchtime Concert in St.Giles’ Catherdral on Friday 26th), travelling home on Saturday. A few were to be extending their visit to Scotland and returning to America the following week. …..Their favourite memories of their trip to Stonehaven are bound to be, their visit to Dunnottar Castle; our Scottish scenery, a wonderful concert performed in a perfect venue, amazing friendship and hospitality and most of all….Chorus member Jennifer’s shortbread (there’s a rumour that she’s thinking of selling it to the Americans!! Ha-ha).

Well done STONEHAVEN CHORUS!

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The Chorus share a memorable social gathering with the Sacramento Master Singers  

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May 2015

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS

SOLSTICE OF LIGHT

STONEHAVEN TOWN HALL

Alan Cooper

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Over many years, the Stonehaven Chorus have built a reputation for fine performances of challenging contemporary music often by composers with a Nordic background. Conductor Ralph Jamieson continued that tradition on Sunday with a remarkably successful performance of A Solstice of Light by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Strictly speaking, Maxwell Davies is an English composer having been born in Salford Lancashire in 1934, however, mention his name to any music enthusiast, and the first thing that comes to mind is Orkney where he has lived for many years and for which he holds a deep affection. Music in Orkney is Maxwell Davies. Strictly speaking too, Orkney is not a Nordic country (it remains part of Scotland) but its history is closely bound up with the “Norsemen” and that indeed is the title of one of the sections of A Solstice of Light, a setting for choir and organ with tenor soloist of a wonderfully colourful and atmospheric poem by the world renowned Orcadian poet George Mackay Brown. The poem, in nine sections tells the story of succeeding waves of settlers in Orkney from the Stone Age up to today’s uranium miners and oilmen, ending with a prayer to the patron saint of Orkney, St. Magnus, asking that these latest developments will be used only for peace in Orkney and throughout the world. Punctuating the vocal settings of the stanzas of the poem are five solo organ settings played with radiant brilliance by Kevin Bowyer, currently organist to the University of Glasgow and a world renowned expert on contemporary organ repertoire. The composer’s gritty harmonies brought vibrantly to life by Bowyer’s wonderfully imaginative organ registrations expressed everything from icy clarity and dazzling Nordic light, to the runs and cluster chords that suggested the “Earth-breakers and hewers of mighty stone” to crystalline dabs of chordal colour for “The White Weave of Peace”. Bowyer made the St. James organ speak in a language that it has probably never come anywhere near before. The choral writing is equally challenging suggesting the muscularity of early oarsmen, the mystery of the landscapes whether frozen or under dazzling Nordic sunlight or at the end, the sincerity of prayer. The singers of the Stonehaven Chorus put across the texts with admirable clarity; I did not miss a word. They managed every treacherous entry, every perplexing chord or counterpoint so that everything hung together so well and made believable musical sense. The chorus conveyed so much of the atmosphere of the poetry in their enthusiastic singing. The young tenor soloist Timothy Coleman was every bit as amazing. His diction was like a masterclass in the art of singing and there was a cutting edge to his tenor voice that was ideal for this music. Very few singers could have navigated the leaps, twists and turns in his vocal line with such perfect accuracy.

 

The second half of the concert was very different – far more tuneful. It opened with the Alto Rhapsody by Brahms. Mezzo Colette Ruddy was backed by Kevin Bowyer, this time on piano, by French horn players Tom Blasdale and Kevin Cormack and by the male voices of the Stonehaven Chorus. Although originally written with full orchestra, this performance captured the essentials of the work. Colette Ruddy captured the emphatic music of the opening as well as the luscious melody where she blended deliciously with the male voices of the choir. Four Songs for Women’s Chorus with two Horns and Harp featured Harpist Fearghal McCartan along with horn players Tom and Kevin. Tom Blasdale’s splendid horn playing was the highlight of the first song and the choir’s best performances were in the two central songs: Lied Von Shakespeare (Come away Death) and Wohin ich geh’. The concert ended with Gustav Holst’s setting of the poem by John Keats, Ode on a Grecian Urn which is the second movement of his First Choral Symphony, also originally with orchestra but in this performance with Kevin Bowyer back on organ. This seemed to “kittle up” the chorus once again. They sang splendidly well putting across Holst’s very English chording. An extra bonus was the return of Colette Ruddy to sing the final words of the poem:

 

Beauty is truth, truth beauty, - that is all

Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

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                                                The Stonehaven Chorus with conductor Ralph Jamieson and organist Kevin Bowyer

February 2012

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS
A SCOTTISH CONCERT

STONEHAVEN TOWN HALL

Alan Cooper

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Stonehaven Town Hall was packed on Saturday when the Stonehaven Chorus presented one of their superbly imaginative and ever popular Scottish programmes. The conducting honours were shared between Dr John Hearne and Ralph Jamieson, a past conductor of the choir, while Drew Tulloch was as ever on hand to provide colourful keyboard accompaniments where required. A guaranteed crowd puller was the principal guest artist, Scots fiddle wizard Paul Anderson travelling hot foot to Stonehaven from flying the flag for North East music at Celtic Connections in Glasgow. The audience responded uproariously to his definitive performances of shining Scott Skinner classics that set feet a tapping as well as to his own attractive compositions and of course his couthy introductions. In accord with the other Burns items in the programme he even gave us the full Address to the Haggis although sadly there were no platefuls of that delicacy forthcoming. Representing the more contemporary world of Scottish fiddle music, two talented eighteen year olds, Cameron Ross from Stonehaven and his keyboard accompanist Ally Forsyth from Westhill played up to date compositions that blended Scottish, Irish and transatlantic influences. Their music really swung. Paul Anderson was not the only performer to give us recitations. The special highlights here were Clark Wallace with To a Louse by Burns and Margaret Hearne with a marvellous comic creation by Les Wheeler, Life’s Little Ups an’ Doons, about a boy whose pants fell down every time he sneezed. His grannie found the solution and henceforward he only went out in his kilt. John Hearne had produced a marvellous setting of another Les Wheeler poem, This Aul’ Witch, sung with real vim and verve by the chorus. They also gave a fine rendition of a challenging setting by Dr Hearne of Wi’ a Hundred Pipers – lots of key changes and in the end, the pipers seeming to fade into the distance. The choir sang many other fine arrangements by talented Scottish arrangers like Ken Johnston and John Currie. Just as no Christmas concert is complete without a John Rutter arrangement surely no Scottish concert is complete without these fine arrangers. One particularly amazing item, The Skating Minister, brought together a famous painting by Sir Henry Raeburn, words by Alexander McCall Smith and Edinburgh composer Tom Cunningham’s choral setting of The Skater’s Waltz by the Alsatian composer Emile Waldteufel. The Stonehaven Chorus were in particularly fine voice on Saturday. They seemed to be enjoying the concert every bit as much as the audience did especially in the choruses of the Willie Kemp classic, McGinty’s Meal and Ale, with the solo verses sung in real North East style by Oor Robbie (Robbie Middleton) complete with hairy string nicky-tams! John Hearne’s own humorous composition about a four by four driver who without snow tyres meets his comeuppance ended with the hee-haw of the emergency services played on the keyboard. The concert had opened with verses of an early Scots song Nou let us sing and the final verse suggesting that the singers were ready for some liquid refreshment provided a fitting conclusion to a very inclusive Scottish programme that spanned the centuries brilliantly.

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May 2010

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS
FROM CATHEDRALS TO COTTONFIELDS

St. JAMES’S CHURCH,

STONEHAVEN

Sunday, 16th May 2010

ALAN COOPER
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Given that the previous concert by the Stonehaven Chorus in December last year was for Homecoming Scotland rather than their traditional Christmas Fare there were no popular carols for the audience to join in singing. Their latest concert in St. James’s Church on Sunday corrected that omission with the opportunity for a near full house audience to join in with some of the best loved hymns with the choir or even just by themselves. With favourites like “When I survey the Wondrous Cross” and even better for a seaside town, “Will your Anchor Hold”, the audience response was wholehearted indeed. The choir’s conductor Dr John Hearne was reminded of the time when he went with another choir to a Welsh Chapel where he said the congregation were better than the choir. A bit of an exaggeration on Sunday though especially when the Chorus set the performance aglow singing Hubert Parry’s magnificent coronation anthem “I was Glad when they said unto Me” with St. James’s organ played by Ben Torrie also sounding in magnificent voice. The first half of the performance concentrated largely on English or British music with the spirit of the cathedral or the parish choir in mind. Two motets by C. V. Stanford stood out as extra special performances along with John Coath’s Stabat Mater which introduced the baritone soloist Peter Webster in particularly fine voice too. “Not a particularly difficult piece”, commented Dr Hearne but it was tremendously effective. More challenging were some of the more contemporary pieces including the beautifully coloured harmonies of Paul Mealor’s Locus Iste or the more surprising harmonies of John Hearne’s Crux Fidelis or Ave verum corpus by the Swedish composer Frederik Sixten whom the Stonehaven Chorus introduced to Scotland just recently. Bringing the first half to a joyful even riotous close was the world premiere of another John Hearne composition Exultate Deo. His setting of the words dealing with harps, timbrels and trumpets was splendid. The second half of the concert took us to the USA and to the Negro Spirituals in them old cottonfields back home. Peter Webster gave stirring spirit-warming renditions of Good News, Deep River, Jacob’s Ladder and more with the chorus echoing his words. It was never going to have quite the crazy soul swing of the genuine coloured choruses but it was pretty inspiring all the same. The concert concluded with Randall Thompson’s The Peaceable Kingdom which was another Stonehaven Chorus introduction to Scotland if not the entire UK. It is something of a tour de force of startlingly high powered choral writing. I am not sure about the title however. There is nothing very peaceable about this often quite violent fire and brimstone music; still, another fine performance from the Stonehaven Chorus.

December 2009

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS
HOMECOMING CONCERT

STONEHAVEN TOWN HALL

Friday, 04 December 2009

ALAN COOPER

 

An early Scots song “Nou let us sing” was a thoroughly apt choice of opening number to kick-start the special Homecoming Concert given by the Stonehaven Chorus on Friday. It introduced the various sections of the choir while suggesting which drinks, and in what quantity, would provide the ideal booster for each category of voice, starting with just a little light wine for the trebles. The basses of course were vociferous in claiming that they would be sure to benefit from as much of the hard stuff as was on tap. This rumbustious “ice breaker” introduced a note of merriment and good cheer that was to permeate almost the entire performance. Two special guests of the Chorus, Scotland’s premier fiddle player Paul Anderson and broadcaster Mark Stephen were certainly firmly on message with Paul conjuring up lots of irresistible foot-tapping magic from his solo fiddle and Mark giving us a recitation of Tam o’ Shanter so vivid that afterwards I could have sworn I had just enjoyed a particularly good film of the story. Robert Burns was another of the concert’s principal icons so Paul Anderson charmed the audience with several of the Bard’s personal favourites including Corn Rigs and a beautiful Lament by Neil Gow, a close friend of Burns and founder of the Scots Fiddle tradition. At the end of the concert, Paul who also presented two of his own fine compositions won the most resounding ovation from the audience and no wonder, when he plays Scottish Fiddle Music it packs a knockout punch. He makes the music sound so special. Paul’s fiddle also lent support to Mark Stephen’s singing of a Burns Song in praise of the current season, “Winter: A Dirge”. Mark claimed that his voice can hardly hold a tune, but after what was a rather fine performance, conductor Dr John Hearne is going to be chasing him to join the choir. Somehow John Hearne always manages to unearth some of the most fascinating music as well as the finest arrangements for his Chorus. It’s the same whether he picks settings by first rate Scottish arrangers like John Currie or Ken Johnston or music he has composed himself like This Aul’ Witch, a song that summed up all the creepy fun of Halloween in the cheerily eerie verses of North East author Les Wheeler nicely matched by the spirit of Dr Hearne’s music. And to round up the concert there was something really special: five choral settings of poems by Alexander McCall Smith based on famous paintings with music by Tom Cunningham, McCall Smith’s collaborator on their international opera projects. The Tower of Babel with its chaotic disintegration of both language and music, The Skating Minister based on the famous painting by Raeburn with some shameless borrowing from Emile Waldteufel and then the moving final song, Old Man with his Grandson were marvellous conceits of the imagination. A particular strength that marks Cunningham’s settings is the way in which the music boosts rather than obstructs the understanding of the texts, something that was essential to the success of these pieces; and of course none of that would have been possible without the exceptionally accomplished singing of the Stonehaven Chorus.

October 2009

Cologne, Germany Tour

When The Stonehaven Chorus departed from Aberdeen on Wednesday 21st October, they could hardly have imagined the programme of exciting events the next four days had in store. The thirty-five singers (two-thirds of the full choir), along with their conductor and a few partners set off on their long-awaited maiden Tour into Europe. The Chorus, having had many successful Tours in the British Isles, was on its way to Cologne in Germany. On their short visit to Germany the Stonehaven Chorus performed some of their favourite pieces from their repertoire, including movements from Rachmaninov's Vespers and anthems and motets by composers mostly from northern Europe. A setting of Crux Fidelis by the choir's Conductor Dr. John Hearne was written specially for the tour and was receiving its first performances. And two pieces by the Swedish composer Fredrik Sixten, whose Requiem the Chorus performed earlier this year, were included in the programmes, together with music by other contemporary and modern composers The first concert, held in Christ-Konig Kirche, Kempen, was an outstanding success, with an audience of several hundred. This beautiful modern church was an inspiration to the group and acoustically excellent. The programme was greatly appreciated by the audience who showed their recognition with a standing ovation.

The following day, having been granted special permission given to only a very small number of choirs, the Chorus participated in the mid-day prayers at “The Dom” cathedral in Cologne. This magnificent building is one of the largest and most important cathedrals in the world. The choir sang during and after the short service and was well received by both visitors and locals taking part. Since returning, the Chorus has received written recognition for the performance from Herr Prof. Metternich, the cathedral musical director and been invited to sing there again. Finally, the third concert was performed jointly with a Germany choir, the Bensberger Kammerchor in the Zeltkirche, Kippekausen, Bensberg. Both choirs gave a very varied and enjoyable programme to a packed church and again received a standing ovation. Then followed a great party hosted by members of the German choir whose generous hospitality and friendship created a bond between members of both choirs. Interspersed with their concerts and rehearsals the choir also managed a cruise on the Rhine, a walking tour of the city, several culinary experiences and some retail therapy.

Tour organiser, Evelyn Watt, was extremely pleased that everything had gone so well and that those taking part had made the most of their visit and enjoyed every moment. “The success of this trip has been mainly due to a small team of very committed helpers both in Cologne and in Stonehaven, especially Klaus Neumann, Kurt Neuheuser, Jennifer Macdonald and Philip Rose. The camaraderie when the chorus is away on tour is fantastic and we all know how to enjoy ourselves. Cologne has been an outstanding success and we are still reeling from the number of highlights capable in a mere 100 hours. It is definitely an experience which will never be forgotten.”

May 2009

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS 

St James's Church, Stonehaven

Sunday, 24th May 2009
Alan Cooper 


At this year’s Spring Concert, the Stonehaven Chorus offered one of the great time-honoured classics of church music, Bach’s Magnificat in
D. This they set alongside the world premiere of the new English version of a Requiem by Fredrik Sixten, one of Sweden’s most celebrated composers of contemporary church music. Dr John Hearne, the Choir’s musical

director is a valued ambassador for Scandinavian music. Like a rare plant hunter, he seeks out little known musical gems to set before new audiences while also scripting fine English translations for contemporary choral works. Dr Hearne already has another major Swedish work, Lars-Erik Larsson’s A God Disguised to his credit and now, with his new translation of Bengt Pohjanen’s Swedish verses, he offers Fredrik Sixten’s Requiem the opportunity of much wider recognition throughout the English speaking world.

The composer himself was in the audience for this momentous event and to further ensure its success, Dr Hearne had persuaded the North-East’s finest orchestra Aberdeen Sinfonietta to take part in the performance.

Sixten’s Requiem is a fascinating work. It sets sections of the traditional Latin Mass alongside and sometimes against the vernacular. These verses fire up the emotional impact of the work giving it a raw power that strips away the anodyne familiarity of the ritualised Latin. The music drives the emotional thrust of the words still further. The stark harmonies and ferocity of the Libera Me set against the inspired soprano solo in the Pie Jesu or the gentle composure of the ending exemplified an astonishing breadth of emotional expression throughout the work. Often, moments of pain or bleakness in the music would dissolve into sweet harmonies and soothing melodies all delivered by choir, orchestra and soloists in delicious layers of atmospheric musical colour. The highlights of this performance included soprano Wilma MacDougall’s effortless soaring in the Pie Jesu, the unaccompanied chorus in the Agnus Dei or the dark night of the soul expressed so eloquently by the bass soloist Stewart Kempster in the Lux Aeterna.

A lot of time had obviously been spent on this challenging new work and obviously it paid off. The choir did not have quite as strong a hold of their parts in the Bach Magnificat although their contributions to the centre of the work were more satisfying. Actually none of this mattered too much because the orchestra and soloists gave such fabulous performances. Glorious trumpets lit up the opening and closing sections of the work,orchestral solos on flutes and oboe d’amore were absolutely delicious and the four vocal soloists were just heroic. Wilma MacDougall and Stewart Kempster were joined by mezzo Elysia Leech (her Esurientes implevit alone was worth the trip to Stonehaven) while tenor Iain Milne was remarkable for both the strength and joyous clarity of his singing. Actually in the Magnificat there were five soloists, in Suscepit Israel, Wilma and Elysia were joined by soprano Oonagh McAlpine from the chorus. Their nicely blended singing provided a fine sweep across the whole spectrum of soprano voices.

December 2008

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS
Christmas Recital
Dunnottar Church, STONEHAVEN
Sunday, 14th December 2008
Alan Cooper 

Thanks to the tireless adventurous spirit of their musical director Dr John Hearne, the Stonehaven Chorus can be relied upon year after year to come up with an exciting programme of music from all around the world; something for their Christmas Concert that is sure to astonish as well as to delight. When you get to my age, Christmases seem to get closer and closer together and you begin to dread the sameness of those run of the mill Christmas concerts; but this never happens when you go to hear the Stonehaven Chorus.

On Sunday afternoon, even the audience in Dunnottar Church was joining in with their lustiest singing in a carol from Sweden entitled Now shine a thousand Christmas lights that was surely new to most of them. Admittedly, we all sang this one in English, but the chorus themselves seemed to have no difficulty at all in switching in a trice from Polish into Venezuelan Spanish with music in finely wrought arrangements by Dr Hearne himself. Lulajze Jezuniu from Poland had basically straightforward but warmly rich harmonies while the two Venezuelan Carols, Dulce Niño Dios and Los Pastores Bailan swung with jaunty Latin-American rhythms that the chorus delivered with real uninhibited zest. The concert opened with a composition by John Hearne himself. Alleluya, a new work… rang out with a veritable carillon of Alleluyas and the rich broad texture of the harmonic writing filled the church with joyous vocal colour right from the start. In Thomas Wilson’s lovely carol There is no rose, soft washes of harmony contrasted with outbursts of dramatic fervour. Victoria’s O Magnum Mysterium derived its impact from the choir’s control of polyphony while Richard Dering’s episodic carol Quem vidistis, pastores? gloried in splendidly vigorous singing. However, it was with their third set of carols that the Stonehaven chorus really began to hit their finest form. Boris Ord’s Adam lay ybounden, John Joubert’s blazing Torches! and Gustav Holst’s beautiful setting of Lullay, my liking with a clear, fresh soprano solo sung by Oonagh McAlpine really hit the spot. Before the Swedish, Polish and Venezuelan Carols, William Byrd’s Lullaby, my sweet little baby was quite delightful and it was balanced afterwards by the lusty carol Chanticleer once again in a fine John Hearne arrangement. After the traditional audience carol O come, all ye faithful, to set the seal on another fine performance, the Chorus sent the audience home on a real high with their potent rendition of Rejoice, and be glad! by Mendelssohn.

May 2008

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS
RACHMANINOV VESPERS
St. JAMES’S CHURCH, STONEHAVEN
Sunday, 18 May 2008
Alan Cooper

Sunday’s performance was dedicated to the memory of the late J. Finlay Squires, a stalwart of the bass section in the Stonehaven Chorus. What better music to remember him by than Rachmaninov’s Vespers. His rich basso profundo voice was, as the programme said, such an asset when the Chorus performed movements from the Vespers at past concerts. On Sunday, however, the Stonehaven Chorus performed the Vespers (properly titled the All Night Vigil) in virtually its glorious entirety.

Under the direction of conductor Dr John Hearne, the Chorus has gained renown both far and wide for the adventurousness of its performances, singing music that most other choirs have hardly heard of let alone would dare to perform. Nothing seems too much of a challenge for this gifted choir. The All Night Vigil, as its title suggests, is a vast undertaking, but nothing daunted, the choir sang the entire work in its original Russian Text. Surely no other choir in the country can boast such a list of performances in so many different and difficult languages. Musically, Sunday’s effort was a tremendous achievement. Every part came through with admirably clarity and although a real Russian chorus could probably have fielded more thunderously deep bass voices, the Stonehaven Chorus did remarkably well on that account. There are a couple of voices among both the tenor and soprano sections that have “a bit of an edge” to them. For some music, this might be a problem but for this music, the piquancy that they gave to the overall choral texture was just perfect as anyone who has ever thrilled to the sounds of a real Russian choir will understand. Rachmaninov’s stunning vocal contrasts between male and female voices or sopranos with tenors or again the magnificence of the full chorus exploding in the rich colours of multiple part harmonies were all truly gorgeous. In the final fifteenth section of the work too, the Chorus sounded every bit as fresh as they had at the start of this wonderfully atmospheric musical journey.

Two superb soloists stamped their top quality singing on the Vespers. They were mezzo-soprano Lilly Papaioannou making her third appearance with the Chorus and tenor Iain Milne. Lilly laid her stunningly rich dark vocal tones over Благослои, душе моя (Praise the Lord, O My Soul), quite astonishing and wholly delightful too. Iain Milne had a couple of heroic contributions, even gifting his wonderful tenor voice to the choir itself for the final section of the work. Given that the soloists had only limited contributions to the main work, they also provided us with three solo songs each to punctuate the Vespers. Iain’s three songs by Rachmaninov, beautifully sung, remained perfectly in keeping with the main work. Lilly’s offering of two of the “Sea Pictures” by Elgar and “Silent Noon” by Vaughan Williams were perhaps not entirely in keeping with the main programme, but since these favourite English songs were sung with such stunning artistry by what must be one of the finest mezzo voices in the business today, I for one was not complaining.

 

December 2007

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS

CHRISTMAS WITH THE CHORUS

DUNNOTTAR CHURCH, STONEHAVEN

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Alan Cooper

A capacity audience at this year’s annual Christmas concert in Dunnottar Church on Sunday afternoon raised their voices to the rafters to join with the Stonehaven Chorus in singing some of the best loved hymns and carols that have come to define the traditional Christmas. What gave Sunday’s concert its unique cachet however was the selection of choral gems unearthed by conductor Dr John Hearne with which the Chorus proceeded to surprise and delight the audience. Some, like the two items taken from the Cantata Hodie by Vaughan Williams were revivals from an unjustly neglected work, others like the Polish carols were arrangements by Dr Hearne of pieces popular in their country of origin, but not well known here. Martin Dalby’s Of thy human heart was a first performance and Percy Fletcher’s Ring out, wild bells was a revival of a magical piece that had ceased to be performed because it had come to be sniffed at as “old fashioned”.

Most of the pieces were performed unaccompanied and several used antiphonal effects, that is to say two competing choirs placed at either side of the church. Bruckner’s motet, Virga Jesse floruitbrought the richness of the full centrally focused choir into play while Jacob Handl’s Resonet in Laudibusused the two separate choirs in a relatively simple way. O beatum et sacrosanctum diemby Peter Philips, an English renaissance composer who worked in Flanders was far more complex, producing some wonderful chiming choral sounds. Pearsall’s arrangement of the traditional German carol In dulci jubilo also employed the two choir strategy to marvellous effect. There is no rose by John Coath used soft quintessentially English harmonies but in his Christ Child, David Harries employs much more adventurous harmonic language to underline the dark words of a text that looks forward to the ominous future fate of the sleeping Christ Child. John Hearne inserted No sad thoughtfrom Hodie by Vaughan Williams at this point to provide a telling contrast in emotions.

 

Martin Dalby’s Of thy human hearthad more than a little of the Eastern European flavour of music by the likes of Zoltan Kodaly about it and was therefore a fitting companion for the second of two jaunty Polish carols, Three wise men, this one with a gloriously sturdy bass line.

 

The final two carols profited from the splendid organ playing of guest organist Donald Hawksworth. The first was John Hearne’s own setting of the words of the hymn Brightest and Best. Wonderfully energetic outer verses for both organ and chorus enclosed more pensive central verses with splendidly imaginative and colourful harmonic writing. The second was Percy Fletcher’s New Year Carol. It sets to music the words of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s “Ring out, wild bells”. Here the excellent singing of the Stonehaven Chorus reached its apex, the full throated vocal sounds chiming in with the organ and a real carillon of bells: a magnificent conclusion to a fine musical celebration.

May 2007

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS

'KIRK, CHAPEL, CATHEDRAL'

St. JAMES’S CHURCH, STONEHAVEN

Sunday, 20th May, 2007

Alan Cooper

 

The Stonehaven Chorus sounded jubilant indeed as they rejoiced resonantly in a selection of favorite church music in St James’s Church on Sunday. This was especially true in the central section of their three-part programme representing music from the Chapels of Wales. The opening section included music by Scottish composers, both ancient and contemporary while the final selection represented the Cathedral music of England with at its heart, Anthems by Charles Villiers Stanford. The Welsh Hymn repertoire, however, though still vigorously alive in practice in the chapels of its homeland, is rarely heard in concert performance. On Sunday, the Stonehaven Chorus, under conductor Dr John Hearne, Welsh born and bred, provedthat this music is easily able to hold its own, and proudly too, alongside the other traditions of the British Isles.

The two Welsh hymns in minor keys Brithdir by P.H. Lewis and In Memoriam by Caradog Roberts were as Dr Hearne rightly described them, “real little gems”, along with Dr Hearne’s own arrangement for the chorus of Y Delyn Aur, (The Harp of Gold).

Sunday’s performance also provided many opportunities for the audience to join in singing some of the more popular hymns and the highlight, not surprisingly, was Cwm Rhondda. Possibly the best hymn tune ever composed, it easily eclipsed I to the hills will lift mine eyes from Scotland or from England, For all the Saints by Ralf Vaughan Williams, and they are undoubted classics too.

The concert began with a sixteenth century motet by the Scottish composer David Peebles Quam multi, Domini in a rousing performance by the Chorus. This work displayed the fine balance between the different sections of the choir, which they maintained throughout their performance. Praise by John Thomson, the first Reid Professor of Music at Edinburgh University, and sometimes-called “the Scottish Schumann” combined the traditional ScottishPsalm sound with a slightly more exotic melodic and harmonic slant. A lovely carol, Mater Salutaris by Aberdeen born composer Martin Dalby a pupil of Sunday’s organist, Donald Hawksworth at the Grammar School, and John Hearne’s A Duan of Barra with its inspiration in Gaelic psalm-singing evidenced the high quality of contemporary Scottish church music.

The fine music of Stanford represented the English Cathedral tradition. However, Gustav Holst’s amazing Eternal Father, who didst all create that included not just real chimes but bell-like sounds from the sopranos and Hubert Parry’s Coronation Anthem I was glad when they said unto me stole the limelight in this section.

But where was Ireland in all this? Well at the conclusion of the Scottish section was a splendid Motet by Shaun Dillon,Peace. Although born and brought up in Scotland, Shaun Dillon is proud of his Irish ancestry and therefore he can stand proud as the sole representative of Ireland at Sunday’s concert.

May 2006

THE STONEHAVEN CHORUS

SPRING CONCERT

St. JAMES'S CHURCH, STONEHAVEN

SUNDAY 21ST May 2006

Alan Cooper

The undoubted highlight of last Sunday's concert by the Stonehaven Chorus in St. James Episcopal Church was a work they first performed in collaboration with the Gothenburg Sinfonietta at their concert in the Music Hall, Aberdeen in December 1995. This was Förklädd Gud orA God Disguised by the Swedish composer Lars-Erik Larsson. Sunday’s performance brought the Stonehaven Chorus together with Aberdeen Sinfonietta in a work that was ideally suited to the forces that conductor John Hearne had at his disposal, a superb chorus and orchestra. Since the earlier performance with the Gothenberg musicians, John Hearne has prepared and published a new English translation of the original Swedish text and it was this version that was sung on Sunday. Soprano and baritone soloists Gillian and Gordon Jack were joined by Grampian TV personality Chris Harvey who gave the spoken narration that is central to the work. Based on a poem by Hjalmar Gullberg, it concerns a Grecian legend telling of the God Apollo who was sent down to earth to live among mortals disguised as a humble shepherd. The message of the text is that one should be kind to the most humble stranger, for he could be a God in disguise.

The work begins and ends with an interlude for orchestra alone, with sensational playing by Aberdeen Sinfonietta. Chris Harvey’s beautifully clear narration bound together the whole import of the text while the two soloists Gillian and Gordon Jack carried the emotional impact of the music to its summit in their duet. The Stonehaven Chorus were at their very best in this music which they have made their own. The sense of optimism that is at the very heart of this music radiated from their singing.

Although this last work was the highlight of the concert, the other two works were not far behind. The Chorus was equally hearty in a joyful performance of Haydn’s  St. Nicholas Mass. In this work contralto Joyce Wintour and tenor Andrew Locke Nicholson who gave a particularly fine performance joined the line up of soloists. The ensemble pieces were superbly well balanced.

The third piece in the concert was an arrangement of four Icelandic Folk Songs Summernights in the Fjords by John Hearne. His luminous orchestral writing was especially impressive. I was reminded of Canteloube’s Songs of the Auvergne. The first two songs were happy childhood songs cheerfully sung by the Chorus. The second two were in a darker hue but Gordon Jack’s smooth singing subtly backed by the chorus and beautiful orchestral writing made the music glow with colour.